Readers Respond: Hold Your Horses

More than 1,000 readers of TheHorse.com responded to a poll asking, "Do you use imprinting or desensitization techniques with your foals?"

results of poll on foal handling

Results were as follows: 
  • Always: 53.96% (579)
  • Sometimes: 23.58% (253)
  • Never: 22.46% (241)

All comments submitted by poll respondents are listed below.

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  • Ever since a weanling broke my foot when I needed to clip him! The technique has worked great for me
  • I see it as unnecessarily interfering with a new mother's bonding time with her new foal.
  • Don't always go "by the book" but always get safe reliable horses, each with their own personalities
  • Vet and farrier noticed the foals are easy to work with. "D" must be done carefully
  • I don't because I've never had foals, but would have prior to reading you recent article about stress
  • On the colts, I CAREFULLY handle the inside and outside of the sheath
  • Take it easy, and stay calm
  • Imprint training is in use all over the world. If DONE CORRECTLY is 100% effective
  • We bred our mare twice, and imprinted them both extensively. They turned out WONDERFULLY.
  • We always let the mare & foal bond first
  • I had done this before they came up with the name imprinting. I just loved all over my babies.
  • So important to imprint with the first few hours if mare allows. Raised three - two from birth.
  • Waited to hand foal until 6-12 hours old because didn't know foal was born until then. Old because
  • Except for one year and that was a mistake! Foals that year were much more skittish and avoidant.
  • Beyond the initial medical check at birth, our foals are handled just via pets and such
  • I don't breed, but anyone who does should always imprint!
  • I've always thought that imprinting was intruding on Mother Nature's natural way for the mare/foal
  • It's a wonderful way to start a foal
  • I am not a breeder right; but would like to be; I'd love to know what people think
  • We concentrate on the mare more than the foal. Happy mom, happy foal.
  • Rub them all over, talk to them, make noise, tap their hooves, and pick their legs up after their stand
  • Just enough to dry and check the foal over
  • I let the foals always come to be while I am handling, grooming & giving all general care to the dam
  • I tend to be too busy but my mares are like dogs so the foals end up being the same way
  • Had a friend do it. Foal turned out pushy and bite, no respect for people.
  • It's always worked for us; haltering, doing feet, and grooming are no problem later on.
  • Always felt foals should bond with mother, not humans! We've plenty of time, give the mare hers!
  • just quiet handling AFTER foal stands and nurses and is laying back down. intro to one thing at a t
  • Leave them w/dam for first week
  • my baby is calm and easy to work with. She also has a great relationship with her mom
  • Both are essential to me. It prepares a horse with a life of less stress with humans.
  • having a well-handled mare teaches babies more than any human can- we cant teaches how to be a horse.
  • It really works when you are training when they mature and view you as the herd leader.
  • I don't do everything Dr. Miller outlined but a lot of it
  • let them be with their mother
  • I always have, and with great results--after reading your last article, I may rethink on the next bad
  • I have had good luck imprinting fouls most of the time. But I have this 10-month-old colt now and he
  • but I only do it after the mare and foal have had several hours or a day together
  • I have the most trusting horse on the planet due to imprinting
  • I breed for temperament. quality I wait for curiosity foals come to me
  • let mare take care!
  • don't keep messing with a young foal. work more with its dam. the foal will be easy
  • I handle them from head to toe and also use my clipper on them in many areas so they are used to it
  • Of the 2 we raised, the imprinted 1 is easier to handle
  • on QHs - follow Miller exactly - sensitize too or else! - less stress if vet work required on foal
  • RUB FOALS ALL OVER INCLUDING NOSTRILS
  • my mare has turned out the greatest for it everyone loves her friendly personality
  • There is a fine line between too much and not enough work.
  • once they are around 2-3 weeks old, they begin general handling
  • Only after about 7 to 10 days old
  • Do my own technique.
  • Keep it short.
  • I do not interfere with nature. Human nature seems always to interfere with mother nature.
  • I have seen people over do it and ruin the horse, I wait until the foal comes to me
  • Our foals are always easier to handle when imprinted.
  • On B-Day we carry the foal around, give lots of hugs & squeezes
  • I have bought some that were and found them to be harder to train in regards to respecting my space
  • If done correctly. timing, technnique & intuitive tendencies make all the difference.
  • In 12yrs, the imprinted foals are easier to handle than the non-imprinted
  • never had a foal
  • I've had GREAT success with it...(it lets me be a bit lazy later in the animals training)
  • The horses that I have seen that people have imprinted usually don't have any respect for people
  • let foal imprint properly to mare, train for 1st weeks-calm relaxed animal no stress issues
  • Saw some of this research in it early stages and decided not to use imprinting.
  • If you don't know what you're doing, Stop it ruins a lot of great horses.
  • Use adult horse halter like a harness to minimize stress on tender little necks.
  • never had a foal
  • I only partially imprinted my last foal-it seemed to work as well as with foals I took more time on
  • I make sure mare is very comfortable with me, after foaling, I go in but let the foal approach me
  • The best lessons last 2 to 5 minutes for young foals. Don't overdo it.
  • 30 years proved that handling newborns works! My foals were always friendlier, easier, more willing
  • just general handling, not interfering too much
  • Not to extreme lengths recommended
  • just gentle touching every day...it works well
  • Depends on the foal. I think they do better letting them come to you...
  • I do a little with the foal but mostly with the dam
  • I was taught to do this.
  • I let the mother teach them first ...I start working w/ them as yearlings
  • I only go in long enough to check that all is O.K. then get out and observe from hidden vantage point
  • human are not substitute mothers
  • I have found it works wonderfully and my foals are friendly, bold and like humans.
  • we just handle them as we would their mom
  • As I rub the baby all over, interact with both mare and foal. Never do I have shy incurious foals!
  • I don't believe in Dr. Miller's technique of withholding suckling while imprinting.
  • My foals turn out to be confident, well behaved, gentle, curious, and attentive.
  • We started handling and talking to our foal within hours of being born.
  • Nature knows what to do - human beings just screw things up.
  • absolutely. It helps them to get use to many different things.
  • I don't have any foals
  • Foals learn from their dams; just handle mom quietly and kindly
  • Imprinting interferes with the mares chance to bond with the foal.
  • Sometimes it works, sometimes not
  • My imprinted baby turns 8 this month-very gentle and loving-never a problem from day 1
  • but after a day or 2 it gets treated as an adult with a short attention span.
  • I feel it works. My professors at UC Davis also practiced it effectively.
  • I totally recommend it. My foal is calmer and bolder than unhandled foals!
  • Vet likes handling the ones who have been imprinted.
  • Let them be a horse. They are no harder to train if you take your time and have patience.
  • I used to raise mules and imprinting made a huge difference in their behavior.
  • Only for areas of behavior that affect my safety later on...
  • once-I will never do it again I found the same things that the "Hands off "article found
  • Not to the extent that Dr. Miller recommends, but we do some.
  • my mare that I imprinted trusts me more than any horse I've owned
  • I use imprinting on our foals now, and they are fantastic to handle and affectionate.
  • I will assist my mare if she needs help with the foal otherwise just observe.
  • Any desensitizing is done after the foal has nursed on its own
  • It makes a lot of difference when you get to the 2yr old stage of starting the horse under saddle
  • Within the first 24 hours our focus is on our mares unless the foal shows signs of distress.
  • Never stress the foal. Gentle handling and well founded trust helps more than anything
  • Teach restraint kindly, they never forget it. That study has to be flawed some way
  • We've always let the mare & her foal bond first for several hours, with minimal human handling.
  • Have had very good success
  • Imprinting totally wrecks their natural senses, bad idea.
  • My mare is expecting "our" first foal. I will let my mare guide the way her foal is handled.
  • advance and retreat
  • Correct and positive imprinting has proven to give my Friesian foals confident inquisitiveness
  • I try not to interfere with the bonding to the mare and foal but I do handle the foal once he is up.
  • My first goal is to get colostrums, E Colic on E, and Proviso into them. Then I touch them.
  • Can't keep my hands off them anyway, why not add articles of future use to my hands...works for me a
  • I don't like to interfere too much with mom and baby bonding
  • Imprinted foals are so much more confident with people
  • I imprint at birth and then leave the foal and mare to do what Nature indented. Works for me.
  • Our babies are handled every day. They stand for the farrier, clip, and load by 30 days.
  • if the weather is wet or cold I do take a towel and dry them off a bit
  • I do believe it violates the mother/child relationship.
  • I only intervene if something is wrong
  • I've imprinted for 10 years and have had outstanding results with outstanding results.
  • not the intense just born thing - just lots of handling daily
  • I let the mare and foal get settled and adjusted for at least a week
  • Yes, and he turned out trustworthy and friendly. Would do it again!
  • do not have foals
  • With the few foals we have had, we give the Dam 2 or 3 days for her own bonding with the foal.
  • I only start handling the foal after 24 hours - once it has bonded with the dam.
  • Like any baby - a foal is happiest with its mother. I am present and involved, but not intrusive,
  • I've raised one baby; I started handling her at about 12hrs; she's easy to work with all along(6 yrs
  • Work discretely with dam so bonding between dam & foal isn't disturbed
  • makes for easier training
  • have only had one foal, and was not present at the birth so no option to, prob wont w/this yrs foal
  • Your foal will only be as sensitive as the person is doing it....
  • Make sure you have a good relationship with the Dam first, or she may not let you near her foal.
  • Foals are handled quietly and gently as to provide necessary medical attention.
  • I strongly disagree with the study.
  • male or female handler?
  • I believe that imprinting is a great thing and can set the foal up to be much more manageable
  • Within the first couple hours. Give time for mare/foal to bond before encroaching on them.
  • Let mare and foal bond first. Gently touch the foal all over its body as you quietly talk to it.
  • amended Miller's technique, as soon as it seems prudent without interfering with mare/foal bond
  • Feel, timing, and correct release of pressure is key to successful imprinting.
  • I spend lots of time with the mare pre-foaling to prevent a snorting dragon at birth. It helps!
  • make every attempt to avoid interfering with the dam/foal bonding
  • but not overdone...
  • After 11 years & 175 foals it is rewarding experience for handlers & foals
  • Makes everything you do with them easier down the road.
  • use Dr Miller's imprinting and Clinton Anderson's methods as they get older
  • I never "descend" upon a horse ever. I always show respect, gain trust and ask for respect in return
  • I handle foals 2-3 days old, but never intrude on the bonding of mare and foal.
  • babies like to investigate so caring of the mare daily will make the baby come to you.
  • all but one, and the negative difference with him is very obvious
  • I don't have any foals but if I did, I would, hopefully I will get some in the future
  • its hogwash, its stressful and they are just as easy with daily handling and care.
  • Don't go over board.
  • My filly is so quiet, I can reach through the bars of a gate & clip her face & ears w/o a halter on!
  • Only when the time is right.
  • We figured out years ago that so called imprinted foals are not tamer and sometimes worse.
  • not during the first hours after birth
  • It makes a HUGE difference in ease of handling them as they grow up.
  • handle legs and feet on day 2. put on halter/bum rope to go out.
  • initial familiarity and then let them be foals!
  • I try to imprint all my foals. it hasn't always been possible. There has been a noticeable plus to it
  • initial familiarity and then let them be foals!
  • NO!!- let them be, as nature intended
  • I give the dam a full body massage instead.
  • Desensitization, NOT imprinting
  • I only do a little bit, and it has created quiet foals.
  • This is not a fight for dominance The mare and I participate together.
  • I did imprint one foal and have said I would never do it again
  • I don't do all that is advocated but just enough to be able to get a hold and lead the baby daily
  • depends if the foal had problems at birth
  • I did with my first foal, but based on this article, I will not use the techniques w/ the next foal
  • It pays to imprint!
  • it is more important that the foal bond with its mother. Its life depends on it.
  • When baby wants to come see me then I handle him/her, but not until mom first
  • Excellent for desensitization
  • hold babies at birth and handle regularly
  • You have to use common sense. You can overdo.
  • I think it is too interventional at a time when a foal should be bonding with its Mom
  • Your study is wrong, as long as the human contact is basic & does not stress the foal.
  • I handle the mare only until the foal asks for contact
  • We imprint all foals but we wait until the second 24 hours of their lives.
  • gentle sharing of the mare and foal's time is important to fit in with mom and baby
  • Dr. Robert Miller, now in CA, has years of documented good results that last on imprinting foals.
  • I am present at the birth and touch the foal gently rather than desensitize to lots of stimuli.
  • Our foals are 'handled' not imprinted.
  • We do not believe in breeding horses. There are too many culls, due to backyard and over breeding.
  • We leave them alone at first and then handle the foal
  • I need to be able to trim their feet, and treat any cuts they might have.
  • no, I make sure mare is up on all her vaccines, and let them bond. She is model for behavior, not me
  • I have found that repeated and over handling of a foal creates "the large dog" behavior. Bad
  • One mare's babies need to be left alone for a while, then they are easy
  • we start handling the morning after foaling and then every day thereafter.
  • I believe in letting them bond with their dam, and allow them to investigate me while I groom & feed
  • unless it is an emergency
  • It really works!
  • All of my foals have been imprinted. They all were a delight to work with. Nothing negative happened.
  • I have raised three foals and the imprinting has made and big difference in behavior of young horses
  • Every early interaction prepares them for their future jobs.
  • I use limited, we handle our foal in a type of extension of the mares. No objections from either
  • Imprinting my foals resulted in them being friendly and easy to work with.
  • Let them bond in the first hour. Reinforce handling daily--but encourage foal to come to you.
  • I always check my foals right after birth, treat the navel, do physical wellness, etc. and don't push
  • not the ridiculous kind where they stuff fingers up the nostrils! Let them get used to you with mom.
  • No - I handle as little as possible until first winter.
  • We did it with our last foal and she has been pretty laid back about most things we introduce her to
  • Just touching and hanging around closely as well as touching dam.
  • I have had positive results with imprinting, however I am open to learning more about its effect.
  • I hate what imprinting does to foals
  • I have not found imprinting to help.
  • Never believed in the suggested value of it.
  • Used it once and I think I ruined the foal, who grew up to be aggressive & disrespectful of humans
  • Mixed results, not convinced it's worth the effort.
  • As soon as they hit the ground. Also if you have a good dog around, introduce them-amazing results.
  • Some handling and intervention if there is trouble. Otherwise leave them alone let the foal approach
  • Usually within the first week
  • Not as soon as they're born, though. I wait a few hours/ day for them to bond naturally.
  • TTouch has never failed me.
  • My mare that I imprinted, didn't know how to be a mother herself and rejected her foal.
  • Lead, halter, touch, brush, handling feet, earlier the better...AND good contact with mother...
  • Our Polish Arabian was imprinted and is very people oriented, but he also lacks horse etiquette
  • I did imprint one mare, now 13. Thinks she's my equal. Others have more respect.
  • I must say I'm not so sure these methods work, esp. after reading the article.
  • Although we do not do it by any authored system, we try to create a bonding and it seems to roek
  • No more than 10 minutes per day. Finish session on positive note
  • Miniature horses.....we make sure the foals are handled and nursing..
  • Yes, but not immediately after birth.
  • Foals are not all alike sometimes it works, sometimes not depending on the individual
  • I've only had 2 foals and wasn't there immediately at birth
  • don't go overboard, but do handle a great deal. also teach foals to tie at day 1, you'll never regre
  • they will walk all over you
  • I did but found that it was not helpful. I had a foal who was much more insecure.
  • only when intervention is needed
  • I am not a breeder.
  • It seems like imprinting doesnt always guarantee a quieter people horse than babies who were not
  • I just sit in the stall and let them come investigate me
  • Gentle, affectionate consistent interaction with mare first, then mare/foal, then foal works best
  • We tried it but results were not lasting
  • Although I no longer breed my mares, I imprinted 5 and they all have world class dispositions.
  • I play with my foals when they are ready to come to me. I groom the mare alot too.
  • NO OTHER WAY TO START A FOAL ON IT'S WAY TO BE THE BEST HORSE EVER.
  • Can't keep my hands off the cuties.
  • French research not persausive !
  • Contrary to the report cited in this issue our fols have shown none of the negative signs mentioned
  • I like to sit in the stall and let them come to me when they are ready.
  • You can tell the difference between the ones born on the farm and ones brought in.
  • Very little at birth.
  • regular interaction with the dam creates interaction with the foal and no stress.
  • Only as far as helping them stand/nurse, drying them off and rubbing them all over.
  • I like to let them bond with their mama. Never have a problem later on.
  • Let foals be foals till worked, It is possible to do worming , trimming , etc without tying, halter
  • While I do not follow the exact methods in the book. My foals are handled and medically treated.
  • If they need it
  • I use desensitization techniques with all my horses
  • I want the foal to bond to its dam first.
  • I have been there at birth & within the 1st 24 hours and all my foals have been great horses!
  • No foals here...
  • Raising Clydesdales, it's essential to be able to handle them when they mature--imprinting works!
  • I handle them but don't intrude on the mare/foal relationship.
  • our foals love & respect us and they've never stressed out due to human contact
  • It depends on the mare, if she lets me I will.
  • do not have foals, but own one which was imprinted, great filly!
  • my ponies don'r seem to need it, but I might use it if I raised spookier breeds
  • Pick the newborn foal up gently in your arms and hold it until it stops struggling, then release it
  • Works GREAT! Had our little guy halter broke, and standing tied before he was 2 weeks old!
  • only if the mare is unable or unwilling to take care of it.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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