Early intensive handling of domestic animals involves a program of handling very young animals and introducing them to various procedures and stimuli. Early intensive handling in horses is called imprint training and was made popular by veterinarian Dr. Robert Miller in California. Imprint training involves taking a foal immediately after birth and performing several specific handling procedures. The specific procedures involve rubbing the foal all over its body, inserting a finger in the mouth, ears, and rectum, tapping on the feet, running hair clippers and a plastic bag over the foal, using a spray bottle around the foal and applying a halter. These procedures are to be done multiple times during the first 2 weeks of life as well as trailer loading and tying. Dr. Miller believes learning at this time will make handling later in life more acceptable to the foal.
There have been many studies to determine if different aspects of imprinting is actually effective. Dr. Nancy Diehl indicates a large number of people performing imprint training do not understand how it should be done and do not perform it as Dr. Miller suggested. In fact, it is rare for the procedure to be performed as Dr. Miller suggested and this may be the reason for a lack of response in several studies. It is believed that if done correctly, imprint training can provide some benefits to young horses even if the benefits are temporary. However, there are no studies that have shown the benefits achieved by handling foals can only be achieved by handling foals when they are very young. The fact is that the more foals are handled regardless of age, the better they will respond when older and they enter training.
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