|Horses rarely have any difficulty giving birth. The process is extremely rapid and usually
takes place during the night; the foal should be on its feet shortly
thereafter. Mares seem to try to avoid
foaling when there are people around and often manage to do so unobserved,
unless there is some type of constant watch maintained on the horse. It is normally unnecessary to interfere with
or assist the mare in any way at foaling.
During the first stage of labor, the cervix and vagina
open. The fetal membrane–the amniotic
sac–contains large amounts of fluid in which the fetus has lived and may also
be seen. The sac then ruptures when
powerful contractions begin during the second stage of labor. The contractions commonly cause the mare some
degree of discomfort; signs include restless behavior, such as circling the
box, pawing at the bedding, and sweating.
They can foal standing up, but more often do so lying down. In most cases, the foal is presented and
delivered forelegs first, closely followed by the head, followed soon afterward
by the rest of the body. Some mares may
rest before expelling the hips with a final effort.
Knowing when something is going wrong with the labor is not
easy, especially for someone that is inexperienced. For this reason it may be better to send a
mare to foal at a breeding farm, where professional assistance is available if
necessary. Even for an amateur, it
should be possible to tell from the way the feet are presented whether the foal
is coming out forward or backward. If
the mare continues to strain violently for a long time without making progress,
a check should be made that all is going well by inserting a hand into the
vagina. Normally, the head can be felt
directly behind the extended forelegs, lying on top of the knees. If all does not seem normal, expert help
should be sought out immediately.
Sometimes the head may go back and hinder the birth process. Foals are less often born backward, but this
usually presents no problems. In the
rare case of a breech birth, no legs appear despite considerable straining, and
the tail is felt when a hand is inserted.
Veterinary help should be sought out immediately, because it requires a
considerable amount of expertise to realign the hind legs in a fashion that is
ready for delivery. Deformities of
foals, particularly contracted limbs are one of the more common causes of
foaling problems. It is better to seek
veterinary help soon in cases of trouble–delay is likely to result in death of
the foal. The person on the spot should
be aware that foals could suffocate if any part of the membrane remains around
the nostrils after birth. In this case,
the membrane must be cleared away by hand to allow the foal to breathe, and to
prevent it from choking.
The umbilical cord contains the large blood vessels, which
have been supplying blood and nutrients to, and removing waste products from,
the foal before birth. After foaling,
uterine contractions compress the placenta, and blood passes from it for the
last time down the cord into the foal.
It is normally unnecessary to cut the cord; the foal can be left still
attached to the cord until it is broken naturally, whether by the mare or by
the foal getting to its feet. The
placenta is shed in the third stage of labor.
If at that time the cord is still attached to the foal, it may be
helpful to sever it, approximately one inch from the body. A ligature must be tied around the stump,
which should be dressed with iodine or antibiotic powder. Keeping the navel clean is necessary to prevent