The average length of pregnancy in the mare is 338 to 343 days. There are a few signs to look out for which can help you to determine how close your mare is to foaling:

  • Softening and flattening of the muscles in the croup
  • Relaxation of the vulva, the tailhead appearing more prominent and visible
  • Changes in the position of the foal
  • The udder may begin to fill up with milk 2-4 weeks before foaling
  • Distension of the teats
  • Waxing of the teats, (1-4 days prior to delivery)
  • Dripping of milk

Maiden mares (those that have not had a foal before) tend to be more difficult to assess than those who have had previous foals. Our in-house foaling service can be useful whether this is your first foal, or you are an experienced breeder looking to take the stress and sleepless nights out of ‘foal watch’.

The foaling process

The process of foaling itself can be divided into three stages:

First stage – foal moving into position

The mare may appear to show signs of colic, getting up and down a lot and sometimes rolling. This activity assists the foal getting into position, ready for delivery. The foal enters the pelvis during this stage.

The placenta may be visible at the vulva. A normal placenta is a pale colour. However, if a red placenta is seen, this is known as a ‘red bag delivery’ and it is where the placenta has begun to separate from the uterus without expulsion of the foal. If a red bag is seen prior to the foal or is present over the foal at stage 2, it must be torn and opened to allow the foal to pass. The foal must be readily delivered as the placenta has begun to separate and oxygen supply to the foal will be reduced.

Second stage – expulsion of the foal

Second stage labour begins once the waters have broken. The foal should be delivered within 30 minutes. The normal foaling position is two hooves, one slightly in front of the other, facing down (front feet, compared to hind feet facing upwards), followed by a nose.

This stage of labour should continue to progress with gradual expulsion of the foal. If there is no significant progress within 10 minutes then the mare will require assistance.

Third stage – delivery of the placenta

The placenta should be delivered within 3 hours of foal delivery. All placenta external to the mare should be tied up with baling twine. This creates a weight to assist with delivery of the placenta. It also prevents the placenta from being torn to allow accurate assessment once it has been delivered.

If the placenta is not delivered by 3 hours post foaling it may need assistance to be removed. 2mls Oxytocin by IM injection can be given. The placenta must be removed by 6 hours post foaling.

Examination of the placenta is to ensure that none is retained. The placenta is laid out into a T-shape with cervical star at bottom, pregnant horn and non-pregnant horn. It is usually the non-pregnant horn that is retained. If the placenta has been retained, the mare may require a uterine flush.

Post Foaling- the foal

The stable should be kept warm and extra rugs may be necessary in very cold temperatures. The distal limbs are a good indication if the foal is warm enough. Foals are usually very active; shivering is normal and they can have a high respiratory rate (80bpm).

After delivery, the umbilicus will usually break on its own at the weakest point. The naval should be dipped with 4% chlorhexidine or povidone iodine.

Attempts to stand are usually made in minutes and they may begin mouthing or sucking movements. Foals usually stand within 30 minutes but sometimes it can take 1-2 hours. Once they have gained balance they begin to search for the udder. The foal should have suckled within 4 hours of being born – it may be necessary to defrost some colostrum if this hasn’t happened. Foals feed approximately every 2 hours and in-between have periods of high activity and sleep.

Within a few hours the foal should pass urine and meconium. Some people encourage meconium passage by the routine use of a phosphate enema (Fleet™). This is included in our foaling service fee. Meconium is dark in colour and it can take several passes until the lighter yellow faeces are apparent. If meconium isn’t passed, the foal may develop colic.

Foals should be vet checked after 18 hours of birth – a blood sample can be taken after 18 hours to measure IgG (immunity) to determine if they have transferred antibodies from colostrum. An IgG test is included in our foaling package fee.

Minster Equine Foaling Service

At the Minster Equine Clinic we are pleased to be able to offer a new foaling down service from our clinic in Poppleton, York. Your mare will be monitored 24 hours daily and an experienced veterinary surgeon will always be present to assist your mare during foaling. As veterinary surgeons, we also understand how infectious disease can easily be spread and as such we ensure strict biosecurity protocols are maintained at the clinic.

Our competitively priced breeding and foaling packages are ideal for those looking for the most cost-effective way to breed from your mare. Clients bringing their horse for foaling are entitled to an extra 10% discount on our A.I schemes within 12 months of foaling and we include in our foaling fee a full veterinary examination, IgG test, Fleet enema and Caslick’s repair if necessary.

Full details of the services included in the foaling and AI schemes can be found here: