Imprint Training - An Overview
Imprint training offers a singular opportunity to permanently mould a horse's personality. For a short time, the new born foal is programmed to imprint stimuli. The right procedures at the right time yield dramatic results. There is no time a horse will learn faster.
Imprint training can help ease handling, enhance later training efforts and reduce injuries. It shapes behavior in the following ways:
1) Bonding with the imprint trainer. Immediately postpartum, the foal bonds simultaneously with its dam and with one or more persons handling it. Such foals see humans, not as predators, but as fellow horses.
2) Submission, but not fear. During imprint training, the foal cannot escape (its natural method of survival) exposure to frightening stimuli. As a result, it becomes dependent and submissive in its attitude. The foal sees the trainer as a dominant horse or herd leader. Psychologically, this is the ideal relationship between horse and human. We must have submissiveness in a horse if he is to work for us. But, the submissiveness should be created not by fear (a predatory role) but by dependence (a dominant leader role), all with respect to the animal that will be a "partner", instead of a "prisoner".
3) Desensitization to most sensory stimuli (visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory). Most parts of the body, including all body openings, are desensitized. Rapid, repetitious stimuli (flooding) are used until the foal is habituated, i.e. permanently non responsive to those stimuli. Loud noises, fluttering objects or being touched anywhere on the body will thereafter be calmly tolerated.
4) Sensitizing to performance related stimuli. Specifically, the foal can be taught to respond (rather than habituated) to head and flank pressure. The responsiveness allows control over the fore and hind quarters. The foal will lead where directed, and will move its hind end laterally in response to the touch of a finger in the flank region. This is best taught on the day after birth, after the foal is on its feet.
Early bonding between the foal and humans will produce a "partner" foal.
Imprint training, properly performed, will enhance a horse's relationship with humans. It will teach it "good manners" and increase its responsiveness to stimuli that will later improve its performance.
The only "disadvantage" of imprint training is that, since it is best started immediately post-partum, the mare must be brought in for foaling. This is actually desirable, because it allows rapid identification of any obstetrical problems.
It also requires that the Broodmare be gentle and well mannered. If she is not, it is better to correct before the mare foals, or, better, before she is bred. One should not expect to turn out docile, well mannered foals if one doesn't have a well mannered mare.
Yet, some people seems to take pride in owning untrained, ill mannered broodmares. To me, poor manners indicate ownership by an inept horseman.
In a Nutshell
I first became aware that neonatal foals can be trained and their behavior indelibly shaped, about 30 years ago. Subsequently, a behavior shaping routine evolved which I call "imprint training". I have no doubts that the training of new born foals is a new idea. In fact, there is no doubt that human beings have done this for thousands of years. I want is you to note why it is so effective, and encouraged its use because it enhances the relationship between horse and human, and, from a trainer/breeder standpoint, greatly facilitates the rider's job, in all disciplines, but specially in Police work.
Bad mannered horses are the blame of the horse industry. If you can imprint train your foals, this problem will be minimized.
Imprint training is now commonly used all over the world. Since imprint trained horses are more manageable, far fewer injuries occur to horses and people. It has made life easier for both horse and horse handler.