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The One, Two, Three’s of Foaling, with Melissa Mitchell DVM

With the new year - and foaling season - almost upon us, our Arabian horse community is abuzz with excitement to welcome the

next generation of show partners, trusted trail horses, children’s mounts, and best friends into the world. With the hard work of breeding complete, many labors, deliveries, and new lives are on the way. Dr. Melissa Mitchell of Equicare Veterinary Services, shares some advice for before, during, and after foaling.

“It’s critical that anyone with a mare in foal knows the One, Two, Three’s of delivery and newborn foal health,” she says. “By learning this simple set of rules, mare owners can educate themselves and be proactive in ensuring that foaling runs smoothly and that the resulting baby is healthy. They also assist owners in knowing when it’s time to enlist their veterinarian’s help.” Even if you plan to have your mare foal with your veterinarian or at a foaling facility, Dr. Mitchell stresses the importance of preparing yourself with some basic knowledge in case your mare goes into labor earlier than anticipated, or things otherwise deviate from your plan.

Before starting on the One, Two, Three’s of Foaling, it is important to consider the end stages of gestation - the period before labor begins. One indicator that many mare owners use to anticipate foaling is mammary development, or changes in the horse’s bag and teats. “These changes usually happen in the last 10-15 days of gestation,” Dr. Mitchell explains. “The muscles around the tail and over the croup tend to soften, and waxing will appear on the teats. The concentration of calcium in the mare’s milk will also rise. This can be tested using milk strips to help predict foaling.”

When foaling begins, we can use the One, Two, Three’s of Foaling to identify the stages of labor and judge if the birth is progressing in a healthy and safe manner.

  • “Stage One of labor tends to present as the mare .seeming generally uncomfortable.” Dr. Mitchell explains, “This can often equate to the symptoms of mild colic - loss of appetite, restlessness, sweating, etc. and can progress very quickly or last up to twenty-four hours.”

  • Stage Two, or the actual birth, begins when the mare’s water breaks. “Often, Stage Two only takes ten or so minutes,” Dr. Mitchell shares. “Once the placental membrane ruptures and the water breaks, the mare should deliver shortly after. Some mares may get up and lay back down during delivery; this is usually normal.” There are some issues that can occur surrounding the placental membrane, including the membrane not breaking, or red bag syndrome. It is worth researching this and other time-sensitive abnormal scenarios further to prepare in case of emergency. “If Stage Two lasts more than 30 minutes, it’s possible the mare is experiencing dystocia, or a difficult birth. There are a number of reasons for this, and it’s important your veterinarian is called immediately to assist and ensure the safety of both the mare and foal,” Dr Mitchell continues. “After delivering the foal, the mare may rest for up to an hour before standing.”

  • “Stage Three is the expulsion of the placenta. This should be complete within six hours. If not, it’s important the veterinarian is called as retained placenta can cause an array of issues.”

  • During Stage Three, the mare may still show signs of discomfort and should be closely monitored. Stage Three is also a good time to check in with your vet, if you haven’t already, and let him know about the birth.

After foaling, the One, Two, Three’s of Newborn Foal Health begin.

“As a general guideline, the newborn foal should stand one hour postpartum, nurse by two hours, and pass meconium, the first

yellow, pasty feces, by three hours,” Dr. Mitchell explains. “At 12 hours after birth, it’s best to have blood drawn to test for the passive transfer of antibodies from the mare to foal. If the quantity of antibodies received is not sufficient, the foal can then be supplemented with colostrum/plasma as needed.”

By familiarizing yourself with the stages of labor and healthy newborn behavior, mare owners can be prepared to be proactive in foaling and give both mom and baby the very best chance at a successful and safe delivery. A wealth of information is available online, and in addition to the above guidelines, it is also a good idea to talk to your own vet and make sure you have a solid plan in place for foaling.

For more information about Dr. Melissa Mitchell and Equicare Veterinary Services, you can check out her webpage.

All photographs courtesy of Nancy Pierce. Find out more about her work on her webpage.

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