As the foaling date approaches, the mare should be kept under close observation including at night. The observer should be familiar with the course of a normal foaling and call the vet if a problem occurs. At Bell Equine we use closed circuit cameras so the mare can be watched without being disturbed. Special foaling alarms are also available.

First stage labour

During first stage of labour, the mare experiences discomfort from uterine contractions. The mare will exhibit signs very similar to colic including:

  • restlessness
  • sweating
  • pawing the ground
  • looking round at the flanks
  • lying down and getting up again and rolling – this is very important in helping the foal to reposition it self
  • milk may leak from the teats

The periods of discomfort are separated by periods of calm. Maiden mares may roll or become quite distressed. The length of first stage labour is extremely variable but usually ranges from 30 minutes to 4 hours!

Second stage labour

Second stage labour lasts for an average of 20 minutes. It is usually a very rapid, explosive event once the mare lies down and begins abdominal contractions. It begins when the placenta ruptures and a large quantity of clear, pale yellowish fluid is released. This is the allantoic fluid. Most mares then lie on their sides and begin to strain. If the mare has a sutured vulva (following a caslick’s procedure), which has not already been opened, it is vital that it is cut at this stage.

After 5-10 minutes, a white membrane called the amnion appears between the vulval lips. In a normal foaling the front feet are delivered first, closely followed by the muzzle. The mare continues to strain vigorously until the foal’s hips have been delivered.  She will then stop straining but stay lying down for up to 20 minutes. Do not disturb her especially for the first few minutes after foaling as blood is still passing from the placenta to the foal. It is quite normal for the foal’s hind limbs to remain inside the vagina and unless the amnion is obstructing the foal’s nostrils no interference is necessary. The umbilical cord breaks when the mare stands or the foal struggles to its feet.

Third stage labour

The placenta is normally expelled within an hour of the foal being born. The mare may go down again and experience ‘colicky’ pain as it is delivered. If the placenta has not been delivered within two hours, notify your vet.

Induction of parturition

Mares are rarely induced to foal as the normal gestation period varies from 320-360 days. The foal matures in the last 2-3 days of gestation and there is no 100% reliable method of determining if this has occurred. Artificial induction before foetal maturation takes place considerably decreases the foal’s survival chances.

The procedure may be considered in:

  • mares with prepubic tendon rupture
  • cases where foaling problems are anticipated
  • cases where the mare or foal is considered to be at risk if the pregnancy continues

Complications of induction include:

  • the birth of weak or premature foals
  • premature placental separation. A thick red membrane (the allantochorion) appears at the vulval lips instead of the white amnion
  • foaling difficulties
  • retained placental membranes

Foaling Emergencies

The majority of mares will foal unassisted without any difficulties. However, there are a number of situations in which immediate attention is required:

  • red Bag Presentation
  • recto-vaginal injury – foals leg through anus
  • dystocia
  • uterine inertia
  • vaginal laceration and herniation of intestine
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