Imprint Training Part 2: Less Invasive Approaches

While Miller’s methods are extreme, there are less invasive variations of imprint training, which omit the insertion of fingers into the ears, nostrils, and anus, with interactions spaced out over a longer period of time. In one example, the foal receives gentle patting on the head, shoulders, back, hindquarters and legs, and lifting of the feet. Unlike in Miller’s method, the foal is not rubbed with a plastic bag; rather, a plastic bag is shaken in front of its head. In the second session, the foal is fitted with a halter, and in the seventh, it is led 40 meters. Somewhere in between the second and fourth session, the foal is conditioned to move forward or backward in response to pressure applied to its hindquarters or chest (Lansade et al., 2005).

In her neonatal handling experiments with 15 foals (7 handled, 8 controls) Barbara Simpson (2002) observed that “[p]robing the ears, inserting a finger up the nose, tapping the feet, or inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into the anus of neonatal foals did not make them less reactive to inserting a nasogastric tube [or] tapping the feet with a [farrier’s] hammer, or inserting an enema probe (to simulate a thermometer)” nor were the handled foals any more accepting of the haltering procedure than the control foals (p.315). However, Simpson indicates that when tested at 4 months of age the handled foals were more likely to approach individuals, appearing calmer and friendlier than the control foals, and they had lower heart rate responses when presented with some stimuli.

Assisted Suckling

Assisted suckling is a neonatal handling process that warrants a closer look. A routine procedure at breeding farms, assisted suckling begins with a foal being restrained and led to the mare’s teat approximately 30 minutes following birth. The teat is placed into the foal’s mouth, and the foal is held by the body and head for the duration of the first bout of suckling (up to 30 minutes) and then left alone with the mare (Henry et al., 2006).


Henry, S., Richard-Yris, M.A., & Hausberger, M. (2006). “Influence of Various Early Human-Foal Interferences on Subsequent Human-Foal Relationship.” Developmental Psychobiology, 48, p. 712-718.

Lansade, L. Bertrand, M., Bouissou, M.F. (2005). “Effects of neonatal handling on subsequent manageability, reactivity and learning ability of foals.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 92, p. 143-158.

Simpson, B.S. (2002). “Neonatal Foal Handling.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 78, p. 303-317.