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Foal Imprint Training Can Impact Behavior
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of intensive handling of newborn foals (imprint training) as a means of producing calmer, easier to handle horses. An experimental field trial compared the behavioral responses and selected physiologic parameters of foals intensively handed within the first week of life with controls.
Fifteen foals were divided into two groups. One group received imprint training at birth and daily for 5 days, and a second control group received no such handling. At 4 months of age, calmness, friendliness and the response to various tasks were rated by a blinded observer and compared.
Results indicate handled foals have better calmness and friendliness scores and are more likely to approach a person. Handled foals also had more favorable scores for ease of being placed in stocks and venipuncture procedures, but not for haltering or hair clipping. The neonatal handling did not appear to improve foal responses to specific stimuli such as rubbing ears, probing body orifices or tapping the feet even if those stimuli were included as part of the imprint training protocol.
The authors concluded that intensive neonatal handling has a beneficial general effect on responses of foals and tractability resulting in foals that can be handled more easily and safely; however, the reactivity of foals to specific procedures or stimuli was not improved.