First Steps for Foal Handling

Discussion of the many ways to teach young horses/foals to submit to humans; from imprinting to halter training, tying, grooming, and much more.
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There are many different ways to teach young horses to submit to humans; in this article some experienced horse folks give you tips and advice.

Successful methods for handling foals are as marvelously varied as the breeds, colors, and markings you discover on these leggy little individuals when they’re born. Some people handle foals from the moment of birth, while others foal out their mares on rangeland and bring them in for the foals’ first handling at weaning time. The "best" way is what works for you–and for a particular foal or group of foals–in your own situation and circumstances.

Imprinting

The newborn foal is programmed for soaking up a huge amount of information immediately after birth. To survive in the wild, a foal has to learn who his mother is, quickly get up and nurse, follow his dam, and run alongside her to flee from danger. Prey species like horses and deer attach and bond with what they see right after birth (the mother) and later instinctively flee from anything unfamiliar. When first born, a foal does not fear humans and can learn to tolerate and remember many things, just as he learns to recognize and follow his dam (imprinting). After that short window of time, however, he tends to become more suspicious and wary of unfamiliar creatures. The most advantageous time to make a lasting good impression on the foal and control what he sees and experiences is right after he’s born.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, a retired veterinarian from Thousand Oaks, Calif., began handling newborn foals using a formalized training process in 1960. According to Miller, imprinting is automatic learning as a newborn, and training is learning by reinforcement (at any age)

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Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at https://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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