Foaling Your Mare - Information

So you have spent ages picking out the perfect stallion, you have suffered through the anxiety of pregnancy scans and experienced the thrill of seeing the heartbeat...

The question is, are you ready for the rest of it?

Do you know what signs to look for that will tell you she is getting close to foaling?

As the mare gets closer to her due date some physical changes will occur and it is imperative that owners monitor their mares closely and daily.

1. Tail head relaxation, unfortunately this can often be hard to distinguish in over-weight, well-muscled or maiden mares.

2. Vulva relaxation and elongation this can be affected by age, young maidens may show hardly any signs whilst older mares may already have quite pronounced elongated vulva lips.

3. Mammary gland enlargement changes begin approximately 1 month prior to parturition, with the most significant change about 2 weeks out. Some maidens show little enlargement until very close to parturition.

Please Note: Every mare is different and the above changes are very variable from case to case.

Mammary Gland Secretions

"Waxing up" is a common term used to describe the accumulation of colostrum (antibody rich milk) at the teats of the mare. This usually occurs between one and four days from foaling, but mares can be waxed up and perhaps dripping crucial colostrum for days before foaling.

Please Note: The running of milk (premature lactation) can be an indicator of placentitis (inflammation of the placenta). This can lead to abortion, foetal sepsis (systemic infection) or dummy foal syndrome. If it is close to foaling, it may be normal for your mare to do so, but will mean that an alternative supply of colostrum may be needed for the foal once it's born. Please contact the vet if your mare starts to run milk at any point during her pregnancy.

Most importantly will you know if the mare or foal is in trouble and when to call your veterinarian?

When is she due?

The average gestation length (pregnancy) is 11 months and a week - 335 to 342 days.

However not all mares read the text book and foals can be born from 320 days to 365 days (and beyond!) without any adverse effects to the foal's health. Age, weather conditions and stage in season will all affect the gestation length.

Records, records, records.... it is a really good idea that you keep track of insemination dates, pregnancy scans, vaccinations and worming routines. Check out this calculator on the



Stage I

This is the period where the foal moves within the uterus to the "ready position" with its head toward the back of the mare lying on its stomach with its head between its two front legs. The mare can often look like she has colic - get up and down, urinating, restlessness and is associated with uterine contractions. This stage of labour can last anywhere from 20minutes to several hours. The mare should not be disturbed during this time, as she can postpone delivery of the foal if she feels nervous or uncomfortable. The end of stage 1 is when the mare's waters break.

Stage II - Delivery

The mare will begin to actively strain, she is normally lying on her side but not always. Regardless of mares position the most important thing is that the foal is delivered within 15-45mins. The amniotic sac (white shinny membrane) protrudes first, the foal should present with front feet one ahead of the other, soles down. The nose should appear and once the head is visible the mare will begin to really push so the shoulders come out, this stage should be quite quick and the hips and back end should follow swiftly.

Please Note: If the parturition is not progressing normally, the presentation of the foal seems incorrect or 10 mins have passed without the mare straining contact the vet immediately.

Once the foal has been delivered, very quietly remove the membranes from the nose and muzzle, check the foal is breathing and dip the umbilicus, otherwise leave the mare and foal on their own to bond at this stage. The foal should start to struggle to get into sternal recumbency within a few minutes of delivery and should be standing within approximately 1 hour and drinking within approximately 2 hours. Delivery of the foal marks the end of stage II.

Stage III - Passing of placenta

The placenta will be hanging from the mare and still attached to the uterus. Care should be taken to tie it in a knot or up with twine to keep the mare form standing on it. The placenta is usually passed within 30 minutes of parturition, and should be passed within three hours. The mare might show signs of mild colic. Once the placenta has been passed, place in a bucket (cover it) for your veterinarian to examine later.


Firstly if at any time you are worried or concerned about your mare or foal just call us whether it is for some advice or reassurance.

Real emergency situations

Premature placental separation - "red bag" - a red velvet structure appears at the vulva lips when the mare starts to push. It is essential that you waste no time and open this bag with your fingertips or a pair of scissors and assist the delivery. The placenta is the oxygen and nutrient supply to the foal, thus if it detaches and presents first the foal is left without oxygen and will be severely compromised or will die.

Mal-presentation - foals can present in a number of different ways that will restrict its natural delivery. Head back, breeched, dog sitting, posterior presentation...etc. Therefore it's essential to monitor the progress of parturition very closely and call the vet immediately if the 2 feet and nose can't be seen within 10mins of the waters breaking.

Colic - can be due to uterine rupture, haemorrhage, gastrointestinal insult or part of the natural process stage III labour. It's best to check!

Haemorrhage - due to the explosive nature of parturition sometimes the uterine artery can rupture or tear. The mare will often present post parturition with colic signs, weakness, pale gums and shaking. Unfortunately these signs can be mistaken for the mare being weak and exhausted after labour, so if you are unsure if your mare is behaving normally, please just call us.

Uterine rupture - sometimes the sharp feet of the foal can cause a tear in the wall of the uterus. If this is extensive, it can lead to contamination of the abdominal cavity. The mare will present with depression and mild colic signs usually about 12-24 hours after parturition.

There are many other conditions associated with foaling which become medical emergencies that need veterinary input.

The best plan is to be prepared to call the vet if you are at all worried.

So What's Next? - The Post Foaling Check

You have got through the dramatics, you now have a new born and a proud mum... what now?

We strongly urge owners to have a post foaling check carried out by the vet for both mare and foal. It gives both you the peace of mind that the foal and mare are in good health, and any abnormalities, injuries or problems can be dealt with early. It is imperative to do a thorough check of the mare and foal. The birthing process is explosive and post foaling ailments can range from the relatively benign, such as small vulva tears, to the extreme, such as internal haemorrhage. Moreover, it can help us assess if there is any damage that may affect her future breeding performance that would otherwise go unnoticed. Equally in regards to the foal, sepsis, limb deformities, colostrum intake are all issues where early detection is crucial to the health and well-being of the foal. Therefore when the dust settles a full veterinary examination is highly recommended.

What does the check involve?

  • A full physical exam - foals can present with abnormalities in their hearts, eyes, umbilical cords, ribs and joints at birth all of which need to be identified and treated promptly.
  • An IgG assessment - to test for passive transfer of immunity from the mare. Unlike humans, foals are not born with a functioning immune system. It is crucial that the foal drinks the mare's first milk called "colostrum" within 12 hours of birth to acquire the immunity they will need to fight any infections. The vets at Chiltern Equine Clinic can take a blood sample from your foal and analyse it on site to ensure that the foal has received a sufficient amount of antibodies using an IgG test kit. If the level of antibodies is too low the vet can advise regarding further treatment to ensure the foal does not become immunocompromised.
  • Placental check (remember to keep it in a bucket).
  • A full physical exam of the mare - to assess cardiovascular status and to identify any issues that may have occurred during foaling.
  • A vaginal and uterine examination to check for any placental tags which may be still left in the mare's uterus and to assess the integrity of the uterus.

Other diagnostics can be carried out if deemed necessary, such as haematological assessment or ultrasound examination.


· Clean towels

· Tail bandage

· Dilute Chlorohexidine (0.2%) solution in a small jar for dipping umbilicus

· Head collar and rope

· Twine/umbilical tape

· Flashlight

· Bucket or plastic bag for placenta

· Fleet Enema

· Box of gloves

· Stop watch

· Scissors

We can come out a couple of weeks before her due date, or when she is 'bagging up' to do a pre-foaling check of the mare and give you lots of advice before the big day.