Post-Foaling Red Flags

Watch for these 10 emergencies in the hours after a mare foals. Learn more in this article from The Horse‘s Spring 2024 issue.

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10 emergencies to watch for in the hours after your mare foals

retained fetal membranes in mares; deworming broodmares near foaling; Newborn foal attempting to stand
The first few hours after foaling are critical for determining the future physical and mental health of your mare and her newborn foal. | iStock

Phew! That baby is born. The past 11 months of waiting, monitoring, and hoping have ended, and that beautiful wet foal is now on the ground wondering what on earth just happened to her. Your mare, meanwhile, is back on her feet—curious and wondrous about that squirmy little ragamuffin that just came out of her.

It might be tempting to assume that all is well, and you can finally get your own much-needed deep sleep. Unfortunately, though, your bed will have to wait—you’ve only completed part of the complex process of successful foaling. The next few hours and days will be critical in determining the future physical and mental health of your mare and her newborn foal, says Christine Aurich, DVM, PhD, head of the Graf Lehndorff Institute for Equine Science, in Neustadt, Germany.

So get your foaling night blankets and hot thermoses of coffee—and brush up on your smartphone stopwatch features—as you keep a watchful eye out for these 10 red flags in the post-foaling period.

1. Foaling Passes the 20-Minute and/or 45-Minute Mark.

Careful breeders have their stopwatch apps open before they even see the foal, Aurich says. “At the moment the placenta breaks, and the birth process is starting, you should really start your watch,” she explains.

If the foal isn’t delivered within 20 minutes, there’s certainly a problem that merits investigation, she says. If handlers have had training in managing difficult births, they can try to help resolve basic problems like a stuck shoulder or flexed knee. Otherwise, they should call a veterinarian immediately.

Regardless, foals should be born within 45 minutes, Aurich cautions. Longer than that, and the foal is more likely to suffer from health issues such as general infections or neurological disorders due to lack of oxygen.

Good prenatal care can help prevent or at least forewarn handlers about issues that could complicate foaling, so they can be prepared, says Quinn Gavaga, DVM, of Charles Ranch Equine, in Ashcroft, British Columbia, Canada. “The health of the mare cannot be overstated,” he says.

2. The Placenta is Late—or Early—and/or Isn’t Y-Shaped.

Mares should deliver the placenta within three hours of birth, says Aurich. Otherwise, a retained placenta could cause uterine infection and the resorption of endotoxins, provoking sepsis (a whole-body reaction to bacterial infection) in the mare, which could also lead to laminitis. This “very dangerous and life-threatening” issue can usually be quickly averted with oxytocin infusions that make the uterus contract and expel the placenta

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Written by:

Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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