Over our last few blogs we have discussed how to prepare a mare for cover, all you need to know about boarding a mare who is pregnant, and what you need on hand when foaling time comes around. Now starts the fun part, actually seeing the fruits of her labour (and ours!) in the form of the foaling process and a large bundle of joy.
There are three stages of the foaling process.
The first stage is everything prior to and including the breaking of the mares’ waters. The second stage is the birth itself and the third and final process is the passing or cleansing of the placenta.
The first stage of labour
During the first stage of labour there are a few signs to be on the lookout for while the mare gets close to foaling down. Most thoroughbred mares will foal during the night in their stable where they feel most comfortable and secure away from any predators. You will however start to notice changes in the mares’ temperament during the day.
She may be seen to pace and walk the fence line or even to stand at the gate waiting to be bought in. She knows when her time is close and it is important to listen, and get her to the most comfortable and secure place she can be.
Once a mare is close to breaking water you may find that she starts to become very uncomfortable and can show this by digging up her bed, constantly getting up and down, rolling, sweating up and box walking. These are all normal signs that the mare is close to the birth as the foal is starting to get into the position for foaling and making its way towards the birth canal. Eventually the mares’ waters will break.
The second stage of labour
The second stage of labour is the actual birth. The mare will continue to get up and down and lay on different sides of her body, this is to help the foal get into the correct position and also for the mare to find the most comfortable position for her to give birth.
There is not much time between breaking waters and the delivery of the foal, on average around 20 minutes. It is very important that if there is any problem with the foaling it is diagnosed early and dealt with as quickly and calmly as possible.
The foaling attendant needs to check the position of the foal as soon as the waters have broken to ascertain which direction it is facing, if it is the right position, or if the mare will need some time to try and correct it. The foal should have both front legs forward, one slightly in front of the other, with its head laying on top. The spine should be parallel to the spine of the mares. It is common that the foal may be presenting upside down, if this is the case you should allow the mare to get up and down to help rotate the foal herself, if this continues for too long you will need to intervene and help manually rotate the foal inside the mare. If you are not fully confident with doing this always ensure a vet is on standby to make sure no other complications occur whilst performing this movement.
If the presentation of the foal is correct, the less intervention with the foaling the better.
Allow the mare to give birth in peace, by watching from side in silence. Be ready to jump in should she need some assistance!
Sometimes the mare may need a little help if she has a narrow birth canal or if the foal is larger than normal. We as humans like to think we can help by speeding up the process, but we need to remember that these processes are there for a reason. The foal is not meant to be pulled out of the birth canal, but rather pushed, and we can do serious damage if we intervene without it being necessary. In emergency cases where assistance is absolutely necessary, ensure it is very gentle and in conjunction with the contractions of the mare.
The foal is born within the amniotic sac which must be broken once its head and shoulders have come out of the mare, to ensure they do not suffocate. Once the foal has been born, it is important to clear any mucus away from the foals nostrils, ears and eyes and sit them up in a sternal position as they are now required to breathe for the first time on their own.
If the mare does not stand straight away, pull the foal around the mares head so she can smell and lick her new born straight away and start their very important bonding session.
The third stage of labour
The third stage of labour is the passing of the placenta. The mare may continue to show signs of pain whilst passing the placenta, which is completely as contraction will often continue to ensure everything is pushed out. Before the placenta is passed and after the birth, you should tie the amnion up to stop any damage occurring to it, we are able to properly check it any abnormalities, which may help us with future breeding.
It is important to ensure the placenta is passed whole, if it is torn we can’t be sure if any was left inside the mare which can cause a terrible infection in her uterus. Make sure a vet is called and the mare is flushed to ensure it is all completely out of her should you not be certain that it is all out. If the mare does not pass her placenta at all and has retained it, a vet should be called to assist the mare in passing this before any complications happen.
The placenta should pass inside out, if it is passed and is bright red this means the mare has ‘red bagged’ during foaling meaning the foal has been deprived of oxygen for longer than it should have been. In order to mitigate these situation we give the foal oxygen from a tank which is vital as being deprived of this during the birth could cause problems for the foal and its ability to adjust to the outside world during the first few days of life.
If you have the right team, and all the right equipment including an experienced vet on call, you should be able to overcome any minor hiccups during the foaling process. Seeing a happy and healthy mum with her new born foal is a feeling like no other!