Foal Delivery – An Introduction

I love the birth of a foal more than anything else concerning horses.  For the most part it is an exciting and explosive event few horse owners get to see as they usually occur in the quiet early morning hours.  90 out of 100 births go without problems and of the remaining 10 births, about 9 have small and easily resolved problems.  It is the remaining 1%, the 1 in 100, that are what we all live in fear of happening to our mares.  

This subject shows a normal birthing (of a donkey but it’s the same as a horse both small and large). It also shows you how to handle the most common cause of a difficult birth (elbow lock) as well as the one event you will not have time to wait for help (red sack delivery). 

I’ll also look at some of the permpartum (right after the birth) things that are normal (nursing) and that are not normal (orphan). I will tell stories of helping a mare in shock after foaling and her life ending injuries, mares successfully birthing and suddenly dying and of mares retaining their afterbirth (placenta) and what was done.

There’re many more subtle things that happen that are unique to every birth and that take hundreds of birth observations for you to start to become comfortable with.  There are degrees of pain and pushing that only experience can teach.  There are folks that take hours to find the milk while others take only a few attempts. You just need to attend and hopefully attend with an experienced mentor to become good at this.  

I will never forget my first foaling and my first difficult birth.  I also spent a year calving during my first year out of vet school where I saw things I couldn’t believe happen (amorphous globosus, hydrocephalus, Schistosomus reflexus and other fetal monsters). I have seen foals born without front limbs and a few born with an extra digit (secondary cannon, pastern and hoof).

Delivering foals is exhilarating but is not for the faint of heart nor is it for those who lose their composure quickly or those who freeze when action needs to be taken.  If you want to become good at helping the delivery of foals then observe as many as you possibly can.  Experience with mentorship is the best teacher.

Horse Reproduction – An Introduction

The mating of a stallion and mare should be easy, right? It can be if you learn 1 secret – the necessity of observing the horses and recording these observations accurately.  Accurate records reveal subtle patterns in mating behavior that can help in getting the mare to accept the stallion.  

There are 2 types of breeding: natural and artificial.

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Foal Delivery – Elbow Lock

A normal foal delivery has both front hooves coming out of the birth canal with about 3 to 4 inches difference in the distance from the mare to the foal’s toe. With an elbow lock delivery, one limb is about a foot behind the other because the shorter limb is flexed at the elbow. This causes the foal’s diameter to become too big for the birth canal and the foal’s delivery is obstructed.

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Foal Delivery – Birth (Parturition)

I loved delivering foals.  It is a miracle and also a pleasant challenge for me when they went wrong.  Maybe not pleasant for the mare or the owner but for me it was a puzzle I always solved.
Here is the facts.  90 out of 100 deliveries go without a problem.  Of the remaining 10, 9 usually have “elbow lock” which with the video I made here, all horse owners can resolve without their vet.  
Then there is the 1 in 100 that get stuck and often cause the death of the foal, the mare or both. These are the reason you stay up all night on foal watch and have your vet on speed dial. These are the ones I drove through blinding snow storms to go to.  I loved delivering foals.

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Horse Reproduction – Mating Behavior

The mating behavior of horses is based on one stallion per herd of mares. In addition, the mares start cycling with increasing daylight (spring) and stop cycling as daylight decreases (fall).

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Foal Delivery – Red Sack Foal Delivery

The red sack foal delivery is really the premature separation of the foal’s placenta from the lining of the uterus. This diminishes the flow of blood to the unborn foal causing a lack of oxygen to the foal. Temporary to permanent brain damage and even death can occur. There is no time to call for help.

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Foal Delivery – Nursing Foals

In every mammal, the baby nurses from the mother. In horses, it is an orchestrated event with fine points that amaze me still. How can an hours-old baby get up and walk and then find a spot underneath the mother the size of your hand to fine the life giving milk? It is a sight I will never tire of.

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Horse Reproduction – Stallion Testicles

The purpose of the testicles is to make and store sperm as they mature from infertile immature sperm formed in the testicle and move up the epididymis into the secondary reproductive organs where the semen is created. Because they are temperature sensitive and will die if warmed to body temperature, the testicles in mammals remain outside the body to keep the sperm’s temperature below body temperature.

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Horse Reproduction – The Estrous Cycle

The mare has a seasonally poly-estrous breeding cycle. It is seasonal because it occurs during increasing daylight (spring) and does not occur with decreasing daylight (fall and winter). It is poly-estrous because they become receptive to mating (in heat) for about 6 days and then become unreceptive to breeding (out of heat) for about 15 days for a cycle of 21 days.

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