We remain with our mares round-the-clock while they are expecting for a number of reasons; because we have a true partnership with all of our horses, to help ensure that nothing will go wrong with the delivery for mom or baby and to be there to intervene in case something does, to provide immediate aftercare to the mare thereby avoiding unnecessary endangerment to her health and well being, to inspect the placenta and immediately begin evaluating the health of the foal, and to imprint the baby as soon as its born.
Imprinting is the process of providing experiences to the foal so that they become fundamental memories influencing the foal for the rest of its life. If the foal learns that certain experiences are non-threatening during its first moments in the world, it will be more likely to tolerate or embrace those and similar experiences later on. Theoretically imprinting can be done any time during the first three days after the foal is born, but we find that the best results are achieved if done at birth (see our LINKS page for a review of Dr. Robert M. Miller's imprinting techniques).
Once we are sure that all is OK with mom and baby, we get some bran mash and fresh hay for mom and gently hold the foal down and towel it off - this helps to establish human dominance over the horse (of course, this is done very short term as we want to see the foal get to its feet and nurse from its mother). Next we gently rub our fingers repeatedly in its ears, mouth, and nostrils. The entire body is touched, handled and rubbed down. Attention is given to the legs and feet, raising them, holding them and gently tapping the bottom of each foot (the farrier will appreciate this!).
Next we introduce the foal to the buzzing of the clippers rubbed (cutting side away, of course) over its mane and chin, the spray of the water bottle (to imitate the application of fly sprays), plastic bags, and a halter gently wrapped around its nose and head. All actions are repeated on both sides of the foals body. While we are doing this we constantly talk to the foal in an animated, but calm and reassuring voice - by the next morning the foal will whinny at the sound of our approaching voices - ‘it’s mom & dad number two’!
Once this process has been completed (it doesn’t take long), the foal is allowed to rise, test its legs and begin searching for mom’s milk while we provide ‘bumper’ protection for the wobbly baby. After it has nursed normally, we again handle it and cradle it in our arms so that it learns to accept restraint while standing. Once it accepts, we release. Finally, we get to take a well deserved break (well, maybe after some hugs and a game of shadow puppets with the flashlight on the stall wall). Mom and foal are left in a well lighted stall and checked on regularly for the next 12 hours.
Our vet is contacted ASAP and a health exam and IgG test is scheduled for the foal. The IgG is extremely important in that it tells you whether or not the mare’s milk is providing the proper immunities to the foal. If this is overlooked the most robust foal’s health can suddenly and mysteriously decline.
Some have expressed concerns over imprinting at birth fearing that it can adversly impact the bonding between the mare and foal. We have never experienced anything even close to this. The mare sees us as part of a team and has no problem with us working with the baby. In fact it seems like she appreciates the break after nearly a year's worth of pregnancy and delivery of a 100 lb. foal. She usually enjoys her hay or naps, offering the occasional nuzzle or nicker, and then takes the initiative again when the foal starts to stand and nurse. The foals have no problem figuring out who mom is either.
The process of repeated positive and non-threatening experiences is continued and expanded regularly over the next few weeks including halter training in the first few days and leading within a few weeks as the foal is introduced to the concepts of Natural Horsemanship.
Although intensive, we have found
that commitment to thorough imprinting at birth has given us foals that
are braver, calmer, more trusting, inquisitive and willing, and who see
us, and their future owners, as friends and partners.
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