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


Foaling Difficulty, Dystocia


Over 90% of mares foal without difficulty. However, when they do have problems, quick action is needed in order to save the foal and/or the mare. So it is best to call your vet at the first sign of any difficulty.

From the time the fetal membranes rupture, foaling should take place in 20-30 minutes. You should see steady progress during that time. First you should see the foal's two front feet, quickly followed by the head, in a "diving" position. From that point, the mare should quickly expel the foal.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
more observations

your role


What To Do

Do not intervene or assist unless you are sure that the mare is having a problem. If the mare is distressed, not making progress, or you see signs of an abnormal presentation (hooves are upside down or only one hoof present after 5-10 minutes) then call your vet immediately and walk the mare until your vet arrives to keep her from needlessly struggling.

I recommend that you call your vet prior to or at the start of foaling, to place them on alert that you may call again later if you need assistance. If you are a distance from your vet, you should consider having them attend the foaling regardless, in case the mare encounters difficulty.

What Not To Do

If you do intervene, do not pull on the foal's legs with more force than two average sized people can exert.

your vet's role

Your vet performs an obstetrical evaluation to identify the problem and provide treatment options.

I have helped several long-distance clients over the phone with dystocia. It is a less then perfect situation but in an emergency it may be of some help. So do not hesitate to call your vet even if you know they cannot arrive in time to assist.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What signs have you seen so far?
  • How long has the mare been trying to foal?
  • Can you see two feet and a muzzle or head?
  • Can I have your location and directions to get to you as soon as possible?
  • Have the membranes ruptured yet? If so, when?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
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further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP