If you are expecting your mare to foal this year it is important to plan well in
advance. It should be emphasised that the vast majority of mares (even maiden)
mares foal without difficulty, and produce a healthy foal. You do not need to
worry about the event, but you should be well prepared!
These notes are intended to help if your mare is due to foal at home.
To help ensure the birth of a live healthy foal there are some basic guidlines
you should follow. Foals are born with their immune system intact, but are not
born with any circulating antibodies in the bloodstream that can fight off
infection. For adequate protection against potential illness, it is crucial for
foals to receive the antibodies from good quality colostrum. To ensure that the
colostrum has sufficient antibodies the broodmare should receive booster
Vaccinations for Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis, tetanus, equine
influenza and strangles are commonly administered four to six weeks prior to the
expected due date. For protection against equine rhinopneumonitis, mares may
be given an inactivated commercial vaccine during their 5th, 7th, & 9th month of
pregnancy. In some areas vaccinations for botulism, potomac horse fever and
rabies may be recommended. Contact your veterinarian for his reccomendations.
Pregnant mares should also be dewormed routinely except for the last 30 days of
pregnancy. Your mares feeding program plays an important role in producing a
healthy foal and therefore it is important that her nutritional requirements are
met. For a more complete list and schedule of vaccines, please see our
Foal Predictor page.
Regular exercise (turn out into a paddock during the day) is vital to decrease
the amount of fluid retention (oedema) around the udder and abdomen.
Regular (at least twice daily) monitoring of mammary development is also important. Any changes in
the mammary gland should be noted, in particular if there is dripping of milk.
It's okay for a mare to foal outside if weather conditions are suitable. A small
clean, dry, grass paddock with shelter and sufficient lighting is best. Be sure
that it is of a size where the mare can be observed at all times.
If foaling in a stall is your choice, the stall should be a minimum of 14' x 14'
or larger if possible. The stall should be located so the mare can be observed
inconspicuously. Make sure the door opens outward! A closed circuit television
camera is ideal but if this is not available, a window from which the mare can
be observed without disturbing her, will work.
It is important to thoroughly disinfect the foaling stall prior to foaling.
Incidences of foal diarrhea, may be greatly reduced through good sanitation
practices. Wrap the mare's tail and wipe off her vulva and udder with warm water.
Have supplies close at hand for disinfecting the umbilical cord, and anything
else that may be required in case of emergency, include emergency phone numbers
by the phone, as you may need to contact your veterinarian should a problem arise.
The best bedding is CLEAN STRAW. Do not use shavings and put the bed down the day
before the expected foaling so as not to create too much dust.
There should be no sharp edges, buckets or feed bins. GOOD LIGHTING is essential.
The box should be warm. 25oC (78oF) is the correct temperature.
Remember, you may have to sit up with the mare for several nights so a warm room
for the attendants is useful!
Make sure that your vet knows that you have a mare expecting a foal & when it
is due so that, should you require his assistance, he can be prepared for any
If you are uncertain about any part of the foaling process, call your vet for
help or advice before the big day.
That's a tough question to accurately answer, even if you been with this mare for
quite a while and you've been with her through this process before. There are
some signs you can watch for, though.
The mare's udder usually starts to swell anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks before
foaling. The teats usually begin to extend from 4 to 6 days before foaling, as
the udder lets the colostrum down into the teats. The teats may become covered
over, due to colostrum oozing from the teats. Known as waxing, this usually occurs
anywhere from 2 to
4 days before foaling. Normally, when the waxing falls off from the ends of the
teats, they may begin to drip a white opague milk that is thick, and sticky.
When this happens, the mare should foal within 8 - 12 hours. If streaming of
colostrum becomes continuous, it may be neccesary to collect and refrigerate or
freeze it for the impending foal. I strongly recommend having 'Extra" colostrum
available at foaling time, just in case it is needed. As the mare nears foaling,
her croup muscles and vulva will relax and become flaccid. The mare may become
restless, walk the stall, fence line, urinate and or clear her bowels frequently.
This is considered normal behavior at this stage. If foaling out in a group of
mares, they tend to go off away from other horses to seek out a private place to
foal. Some mares may foal without any or few of these signs of labor. Aprox 80%
of mares will foal between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
At this stage, the mare will become quite restless. It is not uncommon for
them to go off feed. Pacing, lieing down, and getting up and
down, is common. She may roll, stomp her feet, bite at, or make kicking
motions at her belly. These signs may be present for several minutes to
several hours. Some mares may show some of these signs for several days before
foaling. At this stage, the mare is quite capable of postponing delivery if she
becomes nervous or upset. This is why it is important for the mare to be
familiar with her surroundings and attendant watching over her.
Stage 2) Stage two begins when the mares water breaks (passing of
allantoic fluids ). At this point, delivery is imminent and the mare usually
begins abdominal pushing to help assist with the uterine contractions. After the
water breaks, the foals forelegs should appear at the vaginal opening within 15
minutes. This stage ends with the birth. It should last 15 to 20 minutes. When
the foal is pushed through the birth canal, its umbilical cord becomes compressed.
If not deliverd soon enough, the fetus can be deprived of oxygen. From the time of
rupture of the amnion and delivery of the foal, there is a maximium time of 40 -
60 minutes, after which the foal is at serious risk of death.
. During this stage, the foal is positioned in the birth canal so that its head,
neck and back are lined up with the top of the mare's pelvis.
. Normally the amnion (a clear membrane) appears first, followed by the foal's
front feet, with its nose lying on the knees. One leg is usually slightly ahead
of the other. This helps the foal pass through the birth canal. If the amnion
has not ruptured and still covers the foal's head, it must be torn so that the
foal may breathe.
. Once the foal has cleared its shoulders, the difficult part is complete. Once
the hips have cleared, it is not uncommon for the foal to rest with its hind
legs still in the mares vagina for 10 to 20 minutes. The second stage of labor
is completed when the foal is clear of the mare. Do not disturb the mare and
foal at this time. Allow them to rest. The umbilical cord will break when the
mare or foal stands. DO NOT attempt to break the cord.
Stage 3) During the final stage, the mare will have additional uterine
contractions, forcing the placenta out through the birth canal. The uterus will
shrink and the placenta is expelled, within two to three hours. You should tie
up the umbilical cord to prevent the mare from stepping on it. Save the placenta
so it can be examined by either your veterinarian or you, if you know what to
A retained placenta can cause serious problems, such as toxic infection or
founder. If the placenta is still attached more than three hours after delivery,
do not remove it. This could damage the uterus or cause the placenta to tear.
Contact your veterinarian.
Parturition, or delivery, in
horses takes about one hour. Initially, mares may have patchy sweating, pawing
at the ground, looking around at the flanks, pacing uneasily around the box, and
curling of the upper lip. These signs are not infrequently mistaken for colic!
The first stage of labour may last from 1 to 4 hours, but can be very variable,
and sometimes there may be repetitive false alarms (esp. in maiden thoroughbreds).
Once it has been established that the mare has started to foal a tail bandage
should be applied. The mare may lie down and roll from side to side, this is
thought to help the foal move into the correct position for foaling.
Mares usually foal lying down. The first sign that foaling has actually started
is often several gallons of clear fluid escaping from the vagina, it is possible
to miss this, as it happens very quickly. Within 5 minutes a white glistening
membrane should appear between the vulval lips. First one front foot and a few
minutes latter the second front foot should appear within this membrane. The
nose should then follow. It is not uncommon for mares to stand up just after the
feet are presented and then lie down again. Foals that experience difficult
births do not have very long before they experience lack of oxygen and suffer
side effects. If there is a problem, it should be corrected quickly for the
mares' and foals' sake. Dystocia, or difficulty delivery, can be
caused by fetal abnormalities, malpositioning, Hydrocephalus or enlarged skull,
ankylosed or fused joint, and contracted tendons. Dystocias usually involve a
misplacement of one or some of the foals body parts that inhibit it from
proceeding through the birth canal. Dystocia can also result due to a foal
being too large to pass through the pelvic opening of the mare. If a dystocia
occurs, the miracle of birth can turn into a heart wrenching event, having grim
consequences for the foal and mare. It is important to have a plan of what to do
in case a dystocia occurs. Some of these are so bad that they require C-sections.
But what do we do if the delivery does not proceed in the orderly manner?
What are you going to do if your mare
begins active labor and one of the following things happens:
1. The mare has been having heavy contractions for 10 minutes and you have
not witnessed the water break.
2. The mare has been having contractions and she begins to either roll
repeatedly or gets up and down and rolls after about 10 minutes of labor.
3. The bubble presents itself at the mare's vulva or you notice a foot in the
bubble but after a period of additional contractions, there is no progress of
the foal to be born.
The diagram above shows a typical
foaling with normal presentation and all of the important structures to
recognize. Notice that the foal is essentially contained in two sac-like
structures. The outer one is the reddish PLACENTA which actually attaches to the
inner surface of the mare's uterus. The second is called the AMNIOTIC SAC. The
foal is found within this translucent white sac. The foal floats about in the
amniotic fluid. The amniotic sac floats about inside the placenta in Allantoic
fluid. This is commonly called the bag of waters. Notice that when the foal
passes into the birth canal, it pushes through the placental membrane (break her
water). This causes the Allantoic fluid to gush out of the mare. In most cases,
shortly (within a very few minutes) after the gush of water, the BUBBLE appears
at the vulva. As shown in the diagram, this is the amniotic sac containing the
Know your anatomy
Each dystocia situation is
potentially different, so the first step to remedy the situation is to determine
exactly what the circumstances are. Keep in mind that all of this exploratory
investigation is going to be done by feel. It is very useful to
study the anatomy of your horses ahead of time, particularly the
differences in the way that the front and back legs move and attach.
Much of correcting a dystocia is determining whether there are front feet or
rear feet present and whether they are right side up or upside down.
There are a number of different
positions that can occur. Just about every one can be corrected if quick action
is taken. Once it is determined that there is a dystocia, you must realize that
you are "working against the tide". The mare's uterine contractions are
attempting to expel the foal. In most cases, you may temporarily have to push
parts of the foal back into the mare's uterus to get them repositioned. This
requires some measure of strength and stamina. The sooner it occurs, the easier
it is to accomplish. Since there is significantly more room in the uterus than
in the vagina, most Dystocias are corrected by pushing parts of the foal back
into the uterus or actually going into the uterus to retrieve a front leg, for
example. There are occasions when it may be necessary to enter the mare past
your elbow to retrieve a misplaced body part to successfully correct a dystocia.
Keep in mind that the mare's uterus
is a large muscle. Once the "water" has been broken, there is no hydraulic
pressure to prevent the uterus from contracting. The natural tendency is for the
uterus to contract around the foal much as a tube of toothpaste and push the
foal through the cervix. The more time that the uterus is allowed to contract
around the foal, the smaller the space that the foal will have to occupy until
the uterus essentially "shrink wraps" around the foal unless it is born. For
this reason, it is more difficult to reposition a foal of a mare that has been in
labor for a long time. This is why veterinarians who arrive after a substantial
period of labor may have few alternatives other than Caesarean Section or
fetotomy (dismemberment of the dead foal in the uterus).
The diagrams that are included here
show two primary dystocia positions and the brief "textbook" procedure for
resolving the mal-presentations. One is called an ANTERIOR presentation which
simply means that the foal is coming out head first. The other is a POSTERIOR
presentation. Obviously this means the foal is coming out backward.
This particular anterior
presentation shows 2 problems. The right front foot is back and the head is
back. Essentially, the dystocia is resolved in three steps. First, a strap is
placed on the left foot, above the fetlock joint. This is done to prevent losing
this leg. If two loops can be made around this leg with one end of the strap, the
attachment will be more secure.
Notice the upper arrow in the second
diagram. This indicates that this leg is then pushed backward toward the mare's
uterus. Secondly, take the other end of the strap into the uterus and locate the
it down to the head and locate the lower jaw. Place the loop over the lower jaw.
Obviously, this is some distance back in the uterus. Carefully guide the head
around by applying pressure with the strap on the lower jaw. If this is
attempted early in labor it is much easier than if labor has been occurring for
some time. By applying pressure to the strap and guiding the head with a hand,
the head can rotate forward. The left front leg needs to be kept backward and in
the uterus so that there is room for the head to rotate forward, however. With
the head rotated, the same procedure is used to get the right front foot
Take a strap into the uterus, and identify the front
foot by its point of attachment or manner of bending. Slip a loop over the
fetlock joint. Cup the hoof with one hand while applying pressure to the strap
with the other. Cupping the hoof prevents it from injuring the uterus as it is
rotated. Keep in mind that the leg must be lifted upward and rotated forward in
the same manner that a horse takes a forward step.
With all parts facing in the
right direction, the birth can take place. Using hands and straps to guide the
front legs and head out in order provides the textbook delivery.
The reality of most Dystocias is
that only one body part is out of position. This scenario was provided to cover
a variety of steps with one situation. Most anterior presentations are a
variation of this procedure. A living foal is not real comfortable having its
head bent back and will more than likely be working hard to head for daylight.
If there are multiple parts out of position, one should question whether there
is a live foal in the first place. Usually this can be determined by placing a
finger in the foal's mouth or moving the leg. If the foal is alive it will
usually respond by moving its mouth or leg in response to your touch. If the
foal is dead, it may be wise to reconsider your intentions to remove the foal
and let the veterinarian do the work. Dead foals are substantially harder to
work with than live foals, since there is no muscle tone and they just tend to
"flop" around in the mare.
Posterior presentations are not as
common. In this case, none, one or both of the rear legs may appear at the vulva.
The first step is first to determine if it is a rear leg. This is
relatively easy to do by following it up to feel whether you come to the hock
joint. Look at the diagram below and notice that with a posterior presentation,
the bottom of the hooves will be pointing upward toward the mare's tail. In the
case shown, the same applies as before.
Other types of Dystocias occur that
we don't have pictures of, but are a reality for horses.
These are the "upside down foal", the "dog-sitting foal",
and the "hip lock".
Upside Down Presentation
The upside-down foal is a situation
where the foal is starting to be born in a forward position but is trying to
come out on it's back with its feet pointing toward the mare's backbone. The
natural arc of the mare's pelvic cavity and bend of the foal's torso will not
allow this birth to occur. The only option is for the foal to be rotated 180
degrees to the normal foaling position where it is lying on it's stomach as it
comes through the birth canal. First of all, it needs to be determined whether
this is a posterior delivery or an upside down delivery. In both cases, the pads
of the feet will be pointing upward. In this case, a person will encounter the
front "knees" and head with the lower jaw upside down behind the upturned
hooves. This is a difficult dystocia to resolve. In order to accomplish it, it
is necessary to guide one front leg above the head while passing the other
beneath the head. Of course, all of this has to be done in the mare's uterus.
Placing a strap on one leg and having someone hold and put pressure in the
desired direction of one leg helps while a hand is used to guide the other leg
around the head in the opposite direction. If successful in rotating the foal,
the delivery of the foal will be in the normal position.
Dog-Sitting Dystocias occur when the
rear hooves of the foal start through the pelvic opening before the hips of the
foal. As the foal moves out of the uterus, the rear leg(s) becomes flexed and
forms a wedge that prevents the foal from being born. This can occur with one or
both rear feet. About the only option available is to push the foal backward
partially into the uterus. Then, go in beside the foal and carefully push the
rear leg(s) back into the uterus to allow the foal's hip to pass through the
mare's pelvis. These are also difficult Dystocias to resolve. Lots of lubricant
and assistance is required in most cases to get this one straightened out. There
have been a couple of cases where breeders have, upon seeing a rear foot, pulled
the foot hard forward to straighten it along the body and the dystocia has been
resolved. Pulling only on the front legs without addressing how to unlock the
wedge created by the back leg(s) does little but compound the problem when there
is a "dog-sitting" dystocia.
Hip Lock is a situation where all
appears well with the foaling and then the foal just stops progressing after it
is half way out. Of course the first thing to determine is whether this is a
dog-sitting situation or a hip lock. Obviously, if it was a dog-sitting dystocia,
a rear leg would be found in the vagina. No rear hoof is present with hip lock.
Below is the recommendation of veterinarian Dr. Bob Anderson, on how to resolve
"Hip lock occurs when a foal's hips
get stuck inside the bony pelvis. The mare's pelvic opening is shaped like an
oval and not a circle. This is supposed to allow for the hips to easily pass
through. If the mare is standing, pull the foal downward so the hips flip up into
the pelvis and then through. If the mare is on her side, first have someone hold
the mare's tail to anchor the mares body. Pull the foal out, arching it slightly
upward toward the mare's tail and occasionally through the mare's hind legs to
pop the hips up and through. If this doesn't work, do the same but bending the
foal to one side to pull one hip through the pelvis at a time."
Although not actually a dystocia,
any discussion of high risk births would not be complete without mention of
PLACENTA PREVIA or RED BAG. As its name implies, a red bag appears as the mare
starts into active labor. Of course, we are all expecting a white bubble. What is
all this about? Well, it is the placenta and it has detached from the uterus
prematurely. Without the placenta attached to the uterus, the foal has no source
of oxygen. If this thick red membrane appears (see below) this means that foetal
membranes have not correctly separated. This is a critical situation for the foal.
There is no time to wait. It is imperative that the placenta be broken when it
protrudes from the vulva and the foal is given assistance to be born immediately.
Oxygen deprivation occurs in a very few minutes and unless the vet happened to
be driving up your driveway, there probably isn't any use making a call if you
want to have any chance of saving the life of the foal.
Break the placenta with your hand.
The water will probably gush out. Chances are that the foal is in normal
position just behind the placenta. If foaling is progressing normally the foal
should be delivered within 15 minutes of seeing the first foot. If there is
excessive delay, you may need to assist in the delivery. Rarely, is the foal
born with the clear foetal membranes unbroken around its head. This will prevent
it from breathing. You must clear these membranes immediately yourself.
Do not separate the umbilical cord. Blood continues to flow from the
placenta to the foal for several minutes after completion of the birthing process.
The cord will separate naturally when the mare stands up. The final stage of
parturition is delivery of the placenta (cleansing). This usually occurs within
one hour of foaling. If cleansing is delayed, it may become necessary for your
vet to manually remove the afterbirth. DO NOT pull on the placenta
yourself, as this can cause a prolapse of the entire uterus (which is often fatal).
Mares should be cleansed within 24 hours of delivery of the foal. Remember to
retain the placenta in a clean plastic bag or bucket, to be examined later.
If the foaling does not progress normally, you may have to either tear the
amniotic sac or hold onto the foal's legs and assist with the extraction of the
foal from the mare. The foal needs to breath very soon! If the foal does not
start breathing on it's own when it is born, straighten out its head /neck to
make an air way and give the foal mouth to NOSE breathing. Remember that
horses have a very poor airway from their mouth to their lungs.
It can be very advantageous to stand
a mare up when attempting to resolve a dystocia. Obviously some mares will not
stand up while in labor, but many will. If it is possible to get the mare to her
feet, gravity becomes a great help. The mare's organs and the foal tend to
settle back toward her abdomen. In many cases, this can provide just enough room
to allow the foaling attendant to reposition the foal and achieve a successful
birth. Of course, the contractions will continue and this is the most difficult
issue to deal with while attempting to reposition a foal.
Veterinarians can take advantage of
medications to help themselves with the resolving a dystocia. Most highly
experienced reproductive veterinarians will take two similar procedures to
resolve a dystocia. First, they will administer drugs that will sedate the mare
and stop the uterine contractions. We have seen this done by the administration
of gas in the surgical theatre. In the field or barn environment, we have seen
the veterinarians use a combination of Rompum and Ketamine.
Once the contractions have been
halted by the veterinarian, the typical procedure is to use some form of "the
mare in the air". In most cases, a bale of hay is used and a piece of plywood is
laid upon it to form a ramp. The mare is turned on her back with her hips in the
uphill position. The mare is then generously lubricated internally and the
repositioning of the foal is made.
Any foal born after 320 days gestation is considered full term. Some mares
gestate for 365 days or more and produce totally normal foals, so in the absence
of any adverse signs, do not be alarmed if your mare has a prolonged gestation.
Within 5 minutes of birth, your foal should be able to lift his head, and after 15
minutes, should be making some attempts to stand.
Remember to treat the navel with 2% tincture of idodine.
Foals should be able to stand within 1/2 - 1 1/2 hours of birth. It is vital
that foals suckle colostrum (first milk) from the mare within 4 hours of birth.
After 12 hours, the foal should be nursing strongly and bonded with its mother.
Some foals (esp. colt foals) have difficulty in passing the foetal faeces
(meconium). This should start within four hours of birth. If the foal does not
pass faeces or shows signs of colic, consult your vet. (see below).
This foal needs urgent veterinary attention, as it has a retained meconium
The foal should stand and nurse within two hours.
Disinfect the foal's navel with 2% tincture of idodine. Do not tie it off.
Store placenta (refrigeration is best).
Observe mare & foal for normal or abnormal behavior.
Contact your veterinarian for a post-foaling evaluation for both the mare & foal
within the first 24 hours of birth. He will want to carefully check the placenta.
Any tears in vulval lips can be sutured and repaired at this time. In high risk
foals, prophylactic antibiotics may be administered, but only if your vet thinks
that this is necessary. He may also administer an enema is the foal has not
passed its meconium.
The topic of dystocia is certainly
not the most upbeat that can be addressed, however, it is a reality that
everyone who intends on raising foals needs to be aware of. Whether you, as the
owner of a broodmare, choose to intervene in the case of a dystocia is a value
judgment you must personally determine. There are risks involved for your horse
at foaling time. It can definitely be a life and death circumstance whether you
intervene or choose to wait for professional help.
Fortunately the vast majorities of
foaling are natural events where we can simply behold the wonder of nature.
Being prepared for those occasional births that don't follow the "textbook",
however, can increase your chances for positive results.
T Ranch makes no guarantee or representation to the accuracy of the information
contained on this page. This page is intended only to share our opinions
and experiences with you. Lucky T Ranch cannot be held liable for any outcome
that you might experience by following any of these suggestions.
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