Managing Your Pregnant Mare and Her Foal

As the day approaches for your mare to give birth to her foal, preparations should be made to create a warm and healthy environment. About 30 days prior to foaling, introduce the mare to the stall where she will foal, this allows her to produce protective antibodies against the microorganisms in the environment. She will then be able to pass these antibodies on to her foal in the colostrum.

Contacting your veterinarian a few days before your mare is expected to foal is advisable. A few signs that your mare is ready to foal include the following:

  • Enlarging of udder with “waxed beads??? of colostrum.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Swelling and relaxing of the vulva.
  • Relaxed croup muscles, producing a sunken appearance over the hips.
  • Mare can become restless and start to sweat.

Foaling The Mare

In stage one, the mare is restless. This may continue for 12 to 24 hours. During this period, the foetus is positioned for delivery and the cervix is dilated. The water bag ruptures at this stage which lubricates the birth canal and aides in delivery of the foal.

Stage two, the actual birth or hard labour. It is usually rapid, with most foals born in 20 to 30 minutes. Normally the foal’s front feet appear first, with heels pointed down toward the mare’s hocks. The foal’s hind feet usually remain in the mare 5 to 15 minutes after foaling, while the foal and mare lie resting. In a normal delivery, the foal’s nose should be lying on or about the knees. One front leg usually is slightly forward of the other, speeding the foal’s movement through the birth canal. After the head exits the vulva, you may see a clear, transparent membrane, which covers the legs and head. If this membrane does not rupture and free the foal’s head, open it and free the head so the foal can breathe. It’s best not to disturb them while the umbilical cord is still connected.

Premature breaking of the umbilical cord by the mare, foal, or human intervention may result in a loss of very important fetal blood supply.

In stage three, the uterus shrinks and the placenta (afterbirth) is expelled normally without assistance. Never try to remove the placenta. If the placenta is still attached after 2 hours, call your veterinarian because it may result in a medical emergency.

After Foaling Care

It’s advised to monitor the mare and foal closely for the first 72 hours as it’s important that the dam and foal bond. It’s advisable to attend the foaling of all maiden mares to ensure safe delivery and bonding. If the mare does not accept the foal readily, you may need to restrain the mare and ensure that the foal nurses.

Mares are usually thirsty after foaling. Offer your mare slightly warm water; but do not let her drink too much at once. She also may be hungry, a wet mash is advised.

Allow the mare and foal outside for exercise in a small paddock or pasture the day after birth. Exercise may aid the mare in expelling uterine discharge and speeds the return of the uterus to normal condition. If there is a foul-smelling uterine discharge, this indicates a uterine infection, which requires veterinary attention.

A swollen, hot udder is an indication the foal has not nursed or the mare may have mastitis. If the foal has not nursed within the first 2 hours, there may be a problem and veterinary advice should be sought. It is essential the foal gets this first milk, called colostrum, as it contains the antibodies the foal will need to protect it from infectious disease.

It is always a good idea to have the vet check over the mare and foal shortly after foaling. At this time, an injection can be given to the foal to protect it from Tetanus as well as, if necessary, an enema can be given if it has not yet passed the meconium (first faeces).

Foaling is an incredible experience that is worth careful consideration. Allowing your mare to breed requires a strong dedication to the process. By ensuring that you are able to provide your mare with the necessary elements for a healthy pregnancy, you can aid your mare in the foaling process and reduce the risk of complications.

Providing your mare with an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals, exercise, good quality health care and a safe environment will make the process easier and more enjoyable for both you and your mare.

Foal Septicaemia

Septicaemia is one of the most serious conditions in foals, and unfortunately a relatively common occurrence in neonates. It is caused by infection of the bloodstream which causes inflammation all over the body. As soon as a foal is born it is exposed to bacteria. Two of the most vulnerable areas for bacteria to enter a newborn’s system are through its navel area and through its mouth. Therefore it is vital that two things occur shortly after birth: the navel is disinfected with a gentle iodine and the foal must receive the mare’s first milk (colostrum). It is from the mare’s colostrum that the newborn receives vital antibody protection against bacteria.

It is extremely important to observe newborn foals in the first 24 hours as this is when symptoms of Septicaemia will often show up. An unhealthy foal will go downhill very quickly and without veterinary care may die in a matter of hours.

A healthy foal will be exploring it’s surrounding, not be shy about trying out its legs, take frequent naps but be up and alert again after that. The septic foal will just slowly decline, want to sleep all the time, and become less responsive to stimulation.

There are a lot of different clinical signs that can be associated with Septicaemia. Most affected foals will have several of these signs, but not necessarily all of them. Some of these signs can also be caused by other problems, but remember that a newborn foal with problems of virtually any kind is at higher risk for developing Septicaemia. Signs of Septicaemia may include:

  • Depression
  • Lack of suckle reflex (normal foals should try to suck on a person’s fingers or a bottle nipple if placed in the foal’s mouth)
  • Fever (too high a temperature), or hypothermia (too low a temperature)
  • High heart rate (most new born foals have a heart rate between 80-120 beats per minute)
  • High respiratory rate or trouble breathing
  • Gums and lips an abnormal colour (e.g. dark red or purplish)
  • Swollen, painful joint(s)
  • Cloudy eyes (i.e. anterior uveitis)
  • Seizure activity if the brain is inflamed
  • Lack of urine production or renal failure

In most cases, the appropriate action to take if you have a foal with any combination of these signs is to call your veterinarian as soon as possible. A sick neonatal foal is an emergency.



Colts are generally castrated for ease of management. The main concern in any scenario is the risk of unwanted coverings, resulting in the pregnancy of young mares, or competition horses not intend for breeding at that time. Most intact colts are difficult to keep in company with other mares, geldings or stallions, especially as they get older and the male hormones increase. They can become difficult to handle, and in some cases become dangerous to handlers and other horses around them. Occasionally some of these dangerous traits do not all disappear after castration, as they become learned, so we often encourage castration before these behaviours are learned, to reduce the risk of them remaining.

People often worry about the loss of breeding potential, should their horse turn out to be a high achiever. In most cases I believe the horse would have never achieved such high achievements if remaining intact, and being constantly distracted by the sights and smells of other horses around them.


At Shotter and Byers we aim to perform as many castrations standing, under heavy sedation and local anaesthetic as possible. This method reduces the cost, the time taken and the risk of a general anaesthetic to the horse. The other method, under a general anaesthetic is useful in very small ponies where simply getting in under the abdomen while the pony is standing is impossible, or where a very fractious horse means standing sedation remains too dangerous for the surgeon. There are many factors to consider when making this choice, and they are best discussed with one of our vets when they arrive at the castration.


A colt can be castrated at any age, as long as both testicles are descended sufficiently. There is a body of opinion that castration should be left as late as possible, in order to allow the horse to ‘mature’. However there is no evidence that foals left entire develop any differently from those castrated early. Indeed, on the continent it is common place for colt foals unsuitable to be kept for breeding purposes to be castrated when still suckling from the mare. There is evidence to suggest that those foals castrated at such a young age recover from the operation faster and with fewer complications than their older counterparts.


Colts can be castrated at any time of year; however they should ideally be castrated either in the spring or autumn, in order to avoid the flies and heat of the summer and the deep mud of winter, both of which can increase the risk of post-operative complications. We like to organise castrations for the morning time if possible, so the horse can wake up and be monitored through the afternoon, and any required checks or follow-ups can be done by the vet during normal hours.


If possible, and if safe to do so, it is best to visualise, if not indeed feel two testicles in the scrotum, before booking castration, so as to confirm the surgery is possible. All our vets will do this before being the procedure anyway, but it is best to check in advance. On the day of the procedure we prefer a well-lit, dry and clean straw bedded quiet stable if possible. This is because shavings, sawdust or chopped straw all makes its way into a wound easier, and is best avoided if possible. Castration can be performed outside in a yard or a field if necessary. The only other things the vet will want are a bucket of warm clean water, and a competent handler for the horse.


Most horses will be turned out in a small paddock soon after surgery, depending on the size and age of the horse. The vet will confirm the plan at the time of castration. Complete box rest is not encouraged, as exercise will promote drainage and minimise swelling at the surgical site. The colt may be prescribed a short course of antibiotics and painkillers following surgery. It is best if your colt has received its primary course of tetanus vaccinations at least four weeks before the procedure, but if not, let the attending vet know, and tetanus anti-toxin will be given at the time of surgery. The surgical site will need to be inspected on a daily basis for rapid detection of any possible complications. If there are no post-operative complications the incisions should be completely healed within ten days.

A small amount of blood dripping from the wound in the first twenty-four hours after castration is normal, but if it ever exceeds a fast drip, please ring Shotter and Byer Practice, or the castrating vet immediately. A small amount of swelling after the procedure is also normal, the scrotum may return to the size it was pre-surgery for a few days, but this is normal, and will reduce over a few days if exercise levels are maintained. If swollen more than this, or anything is seen hanging from the incision site, please feel free to contact the vet direct, or please send a picture through to the vet for further advice.

Colt can remain fertile for up to two months after being gelded, so should not be turned out with mares for at least two months following castration.

If you are considering castrating a colt, please feel free to ring our practice, or one of our vets direct to discuss logistics, and costings in advance. We can get it organised and booked in to suit you.


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