Friday, November 21, 2008

Can You Really Blame Imprinting?

As with every aspect of the horse world, there are advocates of imprinting foals and those who dread having to handle a foal that has no inherent inhibitions with people.

Some people see pictures like this...
And go Awwwww. Others cringe! The first thought through their mind is just how dangerous this will be when baby weighs 1200lbs and wants to plunk himself in your lap. Shooter was just a couple hours old in this picture and he just laid himself in Megan's lap. It was a pretty good indication of what his temperament was going to be like. Both a good sign and a sign that we would have to be especially watchful that Mr Friendly maintained a healthy respect for human space.

Now, in my opinion, it isn't imprinting foals that causes problems. Technically, imprinting is just regular handling the first few days after a foal is born. The goal is get into baby's mind that people handling him is okay. Some foals are docile about this. Some have pretty violent reactions. Nothing can scare you worse than having sweet, cute baby scream in terror and throw themselves around in total panic the second you wrap your arms around them. You may wonder what you got yourself into when a foal who is only a few hours old tries to bite and strike at you as soon as it is restrained.

Up until this year, my imprinting methods were very basic. I handled baby every day, sometimes a couple times a day, for just a few minutes. Really all I did was wrap my arms around them, move them around a few steps, touch them in all of their sensitive little places, handle their feet and I let it go at that. This usually only lasted for the first week to ten days. About that time, baby decides that they don't want to be handled anymore and are pretty darn good at avoiding getting cornered. After the first month, momma and baby went to the pasture. Other than to make sure everyone was okie-dokie, baby wasn't handled again until weaning time. Then they would get loaded up, hauled to town allowed to get settled for a few days, we would pull momma and take her back to pasture. Baby usually settled within a few days and became very friendly. That was the whole point of imprinting.

This year, things were a little different. Since big momma needed to have extra care, momma and baby stayed in town, in close quarters. We did the usual imprinting and then waited out Shooter's period of don't touch. But really...I don't know how some people can have daily contact with a foal and NOT want to love on it. And here arises the problem...

It's not imprinting that causes foals to become disrespectful of human space...it's all the handling after that first month. I can honestly say, that I have spend more effort keeping this foal disciplined than I have loving on him. Friendly foals want to be close to you, they want to chew on you, they want to play with you as if you were another horse. This is not acceptable behavior in an adult horse...why would you let a foal get away with it?



Playing with Rip...
Has to touch everything with that mouth...
What is that I see?...
Hah...ha!! Get the Red Dog...
A lot of foals that are raised in close quarters are only children. For foals, this leads to boredom and the desire to play with anything or anyone who comes around. It is never okay to play games with your foal. Nasty habits arise from allowing your foal to instigate what would be normal games for him to play with other foals or horses-the fly-by kick, the charge, the rear and paw, backing up to you or allowing them to chew on your clothes or hair. In these instances you cannot even wait to react like momma would, cause momma will let him get away with it a time or two before she gets after him. As humans, we have to stop it immediately. A buggy whip is the most effective tool you can carry for awhile. The only time your foal should be allowed to approach you is if they are facing you, calm and focused on you. Getting after your foal with a buggy whip is not going to make him fearful of you...it teaches him that if he doesn't approach you correctly, he is going to get reprimanded. Usually all it takes is one pop on the butt or the shoulder each time they need to be reminded not to treat you like another foal. The worst Shooter ever got was two solid pops on his buttocks-one to stop him from backing up to me and the second to let him know that kicking out in response to the first pop was unacceptable.

Another factor you really have to pay attention too...momma!! A poorly mannered mare usually raises a poorly mannered foal. Extra care needs to be taken that you reaffirm acceptable behavior from momma too. In this case, big momma's only bad habit shows up at feeding time. She is particularly annoying because when it is feeding time, she walks in front of me, zig-zagging back and forth and stopping repeatedly to make sure I am coming. Guess what Jr. started doing? While I have never worried about my old mare kicking out, I do worry about Shooter. Again, a quick pop of the buggy whip on the butt and both of them learned to move out of the way.

There is no doubt in my mind that raising a gentle foal is going to give them a head start in life. But there is gentle and then there is spoiled. Imprinting doesn't spoil foals...improper handling and lack of proper discipline does.

15 comments:

Natarojo said...

I'll be honest these are things I never thought of too much when imprinting but it does make total sense. Sometimes the biggest worry isn't having baby accept you and all your fuss, but it's baby becoming too comfortable with all the love and attention and not learning what the boundaries are between horsey friends and human friends. Lucky for us the one foal we brought into this world seemed to get the right balance. Thank you for the very informative, and thought provoking post!

SkyBar Farm said...

I am a huge proponent of imprinting. I do agree with you though that it can be done wrong. All of my foals have been imprinted and I really see the results when it comes to starting them under saddle. I have yet to have one be cinchy, or go off bucking the first time they are out on the line with the saddle. I feel if done right and consistently it can be a huge benefit to the human and the horse.

Kara

Mikey said...

Good post! One must always be mindful of teaching the right things to youngsters. It's very easy to say "Oh, they're so cute!" and then look back and think, "Oh I should have stopped that way back then".

I believe in imprinting done properly. Sure easier to touch those sensitive areas on a baby than on a big wild thing like what's sitting in my round pen right now. Wish like hell someone had imprinted her... ugh.

Good points, as always, you make us think :)

SunnySD said...

Couldn't agree more - it's not the friendly, it's the lack of respect. Imprinting with no teaching of respect gets them close, where lack of respect can get more easily end up with YOU hurt. Good post.

Mrs Mom said...

Girlfriend, I think it boils down once again to "The Human Element". If HUMANS do it wrong/ inconsistently/ un-intelligently, of COURSE you are setting yourself up for trouble in the long run.

Every horse is different. Every situation, is different. Be smart about things, and you will be able to end up with a nicely mannered colt, imprinted or not.

Mikey- wish we were closer to spell you some there with your giant wild thing.... Suppose it does not help one tiny bit to know we are all thinking of you out here huh? ;)

kdwhorses said...

I agree with you about the handling, if you let them get away with this or that because they are cute and a baby. It isn't going to be any fun when they are much bigger and trying that. Our neighbor asked me to help with her 3 1/2 year old mare. So we go down there she has her caught and she is all over the owner. I first off asked her why she was letting her do that? She said what? I thought oh boy she knows nothing about horses and what to do. So I gave her the lesson on the horse respecting your space while haltered. She wasn't getting it, so I took the mare and showed her. Took the mare a minute and a few corrections, but she was being respectful of me and my space. I thought alright owner will get it know, you know what? She got mad at me for popping her baby! UGH! I tried to explain to her the risks of letting the mare get away with this. The mare was also wanting to nibble. Well, what did the mare do while I was staning there, walk up and nibble me. Well I popped her on the nose and the owner was really peeved with me then! I've tried helping her since then, but she just doesn't get it. I know everyone starts somewhere, and I've since tried to help her, but they won't listen. Sad thing is, this mare will be one of the bad ones with behavioral problems in the future. One that will hurt someone. I love my horses alot, but they are going to be respectful of me and treat me that way. No biting or kicking allowed, period! I will say "Willis" the colt I'm riding now is the same age as the neighbors mare and imprinting is sure seen in Willis. The time the breeders we bought him from took when he was young is seen in this colt. I'm very happy with him.

Great post! I couldn't agree more a spoiled foal or horse is never a good thing!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I believe the imprinting is important to help you be able to catch the foal for veterinary and hoof care. The foals I've seen who have received imprinting were cooperative, while those who were born with no human around ended up requiring months of extra effort. The rules can always be learned later after the foal learns to trust humans.

Tammy said...

I don't know that we imprinted our foals in the true sense of the word. The year we had babies, we had three within 30 days. We handled them all the say way; approached them, touched them and kept near them.

As they got older, all three of their attitudes toward us were different. The filly couldn't wait to see us, one colt could take us or leave us and the other colt was very standoffish - snobbish, not mean. :)

I sold the latter two, but still have the first one. She has grown into my favorite riding mare. I didn't stay in touch with those who bought the other colts -- often wonder what kind of horses they grew up to be.

Enjoy your blog - hated seeing the snow. We've had it out west, but none in my part of the state.... yet!

Tammy in Nebraska

Vaquerogirl said...

I have raised two orphan foals, and they were "imprinted" by necessity. We didn't use the word imprinting back then. Neither foal was hard to break, but the first one was always a little behind the curve- so to speak. We always made sure they were with other gentle horses, and eventually their Wacky ( ARAB) momma. Any horse will act a fool if allowed to- biting,striking kicking behavior isn't reserved for the very young. But there are way to many people trying to raise horses that have no idea of what they are doing- raising a crop of fools that will have no place to go in horsey society- ending up in a disgusting barnyard or the kB truck.
Your post is excellent- and I wish anyone even thinking about raising foals could read it.
Good Job!
Ps Shooter is getting quite handsome!

manker said...

methinks imprinting can only help your future equine partnership. thanx for the news we can use

gp in mt.

Melanie said...

As someone who has imprinted and raised several foals, your post speaks my thoughts exactly...it is through human error that behavioral issues occur.

Manners are manners, and if they don't have them (aren't taught them) when they are foals, they aren't going to suddenly wake up one day and be Wonder Horse...lol!!!

I also agree that bad behavior isn't cute when they are little, because one day they are big, and then they just become dangerous.

Great post, BEC!!!!!

cdncowgirl said...

Very well said!

sue said...

what a great blog. and I "got" exactly what you said... it's kind of like people saying..."I don't give my dog any people food as it teaches him to beg"... it's not the food that allows begging... it's the human!!! thanks for sharing this with us.... your blog is a fav of mine!!!!

Andrea said...

I really think it all depends on the horse. I did "imprint" training with two of my colts, and one horse loves people and the other could care less. But I do know that one can go too far with it. My mother in law had a foal that was so horribly spoiled. So, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

You hit the nail on the head! Good post.

Rising Rainbow said...

Amen, sister! We bring them into this world, we need to give them the proper skills to live in it......that means manners!