Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Assist Foaling Mare, Pull Foal

You should not disturb a foaling mare unless you know that you must.

You should not intervene unless you know she is having trouble, you cannot reach your vet, your vet cannot provide prompt assistance, and this is your only choice.

The only reason you would perform this skill is if there has been no progress in the 2nd stage labor over about 30 minutes, and you cannot reach your vet for assistance, or if you see that your mare is having a “red bag” delivery, which is premature placental separation – a life threatening problem for the foal. The foal must begin breathing on its own immediately, or it will suffocate and die.

Procedure

Consider the following questions: Have the fetal membranes ruptured? Are you looking directly at the foot or are you looking through a pale membrane? Can you see the foal's feet or head?

You should see two feet, somewhat close together, and the muzzle or head should be between them. If you grasp the foal's hoof, it should be right side up. In other words, if you flex it, it should flex downward.

In the case of a red bag delivery, carefully but rapidly cut the thick red bag with a pair of scissors. To cut the bag, simply make a small snip in the bag with the scissors before making an aggressive cut or tearing the placenta with your hands. In this way, you are certain not to cut the foal inadvertently.

Reach inside the mare and, if possible, find the foal's head. Free it of any membranes and mucus to allow it to breathe freely while still in the mare.

Providing that both forelimbs are now visible, grasp the foal's limbs and apply gentle downward traction (toward the mare's hocks). Help the head out and clear the mouth of membranes and fluids with a clean towel to allow the foal to begin breathing on its own.

Next, locate the feet and gently assist the mare in delivery. Do not apply excessive force in pulling the foal without veterinary guidance. You should never apply more force than 2 grown men can apply, and this assumes that your technique is correct.

A foal is at higher risk than normal when there is premature placental separation, which often results in poor oxygenation of the brain and can lead to the development of "Dummy Foal Syndrome." Be on the alert for this condition in the newborn foal.

Tips for safety & Success

In every instance, try to contact your vet before performing this skill. Your vet may be able to advise you over the phone if they cannot get to your foaling mare in time.

Be very careful when performing this skill because mares can be dangerous and very difficult to handle when they are foaling.

If possible, have an experienced horseman hold the mare.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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