Spring is always an exciting time
of year with all the animals bearing their young. Horses foaling in spring should
be afforded shelter at the very minimum and a clean, well- bedded stall is optimum.
people claim it is better to foal a mare out in the pasture however that is not
always the case. Mares prefer to be secretive and as such will often go to the
farthest reaches of their available space to foal. They also tend to foal at night
when lighting is poor.
If the mare has complications during delivery
it is very difficult to deal with when you are out in the dark away from facilities
and the proper equipment to deal with the situation. It is also time consuming
having to run back to a phone to call for assistance.
Even when a
mare foals normally and has no difficulty, the foal will not be able to see hazards
such as fences, debris, holes in the ground etc. Foal's eyes do not fully develop
for several weeks post foaling.
Then there is always the risk of
injury to the foal from other horses, stray dogs or other predatory animals such
as bear or cougar in some rural areas.
Pastures that have ponds,
streams or large water tanks are also hazardous. Foals can fall in and not be
able to get back out. Each year numbers of foals fall victim to such things and
become tragic statistics.
Many people claim that horses should be
able to foal unattended. After all they do in the wild don't they? Well yes they
do foal in the wild, however many wild mares die giving birth and many foals die
at birth or shortly thereafter due to not getting out of the embryonic sack soon
enough or falling victim to predators. Complications of birth or weak foals spell
doom to an unattended foal. In the wild it is estimated only 10% of the foals
live to see their first year.
There are many reasons why mares should
be attended during delivery. First one must realize that since domestication of
the horse man has taken charge of the situation that nature had previously attended.
In short, wild horses that are not strong, healthy, well suited to their environment
or built properly for reproduction fall victim to a natural culling process.
the course of time this process weeds out any inferior individuals and standardizes
the group until all the mares of a band will be similar in size, shape and reproductive
soundness. The herd sires are also of the same type and general conformation which
makes less likelihood of foals being too large for delivery.
world mares are bred that are not carefully developed for reproduction and are
perhaps not built well for the task. In today's world mares are frequently bred
to the largest stallions available without thought as to whether the mare is capable
of delivering a foal from such a stallion! This puts a different light on the
There is an old study whereby a number of Shetland
pony mares were bred to draft stallions. The result was each mare foaled unassisted
and produced a healthy, viable foal. From that study the powers that be deducted
that a person could breed any size stallion to any size mare without a problem.
who has had to deal with the trauma of pulling a foal that is too large for a
mare certainly knows the fallacy of that little tidbit of inaccuracy.
fetal development is relative to the size of the space available for growth and
development. Therefore if a mare is very short barreled she is far more likely
to produce smaller foals than a mare that has a very long abdomen. In the case
of the Shetland mares, their available space for growth was so limited that they
"sized" their foals well and were able to deliver because they have
been bred for centuries as pulling beasts with wide hips and therefore good pelvises.
Even so, in today's world many Shetland mares still have difficulty foaling!
times long barreled mares bred to small stallions produce very large foals all
the same because that foal had lots of room to grow and develop. If that mare
with the long barrel happens to have a small pelvis this becomes a serious problem!
By the same token a short barreled mare bred to a very large stallion,
one that is considerably bulkier or taller than she, can produce foals too bulky
to pass through the pelvis as well. The shape and size of the foal MUST conform
to the shape and size of the pelvis! Unfortunately without a good repro examination
one cannot tell the size or shape of the pelvis. Large mares can still have misshapen
or small pelvises.
Any time a person is considering breeding a mare
it is a sound practice to have a thorough veterinary reproductive examination
of the mare to ascertain the size and shape of her pelvis and the breeding soundness
of her reproductive tract. This sort of examination should be conducted by a skilled
reproductive veterinarian and not just the local "cow' vet.
mares can be an extremely rewarding and exciting endeavor. There are certain clues
as to when the mare will be ready to foal that will shorten the "watching"
The mare's shape goes through a stage where the
belly drops low and looks pointed at the bottom. This is called "V"
shaped. A few days later that "V" will flatten out and at that time
the mare will also develop other symptoms.
Heavy milk veins will
run along the mare's belly. The udder will fill and the teats will begin to broaden
and fill out. Early milk will taste salty and be very thin like water. As the
mare nears term the milk will begin to change. It will loose the salty taste and
begin to taste bland to sweet. At the same time the milk will begin to feel thicker
and get sticky. When the milk gets sticky and is no longer salty to taste the
mare is generally within 48 hours of foaling.
The milk need not be
white for the mare to foal. It may be clear, amber, cloudy, or white but it will
nearly always be sticky and bland to taste no matter the color.
day of foaling most mares will begin to feel warm to touch particularly on the
face and neck. In actuality their body temperature drops, but the blood flow is
redirected to the surface to cool making them feel warmer than normal.
symptoms are a slackening of the tail, the inability to clamp it down. There will
be a distinct softening of the muscles around the tail head and in many cases
it will appear the mare has lost weight there.
When standing behind
a mare that is immanent to foal her sides will be difficult or impossible to see.
This is called 'slab sided" and means the foal has engaged and in position
to be born.
By this time the mares vulva will be elongated and very
relaxed. The lining of the vulva will turn red or streaked with red. This is the
blood flow being redirected to the muscles that will be forcing the foal to the
The onset of labor is heralded by the breaking of
water. From that moment on it should take no longer than 20 minutes for the mare
to deliver. If she is contracting without progress for more than a couple minutes
then she is having difficulty and may need assistance. In past decades it was
estimated only 10% of domesticated mares had difficulty foaling. A more recent
study shows that closer to 30% are now having some difficulty foaling.
mares, if they labor strong and hard enough will eventually get the job done.
The problem is once a foal is in the birth canal there are only a few minutes
allotted it before the pressure on it's ribs collapses it. They die of suffocation
or from crushing due to contractions. Therefore, while the mare does manage to
expel the foal, often it is dead on arrival.
Some mares will manage
to deliver, even a live foal but in the process she may tear herself badly or
cause rupture to herself whereby she bleeds excessively. Some of these mares die
from their efforts or need veterinary surgery to repair the damage done. These
sorts of things can often be avoided by merely attending the mare at birthing
and lending needed assistance where necessary.
Even when things go
text book perfect there is also the aspect of managing the foal. Foals born in
pasture are often secreted away by their dams. It is natural for a mare to hold
her foal away from everyone during the bonding period. Once the foal has been
kept away from humans for a few days they become leery and may not welcome contact.
There are some who will be curious enough to venture forth and welcome attention
but many more will not.
Foals attended at birth and imprinted generally
become people-friendly and accept human contact as part of their world. They become
far easier to handle and manage in a non-combative way.
the large majority of mares foal just beautifully on their own. It is the few
who cannot for some reason manage on their own that we "foalwatch".
With just a little consideration and preparation foaling can be a very enjoyable
and rewarding time.