Imprint-Trained Trotting Filly Passes $1 Million Mark

Buck I St. Pat has been trotting along the road to glory since she was two days old.

That was the first time that breeder Ron Fuller, DVM, hooked the Standardbred filly to an old goat cart and let her pull it around. "They'll follow their mother anywhere," Fuller says. "Or maybe, I should say, they'll follow their lunch anywhere."

Five years later, Buck I St. Pat isn't following anyone. Or, at least she hasn't been in 31 of her 56 starts, including the Perretti Matchmaker July 12 at Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey. The $52,500 winner's share of the purse put her career earnings just over the $1 million mark, with $1,027 to spare.

The CM Training System, modified for use with a cart
Buck I St. Pat

Top: The CM Training System, modified for use with a cart. Bottom: Buck I St. Pat, on a roll.

Fuller began developing his particular training method after hearing a talk from Robert M. Miller, DVM, about imprint training. The technique is based on the concept that all young animals have a "critical learning period," during which they traditionally learn to recognize their kin, find food, and perform other basic tasks. Imprint training attempts to use that period to also teach foals to yield to pressure and to desensitize them to anything from electric clippers to farrier work.

"Years ago, I had a client that was line-driving a young Standardbred when he reared up and flipped over," Fuller relates. "He had fractured his skull, and we had to put him down. That was when I started thinking that there had to be a better way."

Fuller spent a few years experimenting with imprint training, but when Buck I St. Pat was born, he decided to go all out. He even worked with California-based company CM Equine Products to modify their foal-sized training harness, marketed as the CM Training System, in order to accommodate a cart.

Some scientific studies have suggested that imprint training might cause more behavioral problems than it corrects, but Fuller maintains (and trainer Mickey Burke and driver Tim Tetrick agree) that Buck I St. Pat is one of the most well-behaved horses they've ever seen.

Fuller has used the same style of imprint training in a few other foals that he's bred, and says that though none share Buck I St. Pat's speed, they all share her temperament.

"Her speed isn't because of the imprinting--you can't teach speed," Fuller says. "But they'll try to please you, and they won't use up their adrenaline before the race starts, and that can make all the difference."

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