Anticipating a new foal can be exciting, but can be nerve-racking. The average gestational length of the horse is 342 days but 1% of mares will go a full 365 days (1 year) normally. Labor and delivery, while momentous, are generally uneventful. In most cases, you will simply need to be a quiet observer- if you are lucky enough to witness the birth. Mares prefer to foal at night in privacy, and apparently have some control over their delivery. As your mare nears her due date, follow these suggestions from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to help the new mother and baby get off to a great start:
- Write down your veterinarian’s phone number well in advance of the birth and keep it by all phones.
- Keep a watch or clock on hand so you can time each stage of labor. When you’re worried or anxious, your perception of time becomes distorted. The watch will help you keep accurate track of the mare’s progress during labor.
- Wrap the mare’s tail with a clean wrap when you observe the first stage of labor. Be sure that the wrap is not applied too tightly or left on too long, as it can cut off circulation and permanently damage the tail.
- Wash the mare’s vulva and hindquarters with a mild soap and rinse thoroughly.
- Clean and disinfect the stall area as thoroughly as possible and provide adequate bedding.
Signs that your mare is getting close to foaling include: waxing of the teats and dripping milk, relaxation and elongation of the vulva and softening of the muscles around the tail head. Labor in the mare is divided into three stages: Stage 1: begins with the initiation of uterine contractions. Mares may go down and get up repeatedly, sweat and appear uncomfortable as the foal is moving into the normal birth position. Keep the barn as quiet as possible and try to have minimal disruptions to the mare during this time. If mares are disrupted too much they can delay progressing to stage 2.
Stage 2: is signaled by the rupture of the fetal membranes (“water breaking”). During stage 2 labor the mare may get up and down during the delivery. This is normal. Mares usually deliver lying down on their side with delivery occurring within 20-30 minutes of the membranes rupturing. Occasionally the mare will actually stand up after being down and the foal is “dropped’ out with the mare standing up. Forelegs present with one leg in front of the other covered with a white membrane.
If you observe a red velvet appearing membrane (“red bag”) please contact your veterinarian immediately.
The muzzle then appears when the forelegs are 5-7 inches past her vulva. Make sure to remove any membranes that are covering the nose, so that the foals’ breathing is not obstructed. The shoulders are the widest part of the foal and are the most difficult part of the delivery, the rest of the body quickly follows. If 10 minutes of strenuous stage 2 labor fails to advance the foal to the next step or further into the birth canal. or the foal is in an abnormal position. you should call for veterinary assistance. Let the mare and foal lay quietly after the birth is done. Do NOT cut the umbilicus. When the mare decides to rise, it will tear on its own.
Stage 3 involves the expulsion of the placenta and should be competed within 4 hours. Save the placenta for your veterinarian to examine. If the placenta has not passed within 4 hours or a portion still remains inside the mare, it is considered retained. Your mare should be seen by a veterinarian. After your foal has been safely delivered follow these guidelines:
- Foal should sit sternal within 1-2 minutes of birth
- Foal should stand by 1hour old
- Foal should nurse (make sure the foal is latching on to the teat) by 2-3 hours of age
If your foal is not following this timeline, please contact your veterinarian. A neonatal examination of the foal and postpartum examination of the mare and placenta should be completed by your veterinarian within 12-24 hours of birth. Your veterinarian will recommend checking the foal’s immunoglobulin level (lgG) which makes sure the foal has gotten enough quality and quantity of colostrum.