Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No prints left by early foal training sessions
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Lots of horse trainers and breeders stand behind the idea of imprint training their foals. Imprint training is a desensitization process that begins shortly after the birth of a new foal. There are many was to go about this training but most methods include rubbing a foal all over, lifting its feet and exposing it to sprays and plastic bags. The idea is that early exposure and desensitization will help the foal cope with these in the future and make them more manageable and calmer when further training begins.

This study takes all the foals on a farm from a given breeding season and about half are put through imprint training methods form the time they stand and nurse. Training sessions are given at this time as well as after 12, 24, and 48 hours after birth. Foals in the control group are not handled. After this initial training al the foals are tested at 1, 2 and 3 months of age. Their acceptance and tolerance are measured on a given scale to see how the early training has helped. In all the tests, including haltering, attaching a heart-rate monitor, and introducing novel and previously shows stimuli, the imprinted foals showed no more acceptance of the tests. In the tests where the behavior (lack of rejection) was rated there was no notable difference between the control foals and the imprinted ones.

While imprint training has long been a staple in large breeding farms this study has found no real advantages to the method used (which was one of the widely accepted procedures). Some variations of the training can be more successful, but the reasons might not be because of the early start but more of the repetitive nature of the training. While the affects of imprinting may be obvious in other animals, such as birds, this early life training in foals doesn’t seem to be as important as steady, reinforced training over time.
Posted by: Erica Damon (1)


At 5:48 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I noticed that the paper was published in 2002 and I am curious to know if horse trainers and breeders still use imprint training. I think it would interesting if they still did considering the research showed there were no advantages to it. Another thing I would be interested in knowing is whether or not it has a negative affect on the foals since they start the training as soon as they can stand.

Tara Quist

At 8:28 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I'm curious if they allow the foals to be in contact with other older horses during this process or if they strictly only allow them to be with their trainers. I think that imprint training might be more effective if they limit the time spent with older horses for the first few weeks of their life while they constantly use the imprinting techniques. This way the horse would be very comfortable with humans. Additionally, I'm surprised to see that the research showed no advantage to imprinting. I would assume that this training would increase their muscle and nervous memory but apparently it doesn't.

Patrick Salome

At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Erica, this was very interesting. I did not know that about fouls. It was written very well, in the second paragraph you wrote the word "al" instead of "all". The idea of imprint training horses is beneficial to the breed. Are there any other domestic animals where imprint training is used? The picture was adorable. Great post!

Mia DiFabbio

At 5:37 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I was curious if the study conducted only used one breed of horse or whether it was a mix of breeds. I was thinking that different breeds of horses might naturally have different temperaments and affect how well a horse responded to conditioning.

-Benjamin Spozio

At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was very interested by this article and was wondering why it still seems like a popular thing to do when it doesn't show any clear advantages. I was thinking that maybe it was just this study that showed no advantages, and maybe thinking if they used different types of horses would they have gotten different results.

Amanda Joyce

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a great article! The concept is very interesting and I never knew this was done when training foals. I too am curious though as to whether this was done with only one breed of horses. Also, was it done at only one location at a certain time of year? I don't know what affects the time of year might have on the study but if several of these studies were done at different times of the year and places, maybe the results would vary.

Post by Sarah Moltzen

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found it surprising that imprint training didn't work. It is probably true that the repetitive nature of the training was what actually worked, but I think the early start may still have some advantages. Training the horses later in their life may result in more repetitive trainings because those horses will not be used to how they have to change themselves. But this is just a guess. I am curious to see if there are any further studies.

Hanbing Guo

At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the picture! It really set the mood for the information following it. I was wondering if there were similar tests with similar results for other farm animals such as cows or sheep. Also do you know of similar tests with other herd animals like the zebra?

Ada Marie Flores

At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's odd that they only exposed them to the imprint training within the first 48 hours of being born. I don't think that would be enough to have any significant effects for an experiment. Also, they didn't have many horses available by the third month which also seems unreliable for the experiment. I am curious why the imprinting didn't better the horses behavior, compared to in birds where imprinting is very strong. I thought this was an interesting article though.

posted by Julie Riley

At 9:45 PM, Blogger PWH said...

That's interesting. The results were not what one would expect. One reason I believe this is so, is because horses are amazingly smart animals (have very large brains). I wonder if one of the reasons why the imprinting doesn't really work in horses, is because of their intelligence. If they can recognize us as humans and not other horses. Unlike ducks, who are easily imprinted and can mistake humans for their own species. Since the study, is imprinting still a popular method of desensitization? Thank you for your article.

-Amanda Sceusa

At 11:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know if this was tried in any other animals (I did see in the article that it was positive with birds)? Also, why would they use plastic bags for this imprinting? Did I miss something silly? This was a very interesting article! I would like to know more about other animals if there were more tests up to date like this.

-Alyson Paige

At 11:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your comments, in this study they used mostly Quarter Horse foals and a few Thoroughbred foals, the study was conducted on one farm with a single crop of foals. I think the Quarter Horses would be a good choice as they are known to be very trainable. I also know that imprint training is still popular thing to do and that horse owners will probably keep doing it regardless of what science tells them. As to imprinting in other animals, it has been shown that early interaction have reduced the fear of humans in goats, sheep and pigs but these cases differ from the ones with horses, on farms with goats or sheep generally they live in large herds and aren’t handled often so a bit of extra attention can go a long way while horses are handled daily in most cases so the effects of the early training on them aren’t the same. Though I think that a major factor is that often in animals, like birds, where strong human imprinting occurs many times the human replaces the animals mother, while with horses the foal is kept with the mother. And to answer the question about the use of plastic bags, they have lots of motion and noise so they are a good tool to expose the horse to various objects.

posted by Erica Damon (1)


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