How we monitor the pregnant mares
Always watch your mares 24 hours a day in the last month prior to foaling. Miniatures are much more
prone to having some problems than larger horses.
We use CCTV to watch the mares in the stables and the main barn. We do a shift pattern so that we do
not miss a foaling by a few minutes.
We have cameras in all the stables which are linked to all the TVs in the house.
I watch the ponies at foaling time from early evening until 4 – 4 30am then I go to bed and Janette sets
her alarm clock for 5am, we sleep apart at this time of year.
Janette wakes up to the alarm and drinks a caffeine drink to then keep her awake for the next few
hours while I sleep.
When a foal is coming, I usually sort it in the night or we both get up and sort it out in the early morning,
sometimes two or three times a night.
I do not know how we keep it up but it is very rewarding when we succeed and save foals that would
have died had we not been there.
I estimate that I save about 20 - 40% of the foals by being there and acting to save the foals as
With regard to foaling monitors, we have tried most and they all have their faults which have cost lives,
we now choose to use our eyes and cameras with the odd foaling alarm used as a backup near the
end when there are just a few to go. We have found that the American swinging monitors are the best.
The ones that have neck sweat censors do not work on mini Shetlands.
Actual foaling tips
The gestation time for a horse is approximately 11 months, or 340 days but in miniatures it can be as
early as 315 days, we have found that 326 days would be a good average. It is best to be in
attendance at the foaling’s because the mare may have a problem and you can frequently help them
and the foal, mare, or both. We give our mares a tetanus injection one month before foaling. This also
gives the foal immunity which is important.
You need to have all the preparations made and ready to go about 2 weeks before the first birth is
expected; you never know when it might happen early. Have a clean stable prepared with clean, dry
straw bedding. We bring the mares in about 2 week’s before giving birth so they are comfortable and
settled. Sometimes we let them run in the yard or paddock during the day when we can still watch them
as many of them will give birth in daylight hours.
We make up a birthing kit to carry us through the season. This consists of:
A small bucket for warm water a bottle of Hibiscrub and a clean cloth to clean mare's vulva and bag.
Purple spray or Iodine spray to put on the umbilical stump.
Micralax Enema to give to foal after birth if needed to help to get rid of the meconium or first stool.
Clean towels to dry off the foal.
Hibiscrub disinfectant to clean your hands and arms.
There are some signs to watch for showing that a birth is imminent. The mare’s rear end around the tail
will go soft as the area starts to relax. The vulva will start to lengthen as the mare dilates. The mare's
teats will sometimes wax up 12 to 24 hours before foaling. A small bead of waxy milk will appear. The
mare may stop eating, be restless, getting up and down and rolling to get the foal in position. She may
start to make a few sharp movements looking around at her belly. She may sweat when very near to
foaling. A bubble may appear from the vulva, or the water sac may break. Any or all of these things
might be noticed and should be taken as a sign of an imminent birth.
If you do not have cameras and keep going to the stable to check on the mare then you will need to be
whisper quiet as a mare can and will stop foaling even with just one minute to go if she senses danger,
this is why very few foaling’s are ever witnessed without surveillance cameras.
When the mare lay's down and starts to get her contractions, this is when you can move in with her to
help. You need to be sure she is not lying against the wall so that it is easier for you to check that
everything is coming alright, minis are small enough to pull around to a better position.
We usually help to pull the foal out once it is coming correctly and especially on a first timer, we have
found in the past that the mares sometimes rest while the foal is half way out and this is no good for the
foal if there is prolonged pressure on the chest or umbilical cord.
Be sure to get the sac off the foals head immediately so it can breathe.
When possible let the foal lie for a minute or so with the umbilical cord attached as often blood is still
being pumped into the foal for a short period before the umbilical stump seal's ready for the
detachment when mum get's up. If the cord breaks too quickly and blood is flowing out of the foals
umbilical stump you must put pressure on it quickly with your fingers for a minute or so to allow the
valve to close then spray the area with iodine.
Mini foals range in size at birth from 12” to 20”, weighing from 12 to 20 lbs. After the foal is delivered,
both mare and foal may rest for a few minutes. We usually move the foal to be in front of the mare after
a couple of minutes so she can lick it dry and start bonding with it, but only do this if the umbilical cord
has broken. If the cord is still intact leave them alone as long as they will lay there. When the mare
stands, the cord with come away from the foal cleanly, this is the time to spray the umbilical stump with
the purple spray or iodine spray. If the sac is still hanging from the mare tie it up in a knot to keep her
from walking on it and to help it come out of the mare clean. Never pull on it to get it out. If the mare
hasn't passed it in about three or four hours you will need to call the vet. Always check the afterbirth to
be sure none was left in the mare, or save it for your vet to check.
After all the business of birthing is over, then it is time to imprint the foal. We sit down in the pen with
the mare and foal. We rub the entire body, with a towel and our hands; this helps to desensitize the foal
and helps it to bond with us as well as its mum.
The foal will then soon stand on its own start to search for the teat. We never interfere at this time as it
can confuse the foal. We leave nature to happen. The foal needs to drink the colostrums from the mare
within ideally the first few hours so that it gets immunity to all the nasty bacteria and viruses. If after
maybe four hours the foal has not found the teat or has started sucking on the walls, you need to take
action as shown below
Foal not suckling
Check the mare to see if she is still well bagged up, if the foal has suckled you can usually tell because
she will be more comfortable and the foal will be settled for a while. If you think that the foal has not
sucked yet then we milk some colostrum from the mare and give it to the foal by a small 5ml syringe
squirted into the foal’s mouth.
We give the foal as much as we can until it is happy and settled then we leave the mare and foal for
another two or three hours knowing that the foal has had its colostrums. We usually find that this first
un-natural feed will give the foal an amazing boost of energy so that it will usually be able to find the
teat after a short sleep.
If this does not work then we milk the mare a little and start lying on the floor with our arm under the
mare with a little syringe full of milk, one of us guides the foal to the syringe and when latched on we
guide the foal to the teat. It is tricky work but it does usually work. If it does not then you need to keep
milking the mare and feeding the foal by syringe. We have never had any success at getting a foal to
suckle an artificial teat on a bottle.
As the foal gets stronger it will eventually find the teat itself by the second day.
If not then the foal may have a problem with its sucking reflex or short tongue or its swallowing reflex or
something else. Veterinary advice is needed now.
EMERGENCY Placenta Previa or Red bag.
In brief if you see a bloody liver coloured bubble coming out of your foaling mare, be ready to slit it
straight away and get the foal out as fast as you can because it is suffocating.
At a normal foaling the first thing that you see is a fairly translucent bubble usually with a front foot
followed very closely by the other front foot and nose. If instead of seeing this cloudy white bubble you
see a red bag that looks like liver or velvety textured, that is the placenta which should have ruptured
allowing the amniotic sac to emerge from the vulva first.
This occurs usually only if the mare has been in hard labour for a while and the placenta due to the
terrific forces of contractions has separated from the uterus. Once that happens the foal is no longer
getting oxygen through the umbilical cord, but instead is starting to die or suffocate. This happens
sometimes if the foal is mal positioned and the straining of the mare finally separates it, or can be
caused by the mare's being fed with haylage infected with an entophyte (type of mould) that causes
tough placenta and other foaling problems. It can also be caused by some trauma to the mare such as
being kicked very hard or some other disturbance to the cervical area.
When you see a red bag, the first thing is to quickly open it and it is very difficult to do by hand, so use
a sharp knife to slit this bag. Don't worry about sanitation, just worry about speed. Then try to feel how
the foal is presented and get it out as quickly as possible.
If you get the foal out very quickly you may be able to save it, but if the placenta has been separated
too long the foal may be born dead. We have saved many foals by being fast and ready for problems.
Again only full camera surveillance works with someone watching all the time.
Sometimes a saved foal will still die later if it was starved of oxygen for two long. Apparently retardation
can progress quickly although at first they seem normal. Some of them would fall asleep easily and
stay asleep too long. This is sometimes called "Sleepy foal".
Red bag foaling's are not so common, they can sometimes affect many ponies in many breeding studs
in certain years so the weather, grass and feed can all cause this problem occasionally.
Note: Do not panic, if you know what to do it is fairly easy to correct. If you have a leg and a nose
coming ok, without bursting the white bubble try to feel for the other leg. If it is not there then cut the
bag and feel again with lubrel on your hand and arm. Do not let the whole head come out without both
the legs being in front of the nose or you will have a dead foal and ruined mare. This can sometimes be
difficult if the mare is pushing hard, you just have to get stuck in and push the foal back in as hard as
you can, sometimes you will then feel the foot pop forward. If it does then pull it forward to be in front of
the nose with the other leg but not equal to the other leg as the thick leg joints need to come staggered.
If the foot does not come forward as you push the foals nose back into mums tummy then just keep
pushing until your whole arm is at full stretch inside the mare, usually the feet pop forward at this point,
if they don’t then there will now be enough room in the tummy to hook your middle finger around a knee
joint to pull the leg or legs forward. Once you are happy that the feet are in front of the nose pull your
arm out and let the mare push the foal out if she still has the energy.
If it has been a long time messing about you may need to try to pull the foal out yourself by gripping the
front legs inside the mare and pulling it out as she contracts. Sometimes a foaling rope can help but we
have rarely had to use it.
As with leg back you will feel to see if everything is coming ok. If you ever feel the two ears or whatever
you feel feels wrong, I have learned to just push the foal right back in again. This may not be correct as
I am not a vet but it usually works for me. One the foal is back in the larger tummy area it is easier to
manipulate the foal until you find the feet and the nose.
I once had a foaling where I could not make out what I was feeling, everything was a blob, we called
the vet and to my surprise he put his arm in and pulled the foal straight out. I was amazed. He later told
me that the foetal sac was around the foal and when he put his arm in he knew straight away what this
was by experience and pierced the sac with his carefully sharpened fingernail which he keeps during
foaling season. The foal was born dead and the vet said that it had died prematurely which is why it
ended up in a tangled ball.
Delivering the Breach Presentation Foal
We have only once had this problem and we lost the foal at that time.
I have found a web site which explains this situation well. Please click on the link below.