Foaling Time or Time to Call the Vet?

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When all goes to plan, foaling is stress free and usually over in 30 minutes to an hour. However, things can go wrong. In this article, we explain the situations you may encounter during foaling that mean it’s time to call the vet.

Stages of foaling

There are three distinct stages to a normal foaling:

  1. Stage One (30 minutes – 6 hours): This stage involves uterine contractions and cervical relaxation. The normal signs of stage one are rolling, pawing, kicking at the abdomen, anorexia, sweating and frequent urination.
  2. Stage Two (10 minutes – 1 hour): This stage is where the water breaks. You will see a sudden release of tan- or red-coloured fluid, followed by active abdominal contractions as the foal is delivered. The mare will usually lie down for this stage.
  3. Stage Three (1 – 3 hours): This stage is where the placenta is expelled. When the placenta has passed, you must check to ensure its intact. There should be one hole and no signs of tearing.

When to interfere

Immediate advice from a veterinarian is vital if:

  • The mare has been streaming milk for 12 hours or more with no sign of labour
  • The waters have broken, but there’s no sign of contractions or no further progress
  • There’s malpresentation of the foal
  • The placenta has appeared at the vulva before the foal
  • The foal’s hoof is emerging through the mare’s anus
  • The foal is unwilling or unable to stand within one hour after birth
  • The foal is unwilling or unable to suckle within two hours after birth
  • The mare is showing signs of colic post-foaling
  • The placenta has not passed within four hours after birth
  • You have concerns the entire placenta hasn’t been passed
  • The placental membranes is covering the foal’s muzzle outside the pelvic canal

During foaling, you should only intervene if you notice a problem. Seeking advice from a veterinarian is imperative if something goes wrong. It may be the difference between life and death for your mare or newborn foal.


  • Dr Louise Cosgrove

    The founder of Exclusively Equine Veterinary Services, Louise is driven to support horses in their recovery from injury or illness. A graduate of the University of Queensland, with international equin...

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