How to recognise when your horse is approaching foaling
Horsemart reader and blogger Lucy Saxelby talks us through some of the tell tale signs of when a mare is getting ready to foal. *Warning* some of the descriptions in this article are quite graphic – this is nature after all!
So you have bitten the bullet and after weeks, months or years of deliberating, you have finally put your beloved mare into foal, probably to a stallion who took a similar level of hesitation for you to choose.
Your mare is steadily getting rounder, eating you out of house and home and let’s face it, you are starting to have a little panic about what will happen if you are not around when she finally decides to release her precious bundle – or the equally frightening thought of what you will do if you ARE around!
This article outlines the ‘classic’ and most common signs that will help you recognise when foaling is approaching. Mares have a gestation period of between 320-370 days, most will foal within this period, some still choose not to.
How Your Mare’s Shape Will Change
As your mare’s pregnancy progresses, her tummy will change shape, first getting bigger and then finally dropping and forming a ‘V’ shape. The back end of the mare will also change, as the muscles associated with foaling begin to relax. The tail-head will appear more pronounced (similar to how a horse’s back end appears when in poor condition). The mare’s dock will be more flexible and it will feel ‘squidgy’ around the top of the tail and to either side.
The vulva will be more relaxed as foaling nears - its length will increase and the colour inside will turn from a darker to a brighter red. Some mares are never comfortable with being ‘inspected’ under their tails and will tense up, which in turn pinches in the vulva, making it look anything but relaxed.
Most mares will ‘bag-up’ (udder fill with milk) a few weeks before foaling - this doesn't always happen until after foaling. Normally the teats point inwards and have a crease in the middle. Before foaling, this crease fills out and the teats point down to the floor. The amber liquid that forms on the tips of the teats before foaling is referred to as ‘wax’. These droplets can drop off and come and go for a while but indicate that foaling is approaching - probably within the week.
Some mares drip milk before labour - call your vet if your mare is losing too much, as you may need to collect it for your foal. If your mare is dripping milk, you may be able to test it. I taste my mares' - when it loses its salty taste and turns first neutral, then sweet - I know they are going to foal very soon, as close as 24 hours.
While pregnant, the cervix is kept tightly closed by a mucus plug. This comes away when the cervix relaxes on the lead-up to foaling. It looks like a mass of gooey pink slimy jelly and you might see it on the vulva, in the tail or in the bed. It can start to come away a couple of weeks prior to foaling but once the entire plug has come out, labour will usually be imminent.
A mare may act strangely or change her routine on the day she foals. Examples include making nests in straw, looking vacant, being off her food, being unusually antisocial (hard to catch). One of our mares moves her hay to the back of the stable on the morning she foals! Other signs to look out for include tail pressing, rubbing, lifting or swishing, yawning, lip-curling and chewing with nothing in her mouth.
If you watch closely, you may find that your mare has a period each day of enhanced activity (lying down, rolling, swishing stamping, sweating). This can happen at the same time each day/night for weeks and can give you a hint to what time of day she is likely to foal.
The signs that your mare is in the first stage of labour are: kicking, digging, stamping, tail cocked to one side, rolling, sweating, box-walking, lip-curling, groaning, looking at her belly and getting up and down before finally the waters breaking followed by a visible white (providing all is well) sack.
To Sum Up
You should start to monitor your mare from around 300 days gestation then watch more closely when a few indicators from this article are present: slackened off muscles and vulva, milk bag, visible wax or milk on teats, sweet or neutral tasting milk, change in routine, signs of pain/labour.
Remember if in doubt - ring your vet!