Like other mammals, horses reproduce live offspring and nourish them through the breastmilk of the mare (mother horse or female horse). When a horse is pregnant, it can only give birth to a foal each year. A mare is only capable of reproducing after attaining the age of 18 months.
As a mindful owner, you may have several questions, such as what to do when your horse is pregnant. You may also be somewhat worried. Relax your mind. With adequate knowledge, your mare should do well throughout her pregnancy period without issues. Proper nutrition, vaccinations, adequate care, and exercises will help ensure that your mare and foal are fine.
Checking Your Horse for Pregnancy
This is an early period to detect a pregnancy through ultrasound.
If you can’t use ultrasound, during this period, you can recognize pregnancy through rectal palpation.
This is a critical time during your horse’s pregnancy when the embryo starts to implant in the uterus. If your mare is pregnant with twins, this is the most comfortable time to save one and abort the other, if necessary.
Abortions are more frequent at this stage, so it’s advisable to recheck her around this time.
You can determine the sex of a foal during this period.
What to Do If Your Horse Is Pregnant with Twins
Horses that have twins usually run into complications, as it is rare for two healthy foals to survive into adulthood. This happens because the horse’s uterus can’t contain two foals comfortably, especially if the two embryos come together to form one uterine horn.
Most twin pregnancies are usually aborted (either one or both foals). Sometimes if there’s no proper management of pregnancy complications, they can result in the death of the mare. Due to the high risk involved in twin pregnancy, it’s highly advisable to abort one or both embryos. That way, you create high odds that your mare will deliver a healthy foal.
What Your Mare Needs During Pregnancy
Your horse needs several vaccines for maintaining her pregnancy and the survival of the foal. It’s essential to note that the colostrum (thick substance contained in the first milk) is comprised of antibodies. These antibodies are created by the horse to fight diseases she got exposed to through vaccines or the environment. Newborn foals do not have natural antibodies, so they need to get high-quality colostrum to maintain their health until they can create their own.
Your mare doesn’t need an increase in calories until the eighth month, when you can include feeds specifically for lactating or pregnant horses. Note that, after the birth of the foal, when nursing begins, they feed entirely from the mare, who ensures they’re well-nourished, even if it’s detrimental to her health. Thus, your mare needs to be heavier than average (just a bit) before going into foaling, as she’ll have more capacity to keep up with producing milk.
Also, note that her appetite might decrease as she gets close to delivery. The foal consumes so much space in the mare’s abdomen, leaving less for her colon (the organ that accommodates a large amount of food). One food you shouldn’t give your mare throughout pregnancy is fescue grass because it causes prolonged gestation, placental issues, and decreased milk production.
What to Watch for as the Due Date Approaches
A mare usually foals between 335 and 345 days of pregnancy. Foals that are born before 320 days of pregnancy are mostly premature and often don’t survive. Although there are no fixed signs to watch for, here are a few general signs to know when your mare’s due date is approaching.
Your mare’s udder will start “bagging up” within four to six weeks before birth, and it enlarges around the final two to three weeks before foaling. The mare begins “waxing up” within one to two days of foaling; colostrum starts leaking from the teat around this time. A little is okay, but if the leak is too much, you should collect it in a neat container and refrigerate it. It would be best if you didn’t milk anything from the mare’s udder before birth to avoid wasting valuable colostrum. Mares can only create a small quantity of colostrum, and as soon as it stops, you can’t get it back.
Vulva and Pelvic Ligaments
Check your mare’s vulva and pelvic ligaments now so that you’ll be able to tell later. Within one to two days before delivery, the vulva and the ligaments around the mare’s tail-head will start sagging as she prepares herself for foaling. These are the best indicators of an incoming foal.
When your horse is very close to her foaling date, prepare a clean and nice environment to welcome the foal. Near, grassy pasture is the best for them, but if it’s not available, you can provide her with a clean and disinfected stall, with the floor lined with straw.
What Should I Do During Foaling?
Shortly before your mare foals, the first noticeable thing is her restlessness. She may be lying down and getting up repeatedly. These are also symptoms of colic. There are some chronic forms of colic associated with foaling, days after foaling, and late pregnancy stages. As soon as the mare locates a good place, its “water” will break. At this point, the placenta will rupture and release the fluid contained inside.
Foaling without complications usually takes place between 15 and 20 minutes. You’ll first see the front hooves of the foal, and next is its head. After these have come out, other parts of the foal’s body will progress smoothly. As soon as the foal’s entire body is out and it’s not breathing, the mare begins to clean him up. Within two hours, the foal should be standing and nursing without issues.
If you notice any issues during or immediately after the foaling, call your vet. Unfortunately, foals have to survive within 45 to 60 minutes after the water breaks. So if you notice any issues within the first fifteen minutes, don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet. Depending on the issue, they may be able to give you further support before their arrival.