Horses reproduce by giving birth to live foals. Sure, this is no shock, but
if you own a female horse and discover that she’s now pregnant, are you ready to help care for her and her
eventual baby? The process isn’t as simple as you may think and actually requires a good deal of planning,
much like the birth of a human baby would be. Here’s what you need to know for helping your mare deal with
Similar to humans, horses have a pregnancy that lasts roughly 10 months, so a
bit longer than humans even. That is a long time to carry a single baby, and just like humans as well, your
mare could become stressed, worried, and generally uncomfortable at the thought of having a baby. This means
that it’s definitely going to be important for you to help out and ease your horse into this new process by
being supportive and attentive to her needs.
For instance, you will notice near the end of the pregnancy with about a month
to go that her udder will begin to swell in a process known as “bagging up.” While she’ll know how to let her
new foal nurse at her teats, you’ll still want to help her with the strange transition by getting her used to
interaction with her udders and nipples. You can easily do this by regularly cleaning the teats with a warm
cloth, though at times you may need some help from either another individual to keep the mare from panicking,
or something as intense as a tranquilizer. Sometime it’s just for the horse’s own good.
Typically the mares that need the most help and encouragement are those
experiencing pregnancy for the first time since everything is completely new to them. They are most likely to
be high strung and as a result are a bit more difficult to predict in terms of how long their gestation period
will actually take. They could end up taking longer, or they could end up birthing sooner than anticipated.
Basically, you’ll want to have all your planning done months in advance, which includes any modifications to
the stalls, the stable, or new food requirements.
When it gets close to birthing time, you’ll be able to tell by a handful of
possible signals. One is a waxy layer appearing on the udders, indicating the foal will be born within a day or
so. Another is a general loosening of the rump and tail muscles, making them softer and easier for the foal to
pass through the birth canal. If your mare starts to show very definite changes in her mood, either wanting to
distance herself from you and others or is either far friendlier or more bothered than usual, then she could be
going into labor at last. This usually seems to happen around the late hours of the night from 10 pm to 4 am
and can also be indicated by disinterest in dinner. When this starts to happen, it’s a good idea to tie up her
tail to help keep it out the way during the birth.
For the actual foaling, be sure to provide bedding straw rather than bedding
shavings. Straw is far less likely to cause problems, whereas shavings could get stuck to the foal or your
mare’s vulva, even getting pulled inside during delivery and ultimately causing a lot of pain and problems. If
you feel the need to use bedding shavings, save them for a few days after the birth, not the day of. Otherwise,
foaling is extremely natural and doesn’t require human intervention whatsoever unless there are complications.
Your mare will know how to perform the birth, clean the newborn, and then proceed to bond, none of which
requires your help.
If you aren’t quite sure how to help or when to actually step in, make sure
you’re read up and have spoken to your vet about just such an occurrence. They are generally more than happy to
help give advice, and some will even be willing to sit in on the foaling to provide assistance if necessary.
Usually, the only help you’ll need to know how to do is how to gently pull the foal out of the womb should
there be difficulty showing that a hoof or two have appeared but no head quite yet. If you aren’t trained on
this and your vet isn’t nearby, it’d a good idea to get them on the phone to help walk you through this
Near the end of the birth, there will be a point when the foal is mostly out
but still has its back legs inside its mother while she rests. This is normal and actually quite crucial as a
large amount of blood is being transferred from the mare to the foal, a process that could take more than 15
minutes but is vital to the foal’s health. After the mare fully pushed the foal out, the umbilical cord will be
cut. It’s a good idea to dip the foal’s navel in an iodine solution, usually less than 7% iodine (ask your vet
how much to use).
Last is the placenta. You must make sure the placenta is passed within two to
four hours of the foaling, otherwise infection could be possible. If the placenta hasn’t come out by itself,
you’ll need to call the vet and have them help out. After that, the foal will try nursing for the first time, a
process that could occur as early as one hour or as long as six.
The first time you and your mare experience a foaling can be an exciting and
scary experience, but it’s just part of life for a horse. If you’re planning on raising and breeding, you’ll
need to read up and be ready for it!
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