Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Difficult or Delayed Foaling, Dystocia

Dystocia is a situation in which normal delivery of a foal is hindered or delayed. It requires quick, decisive and correct action to preserve the life of mare and foal. It is relatively easy to injure mares by using excessive or incorrectly delivered force in pulling a foal.

Dystocia can be a result of a relatively large fetus versus a mare with a relatively small birth canal. It can also relate to abnormal presentation (breech), or presentation (head or limbs back, for example).

Ninety percent of mares foal without difficulty when left alone. Once fetal membranes appear, the foaling should progress quickly. The foal should be born in 20-30 minutes.

Normal presentation is front feet first, pointing downward, with muzzle right behind and in between. Anything different than this may mean mal-position or presentation. In this case, repositioning of the foal may be needed.

Diagnostics Used

Prognosis & Relevant Factors

Depends on underlying cause of the dystocia.


  • Should I rebreed my mare given this complication?
  • If I rebreed my mare, will she experience this same impediment to foaling again?

    Talk to your vet about attending the foaling, or being available should any complications arise during foaling.
    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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