What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Foaling, Delivery Taking Place Now!


Mares that have gone to "term" (had a normal pregnancy of 320+ days) usually foal rapidly and successfully, 95% of the time. In most cases, the best thing you can do is leave the mare alone and monitor from a distance.

For mares that appear to be in labor too soon (earlier than 320 days pregnancy), you should have your vet on the way immediately. The foal may be premature and need immediate veterinary care.

However, in the other 5%, proper and rapid intervention is critical. To reduce risk as much as possible, consider having your mare foal at a veterinary facility that provides attended foaling services. If you choose not to do this, familiarize yourself with the most common problems associated with foaling and how to manage them.

There is an expected sequence of normal events that should take place for a foaling mare, on a reasonably strict timeline. If these events do not occur or are taking too long, then there could be a problem. Diagnosing and managing a difficult birth in a rapid and effective manner can mean the difference between life and death.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If you want an evaluation of the horse now, and are not concerned about cost.
    • If you have any questions or concerns about the mare's progress.
    • If the length of pregnancy has been less than 320 days- premature labor.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • For a routine post-partum examination of foal, mare and placentae.
    • You are experienced at foaling and are satisfied everything is fine.

your role


What To Do

Expect the mare to pace and get up and down (showing apparent colic signs) during first stage labor and until the fetal membranes burst. This lasts a variable amount of time before the mare intensifies her effort and hard contractions start (2nd stage). Things should happen fast at this point, within 20 minutes the foal should be on the ground.

In normal delivery, you should see both feet presented and pointed downward, the muzzle should be right behind. The foal is presented in a diving position. Most mares lie down on their side during second stage strong contractions. The placenta should pass within 30 minutes in most cases. A placenta is considered "retained", and is a veterinary emergency, if it is still present 3 hours after foaling.

Quietly monitor the foaling mare from a distance. Alert your vet that you may need them when you know your mare is getting close. Call your vet immediately if you are concerned about the process.

What Not To Do

In my experience, the most common problems stem from owner over-interference. Do not handle or bother the mare excessively. Give her some privacy, with dim lights and minimal commotion.

Excessive disturbance of the mare could result in foal rejection. This is especially important for mares foaling for the first time.

your vet's role

Provided everything goes well and foal and mare seem normal, your vet will assess the mare and newborn foal between 12-24 hours after birth. If there is a dystocia (difficult foaling), your vet should rapidly perform an obstetrical evaluation to identify the problem and provide treatment options.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice presentation of the fetal membranes?
  • What, specifically is the mare doing now?
  • How much experience do you have with the foaling process?
  • Does your mare appear to be having any difficulty?
  • Can you see one or both of the foal's feet?
  • What direction do the feet seem to be pointing?
  • When did you first notice the feet?

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP