Imprinting the newborn foal

Read more: Reuse: You may use up to 20 words and link back to this page. Other reuse not permitted Follow us: @HorsetalkNZ on Twitter | Horsetalk on Facebook  A foal who has been handled or imprinted from birth will be much easier to work with as he gets older.
A foal who has been handled or imprinted from birth will be much easier to work with as he gets older.

What if there was a way to practically insure your newborn foal would be manageable and easy to train later in his life and it would take about two hours on the day he was born? Dr Robert N. Oglesby DVM asks the question.

This is the promise made by Dr. Robert Miller if you follow his imprinting plan. My personal experiences with other folk’s imprinted foals had not been that encouraging, I find many are poorly trained to lead and a bit aggressive.

This was not an indication of the lack of worth of imprinting, just that it was not the final word. Foals still needed to learn to lead without resistance. Just as important is that the foal learns early on that he always stands below humans in the herd dominance issue.

Dr Miller has added a few lessons to the initial imprinting process that he says will address these issues making later training a breeze.


The Goals

The goals of the process are:

  • Bonding with humans
  • Desensitization to certain stimuli
  • Sensitization to other stimuli
  • Submission to humans


The Technique


It is important to understand that if done improperly the imprinting process can do more harm than good. Imprinting must be done at birth, the process is lost after day one and maybe within hours of birthing. You can train a foal after birth but this is a bit different. If the foal is not imprinted at birth the imprinting technique makes a wonderful training tool and can be used that way.


It is not difficult to do, you just must be persistent at each step to accomplish the goal, acceptance of the stimulation, before moving on to the next step. Quitting before acceptance is achieved may result in the opposite effect, increased sensitivity.

Bonding / Submission

Start by kneeling at the back of the foal and grasping the muzzle flex it back gently to the withers, this will prevent the foal from standing. Begin toweling the foal dry. During this time the mare is allowed unrestrained access to the foal. The foal is also prevented from standing. This procedure allows the foal to get to know you and establishes you as a dominant player in the foals life. This is not fear but respect you are establishing.


Of course the first desensitization is done using the towel. Once dry start at the head and gently begin rubbing the face and head and begin handling the ears. You should stick your finger, gently, into the mouth and nostrils. This may have to be repeated up to a hundred times, but be persistent, remember the goal: complete acceptance and relaxation. The foal will resist theses procedures and he should be gently but firmly restrained until he quits wiggling. Watch those feet!

Continue the handling and rubbing until the foal accepts it completely, then move down the body. Taking the body in easily handled sections and work on each until acceptance is established. When you first start, the foal will be very reactive and tense but as you go along the foal relaxes and each new section desensitizes a little quicker, until you get to the point that the foal remains relaxed no matter where you rub. Go back and recheck old areas to be sure they are truly desensitized.

One area to avoid desensitizing is the area of the barrel where the heels of a rider will contact to urge the horse onward.

The legs are handled and rubbed starting at the body and working your way down. The legs should be repeatedly flexed and straightened until the foal becomes passive to the process. The bottom of the foot can be gently tapped with the palm of the hand to get use to being shod.

Areas where you might be shy are just under the tail head, the perineum, and the groin, but these areas are important to desensitize also. Be sure to spend time on the teats, scrotum, and penis. Since rectals are important parts of reproduction and some exams it is best to get him used to it now. You can take a plastic or rubber glove, lubricate it with mineral oil, KY jelly, or enema solution and, yes, get the foal use to having its anus manipulated. Start by inserting a lubricated finger into the anus gently and then wiggling it about until the foal relaxes and accepts the procedure.

Once the foal is accepting totally of these procedures, the foal should be turned over and with you still working at the back of the foal, start the procedure on the other side.


The time for the desensitization procedure may take an hour or more after which the foal is allowed to stand and nurse. Do not rush it. continue to work with each area until the foal is completely relaxed. Only then move on to the next area.


The Results

Following this procedure the foal is compliant, accepting of human companionship, and easily led and trained. Dr Miller says this imprinting is permanent and results in an unafraid but respectful foal.


Reprinted with permission from, an internet information resource for the equestrian and horse industry since 1994. 

Originally published on in 2005.

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5 thoughts on “Imprinting the newborn foal

  • October 17, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    This “training” technique has nothing to do with imprinting, but everything to do with learned helplessness. Subjecting a foal to aversives from which she cannot escape can lead to learned helplessness. There are many negative aspects that go along with learned helplessness including shyness, depression, and anxiety to name just a few.

  • October 18, 2013 at 3:33 am

    Thank you, Chris, for making this observation. The foal suffering “imprinting” has the same look as a live zebra being eaten by lions.

  • July 13, 2016 at 11:54 am

    We should not interfere with the mare and foal bonding time. I totally disagree with humans being so involved during the first several days. I feel as though we should be around, but not to interfere. Desensitize the foal by touching her and being present is a better start. Humans must interject themselves to the point of being repulsive. Back off!

  • November 14, 2018 at 6:06 am

    So you take a newborn horse and wrestl it and sexually harass it… to make it like you more?? What the heck is going on here???

  • August 23, 2019 at 7:11 am

    These people have no idea what it is like to imprint on a foal. Its not harassment, just getting it used to it because the vet it going to do it, and if you don’t get the foal used to it the vet is going to get kicked, that will be your fault.


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