by Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D.
Sometimes I think human doctors would benefit from hanging around with the veterinarians more often. There is a technique for developing a relationship with a newborn foal (baby horse) that is supposed to be wonderful for making it easier to befriend, tame, and train the foal when it is older. The technique -- you spend the first 24 hours of the foal's life with it, inside the stall, along with the mother horse. That way, the foal "bonds" to you as well as to its mother. You rub it all over, stick your fingers in its mouth, ears, anus (anywhere you might later have a legitimate need to be putting your fingers or a thermometer, for example), talk to it, let it smell you, see you, hear you, etc. When I adopted my two wild mustangs and then they both had babies, everyone I talked to who was a "horse" person, whether vet, trainer, or horse owner, said to do this with the babies. Of course, I couldn't, because the mares were still very wild, but it is clearly recognized that the first 24 hours is critical in the baby horses life to bonding. If you can't spend this first day with the baby, then it takes much longer to establish a good relationship. I have been working with one of the babies for three months now, and am now able to brush her, pet her, put her halter on and off, etc., and she is very tame and friendly, but it took three months of hard work. The mothers and the other baby are still skittish.
Along the same lines, we live among cattle ranchers, and they'll tell you flat out that any calf who doesn't get its mother's colostrum in the first day of life (for whatever reason) will be "no good -- weak and sickly, won't grow properly," even if it goes on to nurse well after that first day. I haven't ever asked any of these old crusty cowboys how they feel about this in the case of human babies. 'Twould be interesting. . .
August 3, 1995
Last updated March 11, 2004, by kad. Contents copyright 1999-2004 Sue Ann Kendall and Kathy Dettwyler. Thanks to Prairienet, the Free-Net of east-central Illinois, for hosting this site from 1999 through 2004.