Most mares foal successfully with little or no human intervention. For many people, in fact, the human role in the big event involves nothing more than discovering the new arrival in a field one morning. If, however, you’d prefer to witness a foal’s delivery and perhaps participate in the process, you’ll need to plan and prepare.
While you’ll have a full 11 months to anticipate the big day, you need just an hour or so to prepare yourself and your property. Your tasks will include assembling the necessary supplies, selecting a foaling location and charting a plan of action. Make your preparations at least 30 days before your mare’s due date, because foals don’t always stick closely to a schedule.
Gather Your Materials
You probably have many of the items needed for the delivery on hand already, but it’s wise to take inventory in advance so you’ll have time to purchase additional supplies. Store the items in a large, sealable, plastic storage container, which will itself come in handy later.
- clean stainless steel or new plastic bucket
- clean tail bandage for the mare
- petroleum jelly or other lubricant
- halter and lead rope
- clean bandage scissors
- a watch
- sterile plastic gloves
- several clean, large towels
- povidone iodine solution for disinfecting the foal’s navel
- Fleet enema for the foal
- an extra-large sweater that can be placed on the foal to keep it warm, if necessary (front legs through the arms, head through the neck hole)
Scout a Location
You’ll need to decide whether your mare will foal indoors or outdoors. There are benefits and drawbacks to each setting. Indoor foaling is handier for you, but delivering in the outdoors is more natural for your mare and generally more hygienic and roomier. Once you’ve made the decision, you’ll need to spend a few minutes making the designated area safe and suitable.
If you’re planning on having your mare foal indoors, you’ll need a stall that measures 12 feet by 12 feet or larger. Otherwise you’ll have to combine two stalls by removing the common wall.
Once you’ve selected a foaling stall, give it a thorough inspection, looking for and eliminating hazards such as raised nails, large splinters and curling or fraying mat edges. For safety’s sake, remove the feed- and water-bucket screw eyes. If you’ll be keeping your mare in the stall ahead of time, feed and water her from buckets on the floor as the big day approaches. Remove all the buckets at foaling time.
Access is a consideration when a mare foals indoors. Optimally, a foaling stall will have two doorways so entry is possible even if one is blocked. If you don’t have two doors, consider removing stall bars or window coverings to create a second entryway.
If the stall door does not extend all the way to the floor, use a section of plywood to close the gap. That way, if your mare delivers nearby, the newborn won’t catch a leg under the door or otherwise get stuck.
Assess your lighting. Most mares prefer a dimly lit space, but in an emergency you’ll need as much light as possible. If the existing fixtures do not provide enough illumination to read by at night, acquire alternate lighting, such as lanterns or floodlights.
Make plans to have the entire stall disinfected and bedded with clean straw. Several studies have linked foal diseases with wood shavings, which can harbor bacteria, molds and irritants.
In mild climates where tidy, grassy areas are available, allowing a mare to foal outdoors is an attractive and generally preferable option. Outdoor foaling requires less preparation on your part, and the extra space will probably be appreciated by your mare.
For a foaling spot, look for a fairly level area of lawn or paddock. Ideally, the site will not have been grazed or ridden on for at least six months–this provides the cleanest, most disease-free foaling surface. Choose a more or less square space with sides that are at least 25 feet long.
Once you’ve designated a foaling space, clear away rocks, sticks and other potential hazards. Then make plans to cordon it off with a snow fence or another temporary structure. Don’t use wire fence, however, unless you will be there to supervise the foal until he leaves the enclosure; the youngster may not be able to see or avoid the wire in his first few wobbly hours. When your foaling area is established, mow the grass to a length of about three inches.
Lighting is also an important consideration for outdoor foaling. It’s wise to arrange to have the headlights of two or three trucks available, or you may want to have larger spotlights on hand.
When your outdoor site is prepared, keep all horses off of it. Move your mare to the spot only when her water has broken or when other signs suggest that foaling is imminent.
Devise a Contingency Plan
Although the majority of foalings proceed without complication, you’ll want to be prepared if a crisis does arise. In the final minutes of your hour, consider what you would need in an emergency.
Make sure your truck and trailer are in good repair and ready to go at a moment’s notice. If you don’t own a trailer, make arrangements with trailer-owning friends to have access to theirs.
Compile a list of important phone numbers, including your veterinarian, a backup veterinarian and any foaling-savvy horse friends you can call for support.
Inquire about colostrum. Foals need this antibody-rich first milk to survive and flourish. But sometimes foaling complications or other problems interfere with a mare’s colostrum supply, so it’s wise to become acquainted with alternate sources for this precious substance. Some large veterinary practices store colostrum for emergency use. You can also see whether there are any nurse-mare programs in your area and keep their numbers handy, just in case. Finally, you can plan to collect colostrum from your mare just before foaling and freeze it yourself (your veterinarian can instruct you on how to do this).
This article originally appeared in the February 2002 issue of EQUUS magazine.