THE NEW FOAL
After 11 months of preparing for the big day, your foal could be born into the world at any time. Keep everything as natural as possible for your mare - you are much more likely to be stressed about the event than she is, but keep an eye on her to ensure all is well.
In the majority of cases the mare copes admirably on her own, especially with the hardy and long established breeds. Still, you should keep a close eye on her and watch for any changes. If you are not experienced, it is wise to have a knowledgeable person on hand, preferably a veterinarian, to assist or advise in the latter stages of delivery.
The "in-foal" mare will need a little extra care during the last two to three months before foaling unless she is on really good pasture. Extra feed will be required if the pasture is poor, this the time when the foal inside really starts to grow. Lack of food at this stage may affect the unborn foal's chances of reaching it full height later on.
PREPARATION FOR THE FOAL'S ARRIVAL
In preparation for the event, the mare should be up-to-date with
her routine health maintenance (worming, vaccines and farrier care) the month
before she is due. If she will be foaling inside, have a large stall with plenty
of clean straw kept ready. Although indoor foaling is preferable, in good
weather, and if alone, the mare can foal outside perfectly happily if the
paddock is safe and not too big. Remove any other horses, who may become too
inquisitive and harm the foal.
The mare's udder (teats, also known as the milk bar) may begin to enlarge any time from six weeks to just a few hours before foaling. Usually about 24 hours before the birth, she will "wax up" (show a little pale, waxy substance of colostrum on the teats). She may become a bit restless, and muscles around the anus and vagina will slacken to allow an easier passage for the foal.
Most mare lie down for the actual birth. They may
also lie down for the breaking of the waters and then get up once or twice
before birth itself. First to be "born" are the foal's forelegs, which
should appear with one slightly behind the other so that the shoulders can get
through the pelvic arch. The head should be pointed forward, resting along the
forelegs. The hind legs are tucked underneath the belly, and appear last in a
The whole event usually takes from 20 minutes to an hour before birth is complete. Left alone without too much interference (as long as the foal's mouth and nose are free of the amniotic covering (sometimes called the birth sack), it is best to allow both to rest for 20 minutes or so. The mare needs time to recover as her womb begins contracting back to shape and she expels the afterbirth. In most cases, this should be expelled within the next hour or so.
The birth is a very emotional and exciting moment. Here the mare looks around at her newborn offspring foaled in a stable. The head is out but the rest of the foal is still covered in the protective amniotic covering within which it has been living inside the womb. The mare will usually lick the foal dry and pull off any excess covering - especially if still over the foal's mouth or nostrils - by hand.
"A FOAL MAKES AN ENTRANCE"
The foal's first day
3:30AM I arrived into my new world and suddenly felt very cold. It was a big surprise to see my mother for the first time, after only feeling her heartbeats and hearing her comforting noises over the last few months.
4AM Mom licked me all over and I felt much warmer. My coat dried off and became fluffy and cozy. Mom made me stand up, which felt very strange. I told her she had made my legs too long because I kept falling down.
4:30AM I found the udder (teats) between her hind legs. It was difficult to drink at such a funny angle but Mom helped me to get there.......Yum-yum.......delicious!
5AM Exhausted but content, I collapsed beside Mom and slept.
8AM I woke up to such a strange world. It was light and creatures called humans with just two legs came and looked at me. I got up and had another drink, then went off with my mother to have a look at everything. Exhausted by all this effort, I fell asleep again.
12PM Another drink and more excitement. The humans were back again, putting me down clean bedding and making sure Mom had food and water.
2-6PM More drinks and lots of new experiences. My legs are much stronger and I have found out how to move around without getting tangled up by them.
8PM Mom takes me for a trot around the field. It is starting to get dark and other animals are wandering about and saying hello. After my nightcap of more milk from Mom, I fall asleep exhausted, but pleased to have arrive into this big, exciting new world.
A delicious drink from the milk bar! The mare is gently nuzzling her offspring to encourage it to stay in position. She herself is looking a little thin following the birth. After two or three days, the mare will have filled out again.
The foal will try to move around and get up, usually with comical results to start with. The mare may continue to rest or get up and start with. The mare may continue to rest or get up and start to lick the foal dry - all part of the bonding process. Left to nature, most mares and foals will be up, with the foal having taken its first milk, of colostrum, within an hour and half of the birth. If the foal cannot manage, it may be necessary to assist it to its feet and guide it to the udder. Some young mothers tend to follow the foal around, never allowing it the chance to find the teats for itself. Be careful not to bother the mare, and always make sure that she can see her foal. Do no overdo handling of the foal until the mare has accepted it; she may reject it if there is too much interference. Getting the balance right is tricky and this is why it is important to have an experienced person on had to advise on the situation.
The foal has gotten quickly to its feet, but Mom is still resting after her exertions during foaling. The foal is bracing itself by spreading its legs out to stand upright, and will soon be looking to mother to provide a nourishing drink.
If any time you feel that things are not right,
do not hesitate to call the veterinarian. I the mare is getting up or down a lot
before birth; if no progress is being made once the fore legs start to show; if
the mare's afterbirth does not come away easily after two to three hours
following the birth - in all these cases you should call a veterinarian for
Watch to see that the foal passes the meconium ( the tarry substance expelled from the bowels), too, before the paler milk-based bowel movements get started.
THE NEWBORN FOAL
Most healthy foals are up on their feet within an hour, usually less. Although uncoordinated to start with, they quickly gain strength after just a few hours. I they have foaled inside and are strong, it is best to put them out for a few hours if the weather is mild. Foals born outside will spend hours sleeping beside their dams, after a little cavorting about and periodic nursing, at which they quickly become very experienced.
A young foal will start to graze grass, by following its dam's example, while it is still being given milk.
From those first gangly steps, it is no time at
all before a foal can achieve full independence from its mother. This is
nature's way of ensuring survival in the wild.
Foals grow very quickly in the first month, as they fill out and strengthen each day. Their energy is boundless and they soon begin to explore and gain independence, especially if they can share a field with others. Their legs appear absurdly long to start with, and if they try to eat grass they have to buckle at the knees to get down there! Most mares provide more than adequate milk so long as they are on good pasture or receiving enough food to make up for poor pasture. This will involve an extra one or two feeds of special mix for lactating mares, depending on your mare's age, type, and condition - your veterinarian will advise you.
Generally, foals stay with their mothers until they are four to six months old, by which time they are independent enough to cope on their own. They quickly learn to eat grass and should be fed a suitable, specially prepared mix for a few weeks before weaning. This ensures that there is no sudden change in diet.
Thereafter the weaned foal should continue on the mix through the winter months. It is important to reduce this before the foal/yearling is turned out on lush new pasture in the following spring.
There are two ways of separating mares from their
foals, both of which are easier in a group as the companionship of others helps
to minimize the inevitable stress caused.
If the horses have been coming in at night and going out during the day, it is best to take the mares out in the morning and remove them far enough away from the foals so that neither can hear each other. This may require arrangements to be made with neighbors or friends. Keep the foals in until they have settled. It may be best to leave them quietly for 24 hours and then turn them out together. The mares will need time for their milk to dry up, so they should be kept on a restricted diet for a few days.
The other method of weaning is to keep the mares and foals in a field together with a suitable old retired mare as a nurse. Take the mares away and leave the foals with the nurse. Large stud operations take two mares away at a time, every few days.
Weaning is a stressful time for both sides. The foals inevitably lose weight at this time bust quickly readjust, especially if they are with other horses. If you cannot find other foals to share weaning, find a sensible nurse as a companion.
Full of boisterous fun, your youngster will spend
its first few years enjoying a life of careless "freedom." Sensitive
handling now will pay off when more starts to be expected of your rebellious
"teenagers" later on.
Once weaned, the foal adapts to its independent life, and with correct feeding (never overfeed) and regular worming it should continue to mature. As a yearling, it may lose its looks a little. Horses tend to grow by fits and starts, often looking a little higher behind and becoming angular as height takes over from roundness. All the temporary teeth will have been in place since the age of nine months, and the tail will still look foal-like.
At the age of two years, the animal grows into a more rounded and mature horse. The first permanent teeth, the central incisors, appear at two and a half years, as do two permanent molars on the top and bottom jaws. The mane grows long and the tail loses its foal appearance.
By three years of age, there is a look of maturity and the mane and tail are filled out. The teeth become more mature, with permanent incisors and four permanent molars in place. Only one temporary molar of the original six remains in each jaw. At the age of three, most horses and ponies should not be asked to do anything too strenuous. Not until they reach the age of four will they be ready for more arduous work.
From weaning onward, it is important that youngsters are well handled and accustomed to the general day-to-day chores. They should be used to a halter and lead rope. They should be groomed and have their feet picked out regularly so that they are accustomed to this sort of attention when the farrier comes. They should be led in and out of paddocks and handled calmly yet firmly to get used to human contact at least once a month, even if out at pasture throughout the summer. Confident, quiet but firm handling is essential if youngsters are to become well-adjusted adults.
References from the book "THE HORSE COMPANION" by Jane Holderness-Roddam
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