What happens during foaling?

Stage 1 - Labour begins

Womb contractions begin and birth canal opens ready for the foal to pass through.  Signs you may observe are:

  • Restlessness      
  • Signs like colic, e.g. flank watching, pawing
  • Sweating
  • Frequent passage of small quantities of manure

This stage can last about an hour.  Do not disturb the mare during this time - have as few people present as possible.  Stage 1 ends with the ‘breaking of the waters', which then flow out of the vulva. 

Stage 2 - The birth of the foal

This stage lasts about 30 minutes and is a very explosive event (If it takes longer call Totally Vets immediately). 

The mare will lie down and have strong contractions that push the foal down the birth canal.  The foal normally comes through the vulva in the following way:

  • Front feet first, one slightly in front of the other, hooves facing down, followed by the head etc
  • The hind legs remain inside the vagina, with the umbilical cord intact 

If the foal is coming differently to this sequence, contact Totally Vets immediately.

Do not intervene when the foal is delivered unless the membrane is covering the foal's nose.  If this is the case remove the membranes immediately. Otherwise observe from a distance so the normal bonding process can take place.

The umbilical cord usually breaks when the foal struggles to rise or the mare gets up.  The umbilical stump (the foal's navel) will need treating with a disinfectant (e.g. iodine or chlorhexidine) to prevent infection.

Stage 3 - The afterbirth is expelled

This usually occurs within 1 hour of foaling.  If it has not been expelled within 6 hours call us at Totally Vets.  Keep the afterbirth because it can provide us with valuable information.

What are the signs that something is wrong?

Foaling difficulties occur in only 4-6 % of births.  These can be life-threatening to the mare and foal.

Signs to look for are:

  • Prolonged Stage 1, or particularly, Stage 2 labour.  If either of these stages is prolonged by even a short amount of time, there is much less chance of having a healthy foal
  • Incorrect presentation of the foal
  • A foot or the head protruding through the anus
  • Continued straining with no progress

Foaling is a relatively ‘explosive' process and difficulties arise quickly.  It is essential that you detect the signs of abnormality and contact Totally Vets for assistance promptly.  It is better that we arrive early to find the mare has foaled safely, than to delay the call and arrive to a disaster.