You’ve waited patiently for the past 11 months and now it’s time for your mare to foal. In this article, we share the normal process of foaling down, so you know what to expect and when to call your veterinarian should the unexpected arise.
It’s hard to believe that after a 335-345 gestation period, foaling can be over in as quick as 20 minutes! Usually, foaling will occur without a hitch, but with such a short timeframe, problems can escalate fast, so it’s best to be prepared.
Three Stages of Foaling
In a normal foaling, there are three stages:
- Stage One: Your mare prepares for delivery
- Stage Two: Her waters break and the foal is delivered
- Stage Three: Your mare expels the placenta
Stage One: 1-4 Hours
The foal is on the way! During the first stage of parturition, which can last for four hours or longer, your mare’s cervix is dilating and her foal is re-positioning itself for birth. It’s not uncommon for mares to appear anxious at this time and exhibit signs similar to colic, including:
- Restless behaviour
- Getting up and lying down repeatedly
- Walking in an anxious or nervous manner
- Looking, biting or kicking at their sides
- Elevated tail or tail swishing
- Frequent urination or defecation
While all of the above signs are normal, if you suspect colic and these behaviours continue for more than four hours, call your veterinarian immediately. Usually, stage one will pass in several minutes to four hours, and often when your mare feels safe and unwatched. Usually between the hours of 11.00am to 4.00am of course!!
Stage Two: 15 Minutes-1 Hour
Once your mare’s waters have broken, birthing won’t stop and time becomes even more critical. When her waters break, you will see a large amount of allantoic fluid released before she lies down. However, some mares will move or even roll during delivery.
As birthing begins, you must watch carefully to ensure the foal is in the correct position. First, the amniotic sac will appear, encasing the first front hoof. Next, the second front hoof will appear, followed by the nose. Stage two is usually over within 20 minutes, but it may take up to one hour.
If a red membrane appears at the start of foaling, instead of the white amniotic sac, you must call your veterinarian without delay. The placenta is being delivered with the foal and depriving the foal of oxygen. If unable to arrive in time, your veterinarian will talk you through the steps.
Stage Three: 1-3 Hours
The foal has arrived! Following delivery, your mare may rest for several minutes to regain her strength. During this final stage, she will expel the placenta. Once the placenta has passed, lay it flat to check it’s intact, with only one hole where the foal passed through. Make sure both uterine horns are present and intact also. If unsure, place the membranes in a bucket or garbage bag and get your vet to check for you.
Often, mares will exhibit signs of colic as they continue to experience uterine contractions to pass the placenta. Again, monitor this behaviour for several hours. If you reach three hours post-foaling and the placenta hasn’t passed, you must contact your veterinarian.
A retained placenta can lead to uterine infections, predisposing your mare to endometritis, infertility and laminitis. You mustn’t manually remove the placenta or cut the umbilical cord as these can lead to problems. Instead, alert your veterinarian.