Equis ISSN 2398-2977

Reproduction: foaling management

Contributor(s): Rob Lofstedt, Graham Munroe, Philippa O'Brien, Wendy E Vaala, Vetstream Ltd, Elaine Watson


  • It is important to know as much as possible about the mare prior to foaling, to help anticipate any potential problems. Taking a good history is as important as a thorough clinical examination and is a part of the pre-foaling preparation which is easy to overlook.

Print off the Owner factsheets on The pregnant mare - health and well-being and Foaling - what you need to know to give to your clients.


Age and parity

  • Young mares:
    • May be less maternal. This group have a higher risk of poor bonding with the foal or even aggression towards the foal.
    • Young mares or maiden mares may suffer a higher incidence of perineal or cervical tear injuries than older mares.
    • Edema or swelling in the udder may lead to pain on suckling in maiden mares, which can increase the risk of rejection of the foal.
    • The prepartum period is more variable, especially in terms of mammary gland changes in maiden mares.
  • Older and more experienced mares:
    • May have scar tissue from previous foaling injuries.
    • Conformational changes and vulvar injuries due to foaling in older mares can lead to the necessity of surgery, eg Caslick's operation Vulva: Caslick operation, which requires supervision at foaling.
    • Older mares sometimes have large teats, which can make suckling difficult for the newborn foal.
    • Placental insufficiency and other problems are more common in older mares.


  • Thoroughbreds Thoroughbred are usually well cared for and the owners observant, but the unnatural breeding season, with many foals born in winter and very early spring, creates a need for housing and supplementation of feed. This can have disease implications where a large number of brood mares and foals are stabled for a long period.
  • Ponies are generally hardy but are often neglected through the pregnancy, or even go unrecognized as being in foal until parturition. This can lead to nutritional problems Nutrition: reproductive effects, especially if the owner thinks the pony is overweight and has been restricting food. They are particularly prone to hyperlipemia Hyperlipemia syndrome.
  • Miniature horse mares American Miniature Horse may not have early pregnancy confirmed due to difficulty performing transrectal ultrasonographic examinations. Due dates are often unknown. Small miniature horses may have increased risk of dystocia Reproduction: dystocia.
  • Arab foals Arab have an increased incidence of immunodeficiency syndromes compared to other breeds Immunology: combined immunodeficiency. Care must be taken to ensure that all foals ingest sufficient good quality colostrum immediately after birth Foal: failure of passive transfer (IgG).
  • Draught breeds Irish Draught have a higher incidence of retained fetal membranes.

Previous problems

Management system

Stud farm

  • Mares foaling indoors in a stud situation will usually be closely observed, eg by closed circuit television, and will have experienced supervision during foaling. This gives an improved survival rate.
  • Stabling and a close environment carries some of its own hazards, eg respiratory disease Respiratory: overview, build up of disease organisms in the foaling stall and nursing areas, the risk of mares becoming cast during foaling and the limited space for an inexperienced and possibly frightened maiden mare, who may tread on the foal.
  • An intensive situation with many brood mares stabled close together is at a higher risk of rapid spread of disease.

Extensive system

  • Mares foaling outside in a more extensive situation will not be so well monitored and experienced help may not be available without considerable delay.
  • Where a young mare does not bond with her foal, the foal may be abandoned and die, or at least be at risk of insufficient colostrum intake Foal: failure of passive transfer (IgG).
  • Climatic conditions can be extreme at the beginning of the foaling season which can lead to fatalities in exposed, hypothermic foals.
  • Natural hazards in the environment, such as ditches and ponds, or wire fences, etc may cause damage to the foal.
  • The fetal membranes may have been eaten by a predator before they have been examined.
  • Mares at grass are often fitter and at less risk of contagious disease than those in an intensive situation.

Clinical examination

  • A thorough clinical examination of the mare prior to foaling would be of value, but in most cases there is no time in which to carry this out, as the owner only calls for veterinary assistance when dystocia Reproduction: dystocia is suspected.
  • A clinical examination can reveal signs of imminent parturition, eg 'waxing up' Mammary gland: teat - waxing up or running milk, increasing size of udder, lengthening and relaxation of vulva, softening of pelvic ligaments in some cases, and softening and dilatation of the cervix on vaginal examination Vagina and cervix - manual examination.

Preparation for foaling

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First stage of labor

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Second stage of labor

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Third stage of labor

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Immediate care of mare and foal

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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Williams M A, Schmidt A R et al (1992) Amniotic fluid analysis for ante-partum fetal assessment in the horse. Equine Vet J 24 (1), 236-238 PubMed.
  • Vandeplassche M (1980) Obstetrician's view of the physiology of equine parturition and dystocia. Equine Vet J 12 (2), 45-49 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Collins N M, Axon J E & Palmer J E (2011) Resuscitation (Foal and Birth). In: Equine Reproduction. 2nd edn. Eds: Squires E L, Vaala W E & Varner D D. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Riddle W T (2003) Preparation of the Mare for Normal Parturition. In: Proc 49th AAEP Convention. pp 1-5.
  • Allen W E (1988) Fertility and Obstetrics in the Horse. Blackwell Scientific Publications.
  • Arthur G H, Noakes D E & Pearson H (1983) Veterinary Reproduction and Obstetrics. 4th edn. Balliere Tindall, UK.
  • Rossdale P D & Ricketts S W (1980) Equine Stud Farm Medicine. 2nd edn. Balliere Tindall, UK.