The birth of a newborn foal is an exciting time. Most times, the mares require little human interaction. This means you can put your mare in a safe place to foal, sit back and marvel at the miracle of life. However, you should know what to expect during a birth. If something isn’t going according to plan, you may need to step in.
The gestation period for a horse is roughly 11-12 months. Soon before your mare gives birth, you will notice signs that the time is near. Two to four weeks before foaling, her udders will begin filling with milk. Four to six days prior, you’ll notice that the teats appear fully engorged. Approximately one to four days before the foal arrives, a yellow secretion called colostrum will appear around the teats. This is referred to as “waxing.” You may also notice that the tailhead is more prominent a few days before the birth because the vulva and croup muscles relax.
While some mares follow this timeline to the T, others show very few signs. This is a generally good idea of what to expect, but surprises are always a possibility. For most mares, they will become anxious and restless immediately before the birth. She may frequently urinate, pace, kick at her abdomen, or even lie down and get back up. While this is normal behavior, you should keep track of how long she is in distress. If your mare exhibits this behavior for more than an hour or two without showing progress toward birthing, you should contact your veterinarian.
Birthing is broken down into three stages. The first stage generally lasts one to two hours. This is the onset of contractions and the foal is moved through the cervix to the birth canal. The end of stage one is marked by a rush of placental fluids.
During stage two is when the foal emerges. It is a quick process that rarely takes more than a half hour. If you see no significant progress within 10-15 minutes of the “water breaking,” you should contact your veterinarian immediately. You should also call if you notice that the foal is in an abnormal delivery position. You should see the front feet emerging first with hooves down, followed by the head.
Stage three labor begins after the foal is delivered. Within 1-3 hours, the mare should pass the placenta (afterbirth). A placenta that remains inside can cause major problems and infection.
You shouldn’t need to cut the umbilical cord, but many veterinarians will instruct you to disinfect the cord after it breaks.
After the birth, you should observe the mare and foal closely for 24 hours. Be sure both are in good health and that the foal has nursed within 2 hours of birth to receive vital antioxidants from the mare’s milk. Also look for the foal’s first stool.
For more specific information on foaling or your horse’s specific situation, call an experienced veterinarian. You can additionally consult reputable online resources, such as the American Association of Equine Practitioners.