Many mares foal without any help or complications, however when things do go wrong contact your vet immediately, as quick action must be taken to ensure the health and well being of both mare and foal.
It is often a good idea to spend time accustoming your mare with having her teats gently handled as this can greatly help ease the foals initial nursing process. You can also use this time to monitor the change in the size of your mares teats which will bag up in the weeks preceding foaling often waxing up a few days before.
Your mare should have had any vulva stitches removed a few weeks prior to foaling and also be up to date with worming and vaccinations. You will notice that her muscles around the pelvic area will slacken right off and in some mares her mood will change and she may be more irritable than normal.
Foaling First Aid Kit
Have your vets number ready in case of emergency and keep your usual first aid kit close to hand along with the following:
- Iodine - For sterilizing the umbilical cord
- Sterile pot - A sterile pot is required if you are going to dip the umbilical stump.
- String - String is required for tying up the afterbirth to prevent your mare from treading on it potentially damaging her uterus in the process.
- Tail bandage - wrapping your mares tail up can help keep it out of the way.
- Bucket - Place the afterbirth into a bucket so that your vet can check that it is all there.
- Long plastic gloves - Have some gloves at hand in case you need to assist.
- Antiseptic Wash - You will need to clean your mares vulva out after foaling and check it carefully for any tears.
- Antiseptic Cream - In case your mare has any cuts after foaling.
- Towels - The mare will do an excellent job of cleaning her foal but in case you are foaling in sub zero temperatures or if the foal needs some help with circulation have some large and small towels at hand.
- Sterile Baby Bottle - In case you need to bottle feed your foal to help things along.
Allow your horse plenty of time to settle into the foaling box which should also be a good size for the horse involved to allow plenty of room for the mare to foal, without risk of being cast.
Straw bedding is best as a deep straw bed will provide a soft bed for the foaling to take place on and straw is less likely to cause infection to the mare during foaling and to the foal after being born. Precautions such as having all potential hazards removed from the stable, this can include having water drinkers and hay racks as opposed to water buckets which the foal could potentially fall into and hay nets which the foal can easily get tangled up in.
Ensure that the foaling box is well lit incase an emergency arrises. Installing video monitors are an excellent way to keep tabs on your mare and will enable you to observe from a safe distance that will not disturb the mare when foaling, so make sure that they are correctly fitted at a safe height and working so that your sleepless nights can begin.
If you are using a devise that will let you know if your mare starts to become restless and active then allow her plenty of time to get used to wearing it, these devices are often fitted to a surcingle and can alert you quickly if your mare starts to foal.
If your mare is foaling in the winter then prepare your stable with infra red heaters to help keep your foal warm after foaling.
No matter how prepared you are mares seem to know when your around and will quite often wait until its all quiet before giving birth, often with great success all by themselves. However being able to monitor your horses signs of imminent foaling will help you to be on hand in case should any complications arise.
- Early Foaling Signs
The mare may take herself off to a quiet area of the field away from the other mares in the field and will often become restless showing mild colic like symptoms. Getting up and down frequently is a sure sign that the mare is getting ready to foal, as the foal will be moving from being on its back into more of a diving position ready to come out, this movement will make the mare understandably feel very uncomfortable.
- Waters Break
The mares waters will then break allowing the birth canal to be flushed ready for the expulsion of the foal. The foal should be born within 45 minutes of the waters breaking, any longer and your mare is in difficulty and will require immediate veterinary assistance. It is shortly after the waters break that two front hooves with the soles down will be visible, at this stage it is quite common for mare to rest for a moment, again, do not panic, your mare is simply preparing for the next big push.
- Forelimbs and Head
The foals forelimbs are the first to appear followed by the nose and nostrils which are rested on top of the foals knee area. The head will then appear and again at this stage your mare may rest a moment.
During foaling the foal is positioned in such a way to best allow its large shoulders to easily pass out and the foal will usually have one foot slightly ahead of the other causing the shoulders to slant within the pelvis allowing ease of passage,
this stage, however does mean that the mare will have to put in quite a lot of effort to enable her to expel the shoulders. The mare may get up and down frequently as gravity can be a great help in pushing the foal out.
- Back and Hind limbs
The foals back and hindquarters often come out straight after the shoulders do in one swift motion, allowing the foal to emerge. It is quite common once the hips of the foal have come out for the mare to rest and remain lying down for a moment, this is normal and the mare should be allowed a moment. Use this time to clear the nostrils of membrane if they are still covered then leave your mare to carry on once more.
- Naval Cord
When mare and foal are ready the naval cord will break naturally a few inches away from the abdomen and should be left to break of its own accord. Once broken the foals stump should be promptly treated with iodine solution to prevent infection.
The mare will naturally expel the afterbirth anywhere between
one to three hours after foaling, although it can take up to eight hours in some cases. You may see part of the membrane hanging out in which case simply tie it up so that the mare does not tread on it and pull it out by accident, damaging her uterus.
If the membranes have not passed after three hours then call your veterinary who will be able to treat the mare to expel the afterbirth and will also check that it is complete with no pieces left inside the mare which could lead to infection.
The foal usually breaks away cleanly from the membrane and starts breathing, however if the nostrils are covered then gently clear the membrane away and remove any mucous from the nostrils to prevent the foal from suffocating.
The foal will usually be up on its feet and nursing within 30 to 90 minutes,
any longer and you may to to intervene to help the foal find the mares teat so that the vital first milk that contains the antibodies can be obtained. If still unsuccessful then you may need to milk the mare by hand so that the foal can be bottle fed.
Contact your vet immediately if your mare is distressed during foaling, if the waters break and nothing happens or if the foal does not present itself correctly. Time is essential when complications arise to help save the life of both mare and foal.
- Waters Break But No Foal Emerging
If the mare is restless, getting up and down after waters break but no foal is appearing then you need to call your vet. This can be due to a breech or if the foal is positioned in such a way that it cannot come out, for example with its head tucked under its chest.
- Foals Front Hooves Are Sole Side Up
This occurs if the foal has not twisted its body sufficiently to turn itself the right way up, in some cases the mare will get up and down repeatedly which can help to naturally turn the foal round the right way or your vet will hopefully be able to turn the foal the right way up.
- Back Feet First
If the hind hooves show first you have a major problem on your hands and the foal needs to come out as quickly as possible, to ensure that the foal is able to breath and is not trapped in the fluid during the birth.
- No head Showing
If the foals front feet are presented but there is no head then you need to contact your vet straight away as the head may be pointing the wrong way towards the tail.