Outcome of tactile conditioning of neonates, or "imprint training" on selected handling measures in foals

Sharon Spier, Jeannine Berger Pusterla, Aurora Villarroel, Nicola Pusterla

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20 Scopus citations


Behavioural reactions to selected handling procedures were compared between conditioned, or imprint-trained, and untrained foals raised on the same farm. Nineteen randomly chosen healthy foals were imprint trained at birth and 24 h later (Group A). Twenty-one similar foals that were not imprint-trained served as age-matched controls (Group B). Training began within 10 min of birth and consisted of touch desensitization by gentle rubbing. Each tactile stimulus was repeated 30-50 times over 45-60 min, until the foal no longer resisted the procedure and appeared relaxed. The procedure was then repeated at 24 h of age. At that time a physical examination and blood analysis were performed to assess the foals' health status. Group B animals were not handled except for a brief physical examination and blood analysis at 24 h of age. Thereafter all foals were kept on pastures with their dams with no further handling until they were three months of age. Any foals handled for other reasons before that time were excluded from the study. At three months, each of the 28 foals that completed the study experienced the following handling procedures: acceptance of restraint, haltering, complete physical examination, acceptance of a plastic rebreathing bag, touching the whole body, intramuscular vaccination in the neck, intranasal vaccination, and deworming with oral paste. Response to each procedure was scored (1=not resistant, 2=low resistance, 3=strong resistance, 4=not possible without major physical restraint). Conditioned foals (Group A) were significantly less resistant to touching the front and hind legs and picking up the hind feet (P<0.05). The administration of vaccines and paste dewormer and the collection of blood were tolerated by the majority of the foals of both groups with no or low resistance. It appeared that neonatal imprint training resulted in a learned behaviour that resulted in decreased self-defence responses towards handling the limbs at three months of age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)252-258
Number of pages7
JournalVeterinary Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2004


  • Early handling
  • Horse
  • Imprint train
  • Neonatal foals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


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