EquiSearch: Welcome to tonight’s chat with Dr. Robert Miller, an author and cartoonist who is well-known for his pioneering work in foal imprinting. After graduating from Colorado State University in 1956, Dr. Miller founded the Conejo Valley Veterinary Clinic in Thousand Oaks, California, where he practiced for 32 years. Although he’s retired from practice, the popularity of his books and videos make him a sought-after speaker on several continents. A captivating storyteller, he racks up frequent-flyer miles sharing his experience and teaching his gentle techniques, while taking his own advice: “Work hard at something you love.”
AGanly: Hi Bob, this is Althea in Uruguay. Marcela sends her regards….I have found that foals kick out at the handler usually at 3 or 4 days old. This habit has continued even after 10 days. What should I do to prevent a kick?
tjsunshine: Hi, I’m Terry, I just checked in. Wow, I’m raising my first foal. She is 3 weeks old and I haven’t had her kick out or anything. She is very sweet and will come to me and let me rub her all over but is a little funny about her face and below her jaw.
AGanly: I’ve experienced this habit only twice…both this month! and with completely different breeds.
kathy: What are some of the most important things you should do to imprint a foal? I have not had a foal yet but am expecting one in a couple of months.
tjsunshine: I’m sold on the whole imprinting thing. What a difference between my little girl and the foals at the large neighboring barn where they don’t handle them. You can’t get near those little ones and mine will stand and be petted by a gang of people. Jane: I know that imprinting has to be done as soon as possible but when is it too late to do?
Dr. Miller: Hello everyone. I’ve done telephone interviews before, but this is the first time I’ve done something on the Internet. This is a new experience for me.
AGanly: An imprinted foal is definitely people friendly. We’ve managed to make a small change in the way the horses are handled in our area. All thanks to Dr. Miller!
Dr. Miller: Althea, stay out of the way! This is a natural response. Some breeds of cattle kick more than others. That might be true in horses as well. It’s normal behavior.
AGanly: OK! As long as it wasn’t something I did wrong!
Dr. Miller: Kathy, Don’t do foal imprinting unless you adequately study it. I have two videos and books describing the procedure. Or, attend a seminar or talk to someone who’s experienced. Pat Parelli also has a new video out. It’s easy to do, but it’s important to do it correctly. If it’s done correctly it’s 100 % effective.
ccpandq: What happens if you don’t imprint correctly?
Dr. Miller: Jane, don’t confuse imprinting with training. Imprinting is an automatic thing. It’s bonding between the foal and what it sees around it. If you just move around the foal, it will imprint and recognize you later on–and be stimulated to follow you. Imprint training is training during the imprint period–which is shortly after birth. The advantage of training during the imprinting period is that you can do so much so quickly.
In an hour, you can do what it would take you days to teach later on. Imprinting and training are two different things; I’ve simply combined them.
tjsunshine: I missed my foal’s birth, I got there as she was trying to stand but I still had great results.
Dr. Miller: ccpandq, the imprinting is simply a bonding. If you don’t do the training properly, you run the risk of the foal learning the wrong things.
Jane: Isn’t a part of the imprinting simulating experiences or things that they will experience later in life – for example picking up the feet or handling the ears, nose, teeth?
zuppy: What type of “training” can you do in the “imprint period”?
Dr. Miller: You may get a disrespectful foal. One of your goals is to desensitize the foal to frightening stimuli, but some people rush the job and do the opposite. However, many people do it incorrectly and still get good results. I don’t recommend this because there’s a risk of getting the wrong results–especially if the foal has a dominant or flighty personality. It’s easy to do, but you must follow instructions.
tjsunshine: I have to exit but will read this all later. Thank you, Dr. Miller–I read the book two weeks before my foal’s birth and I’m thrilled with the results. It is sooo worth the time it takes.
Dr.Miller: Jane, yes. If you look at my videos or books, you’ll notice I handle every part of the body. But, they must be handled properly, or you will sensitize them instead of desensitize them.
kathy: Is there anything you can do for heaves?
Dr. Miller: Zuppy, by the time the foal is one week of age, I’ve taught it everything it needs to know for the rest of its life–to lead, to tie, to accept a saddle, bit and bridle, tolerate veterinary procedures, having feet worked on. It’s desensitized to clippers, it will load in a trailer., it’s used to dogs, plastic, paper, cows, ropes–whatever you want. All future training will enhance the responses. This is very important–by one week, it’s learned to back, turn on the haunches and forehand, and to move laterally. I can also teach them to jump. They learn to enjoy it.
ccpandq: Dr. Miller, your literature emphasizes training methods that seem compatible or based upon “natural horsemanship” principles. What happens to an imprint-trained foal later in life if similar methods are not used to start the horse?
Dr. Miller: Let me talk more about sensitizing and desensitizing. I don’t want the horse to be frightened of being touched anywhere on its body. Let’s take an ear. I’ll rub the ear repeatedly for a full minute. I put my finger in the ear canal for another minute. That ear’s now desensitized. On the other hand, if pressure is put into the flank area, where your heel would be when you ride–we want the horse to move away from that pressure. So instead of repeatedly poking that area until there’s no response, what I do is poke until there is a response. When I have that movement, I reward the horse by stopping. This is repeated several times. Now, when I’m finished, I can touch the horse’s ears without a response, but I can touch the flank and there’s movement–that area’s sensitized–and that’s what I want. You often see a rider poking a horse with a spur every step. Soon, the horse won’t respond because he’s desensitized. This is the concept my books and videos explain–so you can avoid these mistakes.
mkkram: If you have a “skittish mare,” is this imprinted to the foal as well?
zuppy: What do you do with the mare while “training.” Some mares do not accept the handling of their foals.
akota004: What can I do with a yearling who pins his ears and is aggressive at feeding time?
Dr. Miller: Kathy, yes. Heaves is an allergy–similar to asthma in humans. There are two things to do. There are several medications, so consult your own vet. You can also avoid the allergen. The most common allergens are dust and molds in hay. There are special feeds that are moist and less dusty. That’s very helpful. I’ve found horses with heaves do best on pelleted feeds. The pellets are less dusty. Also, the pelleting process adds heat, which destroys the mold spores. We’re talking about symptomatic relief; this isn’t a cure, but should help.
mfiello: How often do you do the imprinting, and what time frame?
Dr. Miller: ccpandq, what the foal learns during imprint training can be spoiled later on. Therefore, it’s important that future training be done by someone using scientifically correct techniques. Nearly all the popular clinicians–using natural horsemanship methods–train horses using similar techniques.
Dr. Miller: Mkkram, the foal will respond to the mare’s behavior. This isn’t imprinting, but the foal will mimic this behavior. Therefore, I don’t believe any mare should be bred unless she’s well mannered. Ill-mannered mares can be changed quickly by a competent trainer. I’ve been fooling with this for 43 years, but in the last 3 years I learned that if the mare was imprint-trained at birth, they are approving of the method when it’s done with their foal. The mare will stand there without agitation or jealousy–if she’s been through it herself. Someone else pointed this out to me. I learned that it’s true.
Zuppy, there are some mares that don’t accept the handling of the foal. I try to start handling the foal before the mare gets to her feet. I’ve had a cowboy hold a mare away from me while I worked with a foal. Zebras have been done by separating the mom from the foal by a fence. She could see the foal, but not harm the handler.
ccpandq: Dr. Miller, are there any practices that you have espoused in the past that you would rather have “put back into the bottle” so to speak? Or are you happy with how “Imprint Training” has evolved?
Dr. Miller: Akot004, this is a common complaint. I recommend people not get too frustrated by pinning ears–as long as there’s no physical aggression to accompany it. Pat Parelli’s 7 Games videos would be good to watch. If you practice with an aggressive horse, you’ll see a change. If it’s just pinning ears with no aggression, just ignore it. I start playing Parelli’s 7 games when the foal is 2 weeks old. By that time, they’ll tie and lead. The tape is for older horses, but it works well here, too.
mfiello: Should all future exposures be introduced to the foal during initial imprint, such as clippers?
Dr. Miller: mfiello, I don’t have a lot of time, so what I do is do the session at birth–about an hour, and max of 2 hours. The next day I do a 20-minute session. This is explained in my tapes. Then, I go every other day until they’re 2 or 3 weeks of age. After that, I handle them when I need to. That’s the way I do it. Other people have other methods. Parelli has someone with a foal every day for a week. He gets great results, but has the time and students to do that. Even in a short time, the results are spectacular. By the time the foal is a month old, I’ve spent 4-5 hours with it, but have everything done. In my most recent video, “Early Learning,” I show several foals from birth to 2 weeks. After that, the job’s done. Then, I go to the 7 games.
zuppy: Where can one obtain your videos?
Dr. Miller: ccpandq, I’m very pleased. It’s gone far beyond where I expected. I predicted the Thoroughbred industry would adopt this, but not in my lifetime. It’s in widespread use in racehorses. I’m going to Kentucky this weekend. It’s also spread into other species. Wild animal trainers are using it–zebras, elephants, rhinocerous, llamas, deer. It works in any species where the young are fully functional and able to help themselves. It’s also being used in range cattle.
Dr. Miller: mfiello, it’s not essential, but it’s helpful. Anything you can think of. There are some things we can’t anticipate, but if you can, introduce them as soon as possible.
In addition to the things I describe in my books and tapes, my neighbor has llamas and cattle. When my foals are about a week of age, I lead them over and expose them to that. I’ll also lead them from the mare and to a running stream. That’s done at 10 days of age.
Dr. Miller: zuppy, I’ve done about 7 videos. The last 3 are by Video Velocity. They’re on foal training, understanding the horse’s mind, and horsemanship. Contact the company by mail at: Box K, Virginia City, Nevada 89440. (800) 284-3362, or (775) 847-9847, or [email protected] You can get the imprint training book, Imprint Training of the Newborn Foal, from 800-874-6774, or 719-633-5524. Another book I’ve done, Understanding the Secrets of the Horse’s Mind, is available from 920-725-0955. Those are the ones I recommend right now–the most up to date.
crouser: Should you avoid touching the foal on its sides where your spurs will eventually rest? I’ve been told that would dull the baby.
ccpandq: Dr. Miller, our imprint-trained foals are not alarmed at all when approached while lying down. We can roll them around on the ground, just like during imprinting. Can foals become too accommodating of humans?
Dr. Miller: ccpandq, regarding things I might have changed, there is one thing: I wouldn’t have called it imprint training. The words are opposite and sometimes cause confusion. The foal will imprint on what it sees move. That can be people, dogs, machinery. Imprinting is instant learning. Training is learning by reinforcement. The two words are almost opposite. I’ve heard people say they imprinted their horse when he was 6 months old. That’s not imprinting, that’s training. That’s why I’m calling my new video “early training.” Early Learning, the Complete Training of the Newborn Foal during its Imprinting and Critical Learning Periods is the name of my new video, and I think that will help people understand the difference between imprinting and training.
There’s nothing else I’d change. I’ve added to it, but I haven’t taken away. Other people have added to it, too. People send me videos from around the world–things I wouldn’t have thought of. There’s a Standardbred trainer in Norway who’s desensitizing foals with a cart early on. Overall, there are people all over the world who object to this work. Some are bound to tradition. This isn’t new. I didn’t invent this. This has been done in various cultures throughout history. I set out to name it and make it known.
zuppy: Thank you, Dr. Miller, for the informative chat. I will be looking into your videos as this interests me. I must go and feed a calf now.
Dr. Miller: A lot of people say it isn’t natural. Well, domestication isn’t natural. We raise horses to be a domestic animal. This is a great help in domestication. All the farms that are doing this and know what they’re doing swear by it. My own horses and mules have achieved great results. Despite the fact there are nay-sayers, there is a lot of positive info around the world. Vets and farriers have gotten hurt in the past–imprint training can significantly reduce this. It also eliminates brute force. It’s much more humane than other past training techniques.