What To Expect When Your Horse Is Expecting

A bay mare and her foal in a grass paddock

Witnessing the birth of an animal can be a beautiful experience, but it can also be stressful or even scary if things do not go as planned. While most animals can give birth with little to no human interference, it’s still important to be prepared and watch for signs that help is needed.

Dr. Leslie Easterwood, a clinical assistant professor of equine community practice at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the normal birthing process in horses, also known as foaling, as well as how to best care for a foal in the first hours of its life.

With horses, the foaling process goes by relatively quickly, so it’s important to closely monitor a mare that is getting close to its due date.

“The normal foaling process is divided into two stages,” Easterwood said. “Stage 1 starts with mild discomfort and restlessness; this stage can take one to three hours. Stage 2 begins when the mare’s water breaks and should be very quick, only 15 to 20 minutes.”

Most foals are born with little to no intervention, but if more than 20 minutes go by after the water breaks and the foal has not been delivered, Easterwood recommends calling a veterinarian for assistance.

Once the foal is delivered, the “1-2-3 Rule” can be used to make sure everything is progressing smoothly.

“The foal should stand within one hour, it should begin to nurse within two hours, and the placenta should be passed within three hours,” Easterwood said. “If any step of the ‘1-2-3 Rule’ is not on time, the veterinarian should be called.”

These first few hours are critical and should include close supervision of the mare and foal. If a foal seems to be having trouble standing or nursing, a veterinarian should be contacted as soon as possible.

However, if everything looks to be going well, it is best to stay out of the way and leave the mare alone with her new baby, since the first few hours after birth are an important part of the bonding process.

“If all progresses well, a new foal exam should be performed by a veterinarian between 12 and 24 hours after birth,” Easterwood said. “At that time, an IgG (immunoglobulin) test should be run to check for Failure of Passive Transfer (when a foal does not receive sufficient antibodies from the mare), congenital defects, and potential developmental issues.”

As long as the foal is declared healthy and needs no extra medical care, it should be up and moving in no time.

Easterwood said that one fascinating aspect of horses is that like most other species of prey animals, they usually begin walking and even running soon after birth.

If your horse is expecting a foal soon, rest assured that you will most likely get to enjoy the miracle of birth without having to get involved. Even if veterinary care is necessary, your preparedness and confidence can help make sure your new family member enters the world safely and smoothly.

Pet Talk is a service of the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to vmbs-editor@tamu.edu.

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