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.