Desensitizing at foaling or Not??
Hello All, and welcome to the New Year!! With this new year comes a new exciting foaling season! I always get so excited when the new babies are almost here, and the prospects of what I bred them for are almost here. It's so much better then Christmas for me as I love meeting these babies and dreaming about their futures! Speaking of "futures" we, at Colordale start our babies long before they are born, and the first few hours after birth during the "de-sensitizing period" form one of the most critical foundations we can give to our Mare's new babies. Keeping in mind that the "desensitizing period" is also your mare's "bonding period", we recommend that mare owners remember that babies are learning so much during this time right after birth, and respect what mama needs to teach him/her while balancing what the desensitizing needs are by starting well ahead of birth. Many mare owners think that "desensitizing" during that short timeframe from birth to 12 hours all costs will make or break their mare's babies and will be the only thing to lay that foundation. Truth is, desensitizing begins with the mare and baby learns as much from mom as he/she learns from desensitizing by you. If mama is afraid of clippers, then getting her used to clippers ahead of the desensitizing period will be key before you can desensitize her baby. That way if mama won't let you run the clippers on her baby, you can still desensitize the foal with the sound of clippers on mom. Foal survival depends on emulating the mare's movements, reactions, and following her, so it follows that desensitizing starts with mama before the baby is born, and gives you the natural trust from mom that baby will learn in his/her every day.
Once you know that mama is comfortable with all the items you plan to desensitize with (and with YOU), respecting that this is HER baby first, and you are "grandma/grandpa" will win her heart and her acceptance of you around her baby (and therefore you will gain her foal's acceptance). Desensitizing at least three times with an item or action; touching the foal in every place, hugging around the girth line, fondling the head, ears, nose, hands in the mouth, restraint and release, etc. all help the foal learn the real world with humans, however, everything should be done within mom's tolerance levels. I cannot stress enough that different mares have different tolerance levels for how much they will allow you to handle their baby, and some mares get very upset when they see their foal's being handled- especially during that critical bonding time which is the same as your desensitizing time. Some mares get jealous of your attention to their foals, and when this happens, aggression towards the foal often happens. It is okay to fall back, and give her more attention and ignore the baby as long as baby is nursing, and mama is accepting nursing. Some mares sense their foal's discomfort around a human and aggression turns to you. Again, fall back and give her positive attention.
Desensitization must be done in moderation, and always in respecting your Mare's tolerances, her needs, and comfort levels. When a mare trusts her handlers, she teaches that trust to her foal, so working ahead of birth is your first step to desensitization. Next steps to desensitization is during your first 12 hours after birth; however DO NOT WORRY if mama needs that time for bonding as that is her bonding period also. If you have done your first steps right, and mama is comfortable with your desensitizing activities before her foal was born, then you can continue to work on desensitizing HER. She will teach her foal through her reactions that there is nothing to fear.
All this is to say that the choice to desensitize during those critical hours after birth need to be done in consultation with your mare. This is HER baby, and with your work done well ahead of time, she will teach her baby to accept, respect, and love humans, and to be that bold, fearless, willing, prospect you have always hoped for!