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What you should realize

about the miracle of

Foaling in Horses

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Stress Free Foaling
Carla Huston, BES

The prospect of your mare foaling is a highly anticipated one,
but may also be an anxiety-inducing one. So much is invested in
the foal - financially and emotionally - that it is difficult to
relax and enjoy the event. Understanding the stages of
parturition will help to relieve some anxiety and answer some
questions about what is normal and when an owner should be

Before parturition takes place, it is important to recognize the
signs of its onset. Some mares are obvious in their outward
indications, while others simply lie down and have their foals.
The first sign is distension of the udder about two to six weeks
before foaling. The second indicator, about seven to ten days
before foaling, is the shrinking of the muscles in the croup area
due to a relaxation of the pelvic muscles and ligaments. Four to
six days prior, the teats fill out their nipples. Next a waxy
secretion builds up on the nipples two to four days before
foaling; within twenty-four hours the wax may drop off and milk
drips off.

The first phase of parturition is preparation. The mare often
becomes nervous, lying down and getting up. Tail raising or
switching, sweating, urination and mild signs of colic are
common. This usually lasts for two to three hours. Uterine
contractions begin, but may be transitory. The end of phase one
is marked by the expulsion of two to five gallons of "water"
(chorioallantoic fluid). This first phase is usually begun at

Phase two is activation. Uterine contractions increase and the
cervix is dilated, and the mare may lie down, roll and get up
repeatedly. The feet of the foal will protrude, the bottoms of
the hooves facing downward, with the nose just behind them. This
stage generally takes ten to fifteen minutes.

Expulsion of the fetus is the third stage, when the mare will lie
down and labor begins. Increased uterine contractions expel the
fetus in approximately fifteen minutes. The mare will usually
remain lying down for about ten minutes, providing herself with a
period of rest and allowing the foal time to orient itself to its
environment. The umbilical core may not break immediately, which
is fine, as it allows for further transfer of blood between mare
and foal. The cord will usually break when the foal stands. After
the breakage, treat the stump with a solution of iodine.

The last phase is the expulsion of the membranes. Abdominal
pains, similar to mild colic, maybe seen when the placenta is
passed, and may continue for a few hours after. This phase
usually occurs in fifteen minutes to one hour. If the placenta
has not been expelled within six to nine hours a veterinarian
needs to be called. Retained placenta can cause many problems,
among them laminitis, metritis, and infertility.

Dystocia is difficulty during parturition, which fortunately
happens seldomly in mares. Leaving the horse alone to deliver is
usually the best way to handle foaling. If concerned about the
health and safety of mare and foal install a window or monitor
through which you can watch the process without interrupting or
disturbing the mare. Foaling usually occurs in the early hours of
the morning and is a fairly rapid process. When problems develop,
it is during the activation phase that they can be corrected. Do
not rush the mare; let her foal naturally and without

After delivery the foal should nurse within thirty minutes to two
hours. Colostrum is present in this first milk, and it is
essential that the foal receive the antibodies it contains. About
10 to 15 percent of newborn foals have a failure of passive
transfer, and another 10 to 15 percent have a partial failure. To
check you foal the concentration of immunoglobulin in the blood
it is tested twelve to eighteen hours after birth. If necessary,
administer colostrum and check again in twelve hours.

Knowing the normal progression of events during foaling can help
you relax and enjoy the birth of your baby. Let your mare foal as
naturally as possible without distractions, then you can concern
yourself with caring for the newborn. Or you can be like many
mare owners; go to bed and wake up the next morning with the
newcomer contentedly nursing, no stress!

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