(Copyright 2011 K. Dallimore. Please do not reproduce without permission.)
(This first appeared in TROT magazine several years ago, and since I'm waiting for my mare to foal I dug it up and thought I'd share it!)
After waiting a little over 11 months, you will probably come out one morning and find a healthy foal waiting for you. However, if you are lucky enough to see it born, knowing what to expect with a normal delivery can help you to enjoy this incredible experience a little better, and although there are usually no problems, knowing a few indicators of potential trouble can signal you to call for help.
It goes without saying that each mare will be different but there are familiar patterns that can guide your way. The most important thing to remember is that horses have been foaling for thousands of years without our help; nine out of ten foalings will be just fine.
We’ll start about a week before foaling. Her hips and tail will soften as her muscles prepare to give birth. Your mare will ‘wax up’: you will usually see a discharge from her teats that will start off clear and turn white as the milk starts to come through. Once the milk starts to appear the mare will likely foal within 24 hours.
The milk discharge may even become a flow, in which case you will want to save some for the foal. This first milk produced by the mare is the critical colostrum that the foal needs to consume within 24 hours of birth for immunity.
If you know what is normal for your mare you will be able to tell when she is acting differently. She may appear uncomfortable, start to walk a lot, isolate herself from the herd, sweat up, curl up her lip; anything that has you saying, “Hey, she normally doesn’t…” is a sign that something is up. This is the first stage of labour. Some mares are eccentric while some show nothing at all. She will pass small amounts of soft feces as she clears the way for the foal to arrive.
Hopefully she is comfortable in the area where she will deliver the foal. If you have a stall or pen set up, get her used to it beforehand, including the sights and sounds of you and your helpers prancing around all night with flashlights. Foaling is the most vulnerable time for a mare and newborn foal If she is used to quiet evenings in the barn your presence can mean danger to her. How many times have you heard, “I just went to the house for a coffee and came back to find a foal!”
In a field situation she will likely try to remove herself from the herd and time the delivery for the middle of the night so that the foal will have the cover of darkness to hide from predators. Often out on pasture a buddy horse will stand watch over the foaling mare for protection.
If you think she’s close to giving birth, clean up her tail, check to make sure she isn’t sutured (ask your vet), and let your vet know that he or she may be needed. You can wrap up or braid her tail as long as the wrap’s not too tight.
Check back later for Phase Two!