One of the most important things you can do after a mare foals, is quietly observe the mare and her newborn. You should not intervene or handle the mare or her foal unless you know what you are doing and why. Generally, less handling is better. Mares need time to bond with their newborn foals.
Nevertheless, there may be an occasion in which you should evaluate your mare’s health after foaling. In this case, you can perform a modified version of the Whole Horse Exam.
To perform the Whole Horse Exam on the post-foaling mare, start by standing quietly and watching the mare from a distance to evaluate her demeanor, attitude, appetite and interaction with the foal.
Slowly but confidently establish communication with the mare and halter her. In this case, it is best to then have a confident helper hold the mare while you complete the exam. Study the mare's interaction with you and with the foal and whether it seems normal or not. Stand in front, behind, then on the left and right sides, and look down her body and legs for anything seemingly abnormal or asymmetrical side to side.
Staying in contact with the mare, gently move down her left side and insert the thermometer. While you are there, examine her vulva for tears, swelling, injury or anything else that seems abnormal. Return to the mare’s head and check gums (mucous membranes), capillary refill time, pulse quality and rate. Pinch the skin on the left shoulder to assess hydration.
Put on your stethoscope and listen to the heart. Move the stethoscope head to the trachea for respiratory rate and clarity of the trachea. Slide back and listen to the two left quadrants of the abdomen, slide around the back of the horse and listen to the two right quadrants of the abdomen. Take the stethoscope out of your ears and move back to the left side of the horse.
Look at the udder. The two sides should be symmetrical. The teats should be moist and flat, indicating that the foal has nursed recently. Using clean hands, strip a few drops of milk out of each teat and inspect its color and consistency. As you examine your mare, carefully study her interaction with the foal.
Tips for safety & Success
Download and print copies of the WHOLE HORSE EXAM FORM to keep in your barn for later use. This form can be found attached to this record as an Outside Resource.
I use a mercury thermometer because it can be inserted and clipped to the tail (string and alligator clip attached) while the rest of the exam is completed. But you can adapt this to the use of a digital thermometer, which many people prefer.
Remember that the mare may have uterine cramping for an hour or two after foaling. Expect intermittent mild colic signs, such as pacing and occasionally lying down, especially shortly after the placenta is passed. Thirty to sixty minutes of uterine cramping is normal, but if she rolls excessively, the signs seem to intensify or if she ever seems in much distress, contact your vet for advice.
Do not interfere with mare and foal until several hours after foaling (unless you perceive a problem and have spoken to your vet), as the first few hours and critical to bonding. Allow the foal to stand and nurse well several times before any evaluation, unless you notice a problem.
I strongly recommend that you have your vet examine your mare and newborn foal within 24 hours of foaling. Short of that, you should be on the lookout for any abnormalities or illness. The foal should always be vigorous and nursing. Contact your vet with your concerns and questions.
Handling tips: Do not block your mare's view of her foal, and always try to allow her to be within just a few feet of the foal. Do not struggle to examine the mare if it appears to cause her excess stress, especially if it appears to unduly interfere with her focus on her foal. If your presence seems to cause much stress, leave the stall and let your vet conduct the exam when they arrive.
Helpful Outside ResourcesCredible Equine Health Information on the Internet