There is nothing more exciting than expecting a new baby horse – except maybe when you’re expecting a baby of your own! Foals are adorable, playful creatures that require lots of love and care, but the mothers-to-be must not be forgotten.
Pregnant horses are very much like pregnant humans – the go through the horomone changes, the moodiness, and the worry that women do when expecting a child. Some experts say that horses don’t know when they are pregnant, but after years of raising horses for a living, I would have to disagree. They become more protective of their stalls and paddocks and they viciously fight off any other horses that might want to play, with respect to a distended belly and the life growing inside of them.
Whether your mare was impregnated naturally or via in-vitro, you must immediately begin making preparations for the baby. A mare’s pregnancy lasts for eleven long months, but they begin to show signs of carrying within the first two. They gain weight, they stop going into heat, and they lie down much more often.
Stalls: Your pregnant horse’s stall should be larger than her usual one. I recommend 24X24 stalls, though 20X20 is usually sufficient. She won’t need the larger area until the foal is born, but you don’t want to transfer her just before the birth. The mare should be comfortable in her surroundings to make the birth less stressful.
Vital Signs: Keep a daily record of her vital signs, including her respiration, heart rate, and temperature. These records will help you monitor her progress, and stay on top of her health.
Diet: A pregnant mare needs more food starting in the fifth month of gestation. I recommend a cup of pellets high in fat and carbohydrates with a cup of sweet feed mixed in. If the majority of her pregnancy is during the winter months, a nightly bran mash can be beneficial as well.
Turn-Out: Pregnant mares can and should be turned out as usual. Give her at least five hours outside a day to keep her active and healthy. Keep her away from other pregnant mares so there is no fighting in the paddocks, and be sure that she isn’t anywhere near a stallion.
Vet Checks: The veterinarian should see a pregnant horse at least once a month. This lets the vet keep track of the pregnancy and make sure that nothing is wrong. I would also schedule an ultra sound every three months to be sure that the mare hasn’t absorbed the fetus.
Illness: Keep a watchful eye on your pregnant horse, and note any oddities in her behavior. Looking at her belly, pawing excessively, a runny nose, and dehydration are all signs that something might be wrong with either her or the foal. If you notice any strange behaviors, call the veterinarian just to be sure. Even the common cold can have negative effects on the baby, and result in either still birth or sickness at birth.
If she isn’t already, move your pregnant horse into a large stall with plenty of shavings and hay. You can feed her about half of what she would normally receive, but let her decide whether or not she wants to eat.
I advise that a veterinarian be called as soon as a horse goes into labor. Some experts say that they can handle a birth on their own, but should any complications arise, the vet will not be there to assist. I prefer to have medical personnel present, even if the birth goes exactly as it should.
The birth itself can take anywhere from two hours to forty-eight, which means that you should prepare for a long haul. I keep an empty stall next to each of my foaling stalls with a cot and a small refrigerator inside each one. This way, I don’t have to leave her side until the birthing is complete.
Along those same lines, you should not crowd her. This is the point at which she will be the most defensive, and having extra humans in her personal space will agitate her, and perhaps cause complications. Stay outside the stall unless she seems in distress, and keep children away from her no matter what. She might kick or bite out of sheer instinct, which can be easily avoided by keeping your distance.
Mother and foal will spend the first few hours bonding. The foal will begin trying to stand, which should be observed from outside the stall. The mother will clean her offspring with her tongue,, but the rest of the afterbirth must be removed from the stall as quickly as possible. I advise that you dispose of it in black plastic bags with BIOHAZARD stickers on the outside.
As soon as the foal can walk, move them both to a fresh stall and completely strip the birthing stall. Remove all shavings and hay so that other horses aren’t exposed to it, and clean the walls with a bleach solution. Let the stall air-dry for 24 hours before allowing another mare to occupy it.
After that, most of the baby’s development is up to him or her. You’ll have to name it, and the veterinarian will supply you with papers if necessary. The vet will also administer the first round of injections after three weeks, and will provide you with literature on how to raise the foal.
NOTE: A foal is a baby horse, regardless of its gender. A filly is any female horse under four years of age, and a colt is any male horse under four years of age. Often, if you do not geld a colt, he will be reffered to as a stud colt until he comes of age.