Foaling Tips For Horse Owners: Article Three: Once The Foal Is Born

Part 3: Once the foal is born

Ready for the last article in our foaling series? Check out some tips for care of the post-partum mare and newborn foal below.


Mare Care

  • Post-partum examination of the mare’s reproductive tract is performed in order to decide whether or not to breed the mare again on first postpartum estrus.
  • The mare may have dark red colored vaginal discharge for about a week following foaling. If the discharge is yellow or if there is a putrid smell with the discharge, the mare may have an infection and should be treated by your veterinarian with antibiotics.
  • Owners should deworm the mare immediately following parturition to decrease the parasite load that could spread to the foal. An ivomec product is recommended for this deworming.
  • The mare will have a foal heat 5 to 14 days following foaling. Although there is a decreased pregnancy rate while breeding on foal heats, mares can get pregnant if bred at this time.
  • The mare’s energy needs are highest during lactation. At this time, she should remain on a very high plane of nutrition.
  • As long as the mare is getting enough energy through her food and your vet says she is healthy following foaling, riding can be resumed within several weeks post-partum.

Foal Care:

The first days:

  • The foal should be standing and nursing within 2 hours following birth. The first 6-12 hours of life are a crucial time for the foal. During this time, it is important that the foal drink colostrum from the mare. Colostrum, or the mare’s first milk, contains many antibodies to various pathogens and is high in fat and protein.
    • Failure of the foal to ingest colostrum is called failure of passive transfer and can be fatal for the foal.
    • In order to test that the foal took in enough colostrum, your veterinarian can run an IgG test on the foal’s blood. This is a quick stall-side test that can give much insight into the foal’s health.
    • If the foal did not receive enough colostrum, a plasma transfusion may be necessary.
  • In addition to drinking colostrum, it is important that the foal pass the meconium- or fetal stool. If the foal is unable to defecate, an enema may be necessary.
  • Within the first day of life, it is helpful for the foal to be examined by a veterinarian. Your vet can auscult the heart and lungs and can also identify any congenital problems such as a cleft palate or umbilical problems.
    • Owners should also closely monitor the umbilicus and joints for signs of disease. Often if an infection is present in the foal it will settle in the joints causing them to be hot and swollen. The umbilicus itself should also dry up and close up within several days. Owners should apply chlorohexidine to the umbilicus twice daily for the first three days. If the umbilicus becomes swollen or remains open after 3 days, contact your veterinarian
  • Overall, monitor your foal to ensure that they are getting up and moving around with the mare and that they are nursing frequently. Healthy foals will normally be spunky and playful.

Later in life:


  • Generally, horse owners start foal vaccination programs around 4 to 6 months of age
    • The exception may be for the Influenza vaccines, which should be administered at 6 – 9 months of age.
    • Depending on which vaccines are given, the foal may need follow-up booster shots.
    • Vaccines recommended:
      • EWT – 1x or 2x per year
      • Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis – 2 x per year
      • Rabies – 1x per year
      • WNV – 1x per year +
      • ± Potomac Horse Fever – 2x per year – April and August
      • ± Strangles – 1x or 2x per year
  • Deworming: Parasite control is very important in the foal. Foals should be dewormed with an ivermectin product starting at one month of age, and then follow up doses given every two months. It is important to have an accurate weight on the foal so that correct dose of dewormer is given. While she is nursing, the mare should also be dewormed every two months coordinating with the foal’s deworming schedule.
  • Nutrition: The foal is sustained only on the mare’s milk for the first few weeks. Following that time, the foal may begin to nibble on hay and can start to get grain. By 6 weeks, the mare’s milk production decreases and the foal will need extra feed to supplement its diet. There are many commercial formulations of grain that are proper for a growing foal.
  • Weaning: Foals normally remain on the mare for 4-6 months. After this point, they should be able consume enough other nutrition from hay and grain to sustain themselves and continue growth.
    • Weaning stress can be reduced if the foal is kept from nursing, but is still allowed to have some contact with the mare. This can be achieved by housing the mare and foal in adjoining stalls for several days so that they can still smell and hear each other.


Thanks for your interest in our foaling articles and in our practice. Please give us a call for any of your equine needs. 540-788-6094

Foaling Tips For Horse Owners: Article Two: The Birthing Process

Part 2: Foaling process

Welcome back! Thanks for continuing to read our page! This is part two of our foaling article. Read along to learn some basics that horse owners should know about parturition.

Changes in the mare leading up to foaling:

As the time nears for the mare to foal, she will go through several physical changes including abdominal growth (distention) and udder development. Closer to foaling, she will also have vulvar softening and relaxation of the pelvic ligaments. The udder grows the most in the last two weeks prior to foaling and fills completely right before foaling. A waxy substance often covers the teat ends in the last days of gestation. There are several tests that measure the calcium content of the milk that can be used to help predict how close the mare is to foaling.


Immediately pre-partum:

The mare should be housed in a large open area- either pasture or pen. The area should be dry, clean, well ventilated and deeply bedded. Before foaling, the mare’s udder and area around the udder should be cleaned to decrease the potential pathogens present on the mare’s skin.


Stages of parturition:

The birthing process is often described in three stages.

Stage 1: Positioning Of The Foal

  • Approximate length of time: 30 min to 4 hours. May be shorter in mares who have foaled before.
  • May show colic like signs. May lie down and get back up many times.
  • May urinate frequently.
  • During this stage, the uterus begins contracting and the cervix begins dilating. Then, the foal’s front legs and nose are into and through the cervix.
  • The owner should wrap the mare’s tail and clean the area around her vulva. Also, make sure the mare is in a clean, safe place to foal.
  • The final part of stage one is the presentation and release of the fetal fluids- “water breaking”. The water bag should be thin and see through and should break on its own.
    • If the water bag appears velvety and dark red and the fluid is not visible inside, the owner should rupture the bag, as this is a sign of the placenta separating before it should, which could impair the foal’s breathing.

Stage 2: Delivery Of The Foal

  • Approximate length of time: 20-30 minutes
  • Cervical dilation and uterine contractions are increased.
  • Mare may continue to stand up and then lay back down.
  • Forefeet will present through the vulva followed by the head stretched down between the front legs. Often the hardest part of labor will be pushing out the neck and shoulders. The back legs should be extended behind the body. If the foal is not in this position it may be necessary to with the birth. Call your veterinarian immediately.

  • If the amnion is covering the foal’s head, it should be removed. The foal’s mouth should also be cleaned out to allow for proper breathing. You can encourage breathing by stimulating the foal by rubbing it or tickling its nose with a piece of straw or hay to get a deep breathe or sneeze.
  • The umbilicus may break on its own during delivery. If it does not, leave the umbilicus attached for several minutes to allow additional blood flow and perfusion of oxygen to the foal. After this time, owner may break the umbilicus by twisting and pulling it apart. Do not break the umbilicus very close to the foal’s body, but leave 6 inches or so dangling. Cutting the umbilicus could cause the foal to lose too much blood. The umbilicus should be dipped in a chlorohexidine solution to avoid the traveling of bacteria into the foal’s body.
  • If the mare is not up at this time, the foal should be placed by her head.
  • Give the mare and foal some alone time to allow them to bond. Before long the mare should begin to clean up the foal.

Stage 3: Passing Of The Placenta

  • Approximate length of time: 30 minutes to 3 hours after foaling
  • After birth, while the mare is resting, the placenta may be tied onto itself so that the mare does not step on it and rip it. The mare should pass the placenta within three hours.
  • If the placenta is not passed within the time frame mentioned above, treatment may be necessary. Call your veterinarian immediately.
  • Once the placental is expulsed it is important to closely examine it. The placenta should be whole without any tears. A tear or rip in the placenta could be a sign that part of the placenta is retained inside the mare. Retained placenta can cause bad a uterine infection in the mare.
  • During this stage, the mare should stand and begin to clean the foal. The foal will normally stand within the first hour. As soon as the foal is up and moving around he should begin nursing. It is crucial to insure that the foal nurses within the first six hours.Image result for newborn foal

Summary: Ok, baby is out! Now what’s next? Be sure to check back next week for more information on early foal care and what your mare needs after she has foaled. As always, if you have questions or need assistance in foaling please contact our large animal vets at 540-788-6094.