What an exciting time! It’s often with great anticipation that horse owners await the arrival of a new foal. Following an 11 month pregnancy plus or minus a week, the final month brings about physiological and behavioural changes that indicate your mare is preparing for birth.
In this article, we share 8 common signs your mare is getting ready.
- Distended Udder
As the unborn foal matures during the last month of pregnancy, a distended udder is often the first sign of the approaching birth. Typically, your mare’s udder will fill at night and shrink during the day. When the udder remains full, foaling may be days or only hours away.
- Enlarged teats
In the final days before foaling, the teats of your mare’s udder begin to extend outward as her udder distends. Pressure from her growing milk supply pushes the teats away from the udder and, as foaling nears, the teats enlarge, ready for the arrival of her newborn foal.
- Relaxed pelvis
Around three weeks prior to foaling, the muscles of the pelvic area begin to relax to enable the passage of the foal through the birth canal. In most mares, a hollow develops on either side of the base of the tail. However, this change may not be seen in all mares. If you palpate the muscles they feel very soft and have very little tone.
- Waxing teats
The appearance of wax-like beads on the end of each teat can occur weeks or within 12 hours before birthing. While not all mares will exhibit waxing of the teats, these droplets are the immune-supportive colostrum every newborn foals requires within their first hours of life.
- Milk flow
In addition to colostrum droplets, some mares will also begin to secrete milk soon before foaling. It’s imperative this is watched closely. Any mare streaming milk for several days may lose large amounts of colostrum — and the vital antibodies and laxative it contains for your newborn foal.
- Relaxed vulva
During the final 24-48 hours, your mare’s vulva — the outer lips of the vagina — will noticeably swell and lengthen, readying itself for the birthing process where it will stretch to several times it normal size as the foal is delivered.
- Behavioural changes
As early as several weeks prior to foaling, your mare may show signs of irritability and restlessness. When the first stage of labour begins, mares usually seek out a quiet location where they can give birth undisturbed.
Often, a mare in labour will walk continuously — only lying down to give birth. She may also swish her tail, look at her sides and kick at her abdomen. If she eats, drinks, defecates and urinates as normal, you don’t need to suspect colic. The first stage of labour has begun.
Birthing is hard on your mare’s body. It’s not unusual to encounter sweating across the neck, flanks and body both in the lead up to and during delivery. Prior to foaling, your mare may feel warm and damp, and many mares will sweat as labour approaches.
To provide your mare with a safe and secure place to foal, without outside interference, place her in a paddock or stall free from hazards. In the final weeks ahead of foaling, you should continue to watch your mare closely to ensure mare and foal come out of delivery happy and healthy.