The Expectant Mare

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We go through a lot of expense, hassle, and heartache to breed our mares. Then we wait 11 months for the reward. Some general knowledge and guidelines should be followed to insure a healthy start.

The arrival of a foal is an exciting, anxious time. Events seem to happen at inopportune times when we least expect them. Preparation and some basic knowledge will help assure a good outcome.

Most often a mare will foal with no problems or complications; however, when we have a lot of time and expense invested we want to do everything in our power to prevent potential problems.

Monitoring a mare as she approaches her due date can become tiresome. Methods for predicting the time of foaling using milk/colostrum samples are quite accurate in narrowing the arrival time. Once foaling is imminent, constant surveillance either through night checks or electronic monitoring is useful.

A mare in which foaling is imminent may show obvious signs such as a decrease in appetite, pacing-pawing, sweating, and leaking of milk. Most of these signs suggest a foaling within 12-24 hours.

Mares most often break their water while standing and will then lay down. There may be several episodes of lying down and getting up in an effort to do some last minute positioning of the foal in the birth canal. Eventually, the mare will usually lie down and begin forceful contractions to deliver her foal. Some mares may lie down, have contractions, rise, pace, and then repeat the process.

From the time the mare breaks her water to the delivery of the foal, no more then 30 to 45 minutes should pass. If 20 to 30 minutes pass with no signs of progress, the appearance of the feet and nose, calling for veterinary assistance would be in order.

Unfortunately, a foal cannot endure a long complicated labor and survive. Realistically from the time you recognize a problem, a call for help is made and help arrives, enough time has passed which will markedly decrease the chances of a good outcome.

The ability of a mare owner or attendant to recognize a few common problems may be all that is needed to save a foal.

An important aspect of the foaling mare’s environment is freedom from distraction. Give the mare her space, and foaling is not an excuse for a slumber party with a lot of noise and unfamiliar people. Multiple distractions will add stress and may disrupt the normal foaling process. Keep people and noise to a minimum.

When the mare’s water breaks, note the time and quietly observe. If minimal to no progress is made in 15 to 20 minutes follow these steps to ensure everything is all right.

1. The norm is to have presentation of the front legs, (soles down), coming first. The legs should be staggered by 6-8″ in order to allow easy passage of the elbows and shoulders. The foal’s head should be resting on top of the legs. If the above signs are noted, the delivery should be normal. Occasionally the mare may tire or give up. Gentle traction on the front legs during a contraction will help deliver the foal.

2. Occasionally a foal may become locked at the elbows/shoulders. In this situation simply pulling one leg out farther than the other, to stagger them, will allow the foal to be delivered. The head of the foal may also become turned slightly preventing a smooth delivery. If the head is not visible, a quick exam with a clean lubed hand may reverse a simple problem.

3. If 20 to 30 minutes have passed with no visible signs of a foal, a call for veterinary assistance should be made. The mare should be walked until assistance arrives. This helps to distract the mare and decrease forceful contractions.

A foaling mare with problems dystocia is a true veterinary emergency. However, there are some instances that an owner/attendant can correct quickly resulting in a normal birth. A follow-up article will cover the first few months of a foal’s life.