She’s having a baby

...and on the eighth day God created BABY FOALS to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever they darn well please, in divine grace.

Caring for a mother horse and her new baby can be one of the most rewarding experiences a horse owner can have, but also one of the most anxious.

There are very real risks involved for both mother and baby during and after the foaling process. Studying a good handbook on foaling during the light of day, well before the foal is due, will help you become familiar with what occurs and keep you alert for risks and how to deal with them should they arise.

Ready, set, prepare.

The foaling stall should be cleaned and set up well ahead of the birth. It should be well-bedded with straw, not sawdust as sawdust can stick to baby’s wet coat and clog his nostrils. It should be large enough for 2 animals, free from drafts and dimly lit. A 25 watt light bulb in the socket does nicely.

Your foaling duty kit should contain the following: A clean squeeze bottle filled with Betadine surgical solution (povidone) or Nolvasan (chlorhexidine). This is for disinfecting the umbilical stump.

A bright, dependable flashlight.

Two 36 inch long pieces of clean cotton string, for tying up the afterbirth as it hangs from the birth canal, so the mare doesn’t step on it.

Two 12 inch long pieces of clean cotton string, for tying off the umbilical stump in case it should bleed excessively.

Scissors for trimming the string.

A pre-warmed Fleet enema for the baby. Warm it in 95 degree water and store it in an insulated Thermos bottle.

A strong plastic bag for storing the afterbirth.

The actual foaling process is divided into 3 stages. (1)

Stage 1 is contractions. The mare will act anxious and may appear to exhibit signs of colic. The water will break and 2 to 5 gallons of fluid are released. This stage lasts from a few minutes to several hours.

Stage 2 is the actual expulsion of the foal from the uterus. As contractions continue it is important for the foal to be in the proper position for delivery. Picture the arc of a diver, with 2 front feet appearing, pointing downward, nose resting just behind them. These forequarters should pass through the birth canal rather easily, but sometimes as the hips pass through, the mare may have some difficulty. This stage takes from 10 to 20 minutes if no difficulties are present.

Stage 3 begins after the foal is delivered and ends with the expulsion of the afterbirth.

The following is a "what you see, what you do" walk- through of the birth from 0 to the first 15 minutes, up to the following morning. (2)

From 0 to 15 minutes, the foal is emerging from the birth canal, but his back legs may still be inside the mare. The milky amniotic sac could still be encasing his body and the mare could be in a post-birthing stupor.

You should gently tear away the part of the sac covering his face and pull it over the shoulders so it doesn’t obstruct his nose or mouth or get wrapped around his neck. Be careful not to upset the mare.

Do not attempt to pull him out of the mare. His hooves are thick and rubbery and his presence will stimulate continued contractions and get her started on expelling the placenta afterbirth.

Let the mare rest. Do not talk, do not let people come into the barn, don’t rustle papers, don’t pat her and keep dogs and cats away.

Within the first 15 seconds to 5 minutes, you should see the umbilical still pulsating with tension on it, and the foal laying on his side, with his hind feet still inside the birth canal. He will be breathing fast with nostrils flaring and making snuffling noises. Fluid will be coming out the nostrils and he may be shivering.

Do not cut the umbilical cord , let it break on its own. The break should occur about 1 ½ inches from the foal’s belly, causing less bleeding and reducing risk of infection. You will not have to tie it off if allowed to break on its own and there is minimal bleeding.

You may help the foal into the sternal position to help the lungs clear out the fluid that was in them during pregnancy. Remaining on his side may allow the fluid to pool on the downside lung , leaving him vulnerable to respiratory infection.

Rapid breathing is okay: for the first several minutes the foal may take 60 or more breaths per minute. Fluid drainage from nostrils is good as this confirms the lungs are emptying.

Shivering is also good. Shivering means the internal thermostat is working, thus raising the core body temperature. Remember, the average mean temperature of a horse’s body is 100 degrees F and he’s been inside his mother for 10 months. Do not wipe him off with a towel; that wet coat gives him his distinctive odor the mare will use to identify him as her own. This is why the stall should be draft free.

After about 10 minutes the foal may begin to flail a bit, trying to get up into the sternal position. At this time you may gently remove the hind legs from the mare if they’re still inside. This is a good indication that the foal’s balance and nerves are functioning. He may let out a whinny. Don’t let him knock his head on the hard floor; make sure there is lots of straw bedding to protect it.

The mare should nicker softly as her maternal instincts begin to take hold. Watch her closely to make sure she doesn’t pin her ears at the baby.

She may remain on her side, resting, showing signs of mild discomfort. If she shows signs of severe discomfort, accompanied by rolling or thrashing, she may be bleeding internally or colicking. Call the Vet immediately.

Do not try to get her up, rather, move the foal to safety. Stay close and wait for the Vet.

The umbilical cord will probably break on its own, or you may have to break it at this time. If it bleeds, tie it off with the 12 inch piece of string.

At 10 to 30 minutes, after having rested, the mare will stand up, breaking the umbilical cord and the afterbirth will swing against her legs. You may tie it up with string at this time.