It is unedited and unfinished. I had planned to discuss further how to use the mare's influence to teach her foal, but with Crystal's passing I am having to teach Zeeba without his mother's help. It has been a learning experience for both of us, more on that to come in the future.
6/20-6/26 The first few days after foaling Crystal was very apprehensive and nervous, her hormones put her on guard about everything. Being an excellent mother she did her best to trust me, all the while she was constantly on alert ready to defend her new little one. I've been calling the colt Zeeba (at least until a better name comes along), and he is already proving to have his mother's calm gentle nature, albeit with a lot more attitude.
Zeeba's presence makes continuing his mother's education far more difficult. The biggest challenge is trying to teach Crystal while splitting my attention with her son, I have to be extremely aware of both horses. If I'm not careful Zeeba tangles himself in the lead line or uses the halter to lead his mother away from me, and he continually licks and gums my equipment. A few years ago I had a rib or two broken by a 48 hour old foal that threw out a little playful kick in my direction, that helped to educate me in the importance of keeping a close eye on the little ones.
With Crystal's progress thus impeded, I thought I would discuss making a friendly foal. I hope everyone will forgive me for straying into the road of attempting to be educational, I promise I will try not to make a habit of it.
As a start I would like to make it clear that I have not imprinted Zeeba. Scientifically speaking, imprinting is a phenomenon that has a "critical period" which only occurs within a few hours after the birth of an animal. The "critical period" differs in length and timing among species and no specific time has been scientifically proven among horses yet. (See the quote from Dr. Miller at the right. He literally wrote the book on foal imprinting so his use of
"If imprint training is done within the first hour following birth," R.M. Miller D.V.M. writes, "the foal will develop a powerful bond for the person doing the training. This occurs because contact has been made within the imprinting period and the foal will want to follow and respect the human involved, just as he will his dam.
When I am introducing myself to a new foal and mare I actually deliberately avoid making contact with the foal. I know this is the opposite of what most people do, but let me explain my reasoning. Both mare and foal know that the baby is delicate, defenceless, making it a prime target for predators. If you walk into the pen with the intention of lavishing attention all over that new baby, you will appear to both of them to be behaving exactly like a predator; don't expect a warm greeting from either of them. On the other hand if you ignore the foal and lavish attention on the mare, who, if she is friendly(thank goodness I had time to make friends with Crystal) will begin to relax and enjoy the extra lovin'. The mare's relaxation will transmit to the foal, pretty soon curiosity will kick in and the baby will come to see what mom is so happy about. I let the foal spend several minutes investigating me before I make any move towards touching it.
When I do touch the baby I use gentle rubs on the back, chest, and lower neck, avoiding the head (especially the poll area) and hips. Most foals will kick up if you rub the top of their hips, which usually causes a human to defend itself, which in turn will frighten the foal, which then can upset the mare, and you can get into a lot of trouble pretty quickly. Foals also will often rear if you try to touch their head and upper neck, which can set off the same chain of events listed for kicking. Rubbing too hard can also upset the little one, start lightly and slowly increase your touch so they learn to tolerate more incrementally. Young foals are programmed to panic quickly, so don't be surprised if in spite of best efforts baby still gets upset, just shift your focus back to the mother, reassuring her that you mean baby no harm, and baby will usually come drifting back pretty quickly.