Home Foaling

Jo Howard

If I didn’t manage to convince you with my article last month on the dangers of home foaling, then I will give you as much help as possible to ensure a safe and healthy foaling result.  My name is Jo Howard, I am an equine midwife and sport horse breeder.   I will try to lead you through the process from pre-foaling, foaling, and to the first 7 days.

Long Term Preparartion

  • Placentitis.  This is inflammation of the placenta by an infectious agent which can lead to abortion or premature delivery.  Signs are a mucusy discharge from the vulva, (don’t confuse this with dried urine.) premature development of the udder or the mare is off her feed.  In all cases call the vet.  The mare will need aggressive IV and IM antibiotics to treat this infection.   Once treated, rescan the mare to check for any thickening of the placental wall which may indicate that the mare has had placentitis.  This would put her in a high-risk foaling category.   Daily checks will reduce this problem.
  • Vaccinations.  Six weeks prior to a mare’s foaling date, vaccinate for strangles and tetanus.   This will enable the mare to transfer this immunity to her foal.  Vaccinating for Salmonella is also a good idea.
  • Drench.   Ensure mare is drenched for worms at least 4 weeks prior to foaling.
  • Source Frozen Colostrum.    Simply, if your mare doesn’t produce sufficient colostrum or if she drips colostrum for several days prior to foaling, you will need to supplement the colostrum the foal needs.  Colostrum is the first milk the mare produces when foaling and should be yellow and sticky like honey.   The whiter the colostrum the lower the quality.  I test colostrum with a refractometer to get an exact reading.  The newborn foal needs this colostrum to give it the crucial immunity to survive and can only absorb this colostrum within the first 12 to 24 hours after foaling.   Source frozen colostrum from nearby Breeding Studs.   Keep frozen and if needed only defrost naturally or with surrounding warm water.  DO NOT MICROWAVE to defrost.  Powder colostrum products are available from your vet but not as effective as frozen colostrum.   
  • Paddock or Stable Preparation.   Your mare will be happy to foal in an environment that she is familiar with and where she feels safe.  I prefer a small clean paddock and only use the stable if the weather is horrendous.  The paddock needs to be small (mine are 25m x 25m) and free of any obstacles which might injure a newborn foal.  Newborn foals have very limited vision and gravitate towards solid forms like fences thinking that this must their mum.  Ensure that hot wire fencing can be turned off as you do not want a newborn foal bumping into a hotwire.   Remove any old manure.  It is important that this paddock does not have lush pasture.   Mares, post foaling, are very prone to laminitis if given free access to lush pasture.  Erect a spotlight in one corner, at least 3 metres above the ground.  This will give you good visibility during the foaling night and allow you to observe mare from a distance. If using a stable, clean out all shavings, scrub the walls with disinfectant and replace with new straw.  Shavings not ideal as they can be inhaled by the foal.  Keep unused until foaling day.
  • Resuscitation.  Learn how to resuscitate your newborn foal.  I have medical oxygen available for every foaling with a tube to insert into the foal’s nostril if the foaling is long/hard or a red bag situation (see red bag description later).  During the delivery, as soon as the foal’s chest and shoulders are delivered, the foal is able to breath and will often gasp for air before the hips are delivered.   If the foal is not breathing once delivered, clear the mucus from the nose by running your hand down the nose, extend the foals neck, close one nostril with your hand and blow into the other nostril.  Blow 10 to 20 breaths per minute.  At the same time vigorously massage the foal’s heart at the girth.  Read up for a more detailed technique.
  • Set up Foaling Kit.   I use an open tool kit with the following:

Head lamp and torch 

Obstetric lube


Baling twine 


Surgical or milking gloves

Mobile phone (vet’s number) 

Tail Wrap

Covered bucket for Placenta  and cleaning


 Feeding bottle

Lead rope 


Foal Coat

  • Set up an Observation Point.   When the mare is close to foaling, you will need to observe her 24/7.    This includes during the day.   Many mares will foal during the day if they feel safe in their environment.   Mares don’t like to be observed so keep your distance.  I always find that when I go to make a cup of tea, the mare will start to foal.
  • Organise a Buddy to Help You.  Having someone available to help you is important for your confidence.   I foal on my own, but I have been doing this for a long time.  I have a helpful horsey neighbour that I can call in the middle of the night if I need a second pair of hands or of course the vet.


  • Gestation.  Every mare is different.   Gestation periods vary from 320 days (10 months 2 weeks) to 400 days (12 months plus).  I always work on 11 months 11 days as the normal time, but you need to be prepared from 320 days onwards.   The foal is usually viable from 320 days.  Earlier than this the foal may experience breathing problems as the lungs are the last part to develop. Don’t worry if mare goes over the 365 days.  This often happens with older mares, as they seem to need a bit longer to cook their foal.  You should be checking your mare twice a day at this stage looking for signs of imminent foaling.
  • Caslick   Check to see if your mare is caslicked.  This is when the vulva lips are sewn up, just allowing a small gap for the mare to urinate.  Mares are usually caslicked after a positive pregnancy test if the mare’s vulva conformation allows a gap in the seal.  A caslick will reduce bugs getting into the uterine track and causing an infection/inflammation of the placenta.  The normal opening size of the vulva is between 100 to 150mm.   If you are unsure, take a photo and send it to your vet.   To open a caslick the vet will need to anesthetize the surrounding area of the vulva and cut open.  The mare is usually sedated, and this should be carried out in a mare crush or behind a fence barrier.   Open the caslick once the mare’s udder starts to develop.  Daily pull open the vulva to stop rehealing.  Be careful.  A lot of mares aren’t happy with you carrying out this procedure.  Always stand at the side of the mare.
  • Alert Vet. Keep your vet informed of your mare’s progress.  Remind them to swot up on the Madigan Squeeze Technique for dummy foals.   This is a technique that is rarely needed but is very effective.  If your foal has oxygen deficiency issues ie dummy foal, this technique is designed to reset the foal’s brain into thinking it is being born again and the effects of lack of oxygen often disappear.
  • The Udder.  I always say that the udder tells you everything.   There are two, general types of udder.  A large fluid filled bag with small teats, or an udder which is just two large teats.  Mares start to develop an udder anytime from 3 to 4 weeks from foaling.  Every mare is different but start monitoring the development with photos so you can compare each day.  At this stage, I start checking the udder for changes at least 3 times a day. Initially the udder will fill with fluid and the teats remain small.  Press your finger into the udder.  If you leave a dent, just fluid, if you feel a hard mass with no dent then the mare is starting to fill with milk and getting close to foaling.   The main indicator of closeness to foaling is the teats. The udder will start to fill but the teats tend to remain uninflated.  As soon as the teats fill up you know the mare is getting close.   Do not wait for the mare to “wax up”.   Waxing is when the mare’s colostrum starts to form on the end of the teats but only about 50% of mares actually wax up, in my experience.   If the wax is clear, I normally assume the mare will foal within 48 hours.  If the wax is creamy or dripping, mare likely to foal within 24 hours.  But no hard and fast rule.
  • Other Pre Foaling Signs.  
    • Tailhead   The mare will soften around the tailhead several days prior to foaling.  You should be able to press your hand into the muscle around the tail.  
    • Softening of the Vulva.  The vulva will also relax and soften and become quite puffy.  
    • Restless Behaviour.   The mare may roll in the paddock often and seem restless.  Often pace or trot nonstop for hours, even days.  Mares may develop large areas of sweat on their shoulders and flank and paw the ground.
    • Off her feed.   Sometimes the mare won’t eat her feed as she is too uncomfortable in her early stages of labour.  One of my mares always eats her dinner or breakfast, then without warning lies down and foals.
  • Three Stages of Labour.   Often you may not notice any changes in the mare’s behaviour during her three stages of labour.  But at this stage you should be monitoring her 24/7.  Observe from a distance without the mare sensing your presence, if possible, as they can be quite secretive prior to foaling and will hold off until they feel alone and safe.  The foal decides the day of foaling, but the mare can determine the best time to deliver the foal.  Popular foaling times are between 10pm and 5am.  Don’t delay this process by interfering too much.
  • Foaling Alarms.  There are several types on the market and apps that connect to your mobile phone for video surveillance.   I use a halter held device that triggers a mercury activated switch when the mare lies flat on the ground.  This is a great help, but you get a lot of false alarms when the mare is just having a good sleep.  This alarm also doesn’t work if the mare decides to deliver her foal in a sitting or standing position.  This is only an aid.  Don’t rely on it.  Maiden mares often don’t want to lie flat.  You can also test for changes in calcium carbonate levels in the udder. These tests start about 2 weeks out and will predict the probability of foaling within 24 hours.
  • Surveillance.   Be prepared to have several sleepless nights.  Just checking on your mare a couple of times during the night is not good enough.  A mare can be in trouble within 20 minutes.  Many mares don’t show any signs of labour and can foal on a moderate or non-foaling udder. I am sure they like to trick you.  Perhaps even the smallest sign is all you will get.  Observe from a distance, don’t stay in the paddock, give your mare some privacy.  One mare I had wouldn’t foal until I turned the light off then she started immediately.


One of the first signs of foaling is when the mare’s waters break. This is generally followed by the presence of the white bag (amnion) ballooning out of the mare’s vulva.  When I see the white bag appear or the waters break I will quietly enter the paddock with my foaling kit, all the time talking calmly to the mare.  Keep your distance until the mare lies down.  She may sit initially or get up and down or roll before she finally lies on her side.   Mares are often reluctant to lie flat but it is very difficult to deliver the foal in a sitting or standing position.  Watch out for flailing hooves as the mare will often try extreme measures to deliver her foal.  Wrap mare’s tail with bandage.  Once the white bag is out you should see at least one leg sticking out of the vulva.  Presentation is always one leg slightly in front of the other followed by the nose.   Break open the white bag and gently grab the extended leg while you search for the other leg.   Soles of the foal’s feet should be facing downwards.  Pull second leg straight releasing the foal’s shoulder from the mare’s pelvis.   Do not try to pull the foal out.  You are there to assist only.  When the mare has a contraction and pushes then you can pull on the two legs.  When the mare stops pushing, you stop pulling.  Check the foal’s nose is at the vulva.  The foals head should be between its legs.   If not reach into the vulva and feel for the head.   Pull the legs downwards towards the mare’s hocks in a banana shape.   The mare must do the work, with several good pushes she should be able to push foal out without your assistance.  Once the foal’s chest is delivered the foal can breath and will often start to kick its legs.  Don’t stop now as the hind legs could also be kicking and damaging the mare.  Keep pulling the foal until the hips are released.  

Leave the delivered foal behind the mare for a couple of minutes while you run your hand down the foal’s nose to get rid of the amniotic fluid, clear off the white bag from the foal, then drag foal by its front legs towards the mare’s head so she can remain lying down but can bond with her foal.  At this point, the umbilical cord should break at its weakest point about 30mm from the foal’s belly.  Blood may squirt out from the severed end so just pinch it together for a minute to stop the bleeding.    Immediately dip the umbilical stump in disinfectant.  I use a specimen pot with a disinfectant/antiseptic and hold it over the stump for several seconds.   Rub down the foal with a towel.  It will probably start trying to get up immediately.  Using the baling twine in your foaling kit, tie around the top of the placenta that is protruding out of the vulva, then loop the white bag over the baling twine several times, tying it up into a tight bag.  This will help the mare release the entire,placenta later.    If the  mare jumps up early and rips the white bag, tie it onto the remaining piece or use a 1 litre milk bottle half filled with water and attach to the piece of placenta sticking out of the vulva.  This procedure will reduce the chance of a retained placenta and a vet call.  At this point, leave the mare and foal alone to bond. Go and make a cup of tea.  


You may think it is all over but its not.  Observe the mare closely for next 24 to 48 hours.  She may still haemorrhage or colic.   Observe the foal from a distance if you can.  After delivery, the foal will automatically try to stand and fall.  After several attempts, the foal may just have a big sleep.  Check the foal is breathing and leave alone until it is standing up.  If you keep standing the foal up too early, it will just stagger around and fall over.  Better for them to figure it out for themselves. 

There is a 3 hour rule

  • Foal should be sitting up within 2 minutes of foaling and stand within the first hour.  If it is a big foal, sometimes takes a little longer.
  • Foal should find the teat and drink within 2 hours.  Again, big foals often find it hard to bend their head down then up to the udder.
  • Mare should have passed the placenta within 3 hours.  Do not pull on the placenta as it will probably break off.   At this point I give the mare 2ml of Oxytocin IM every hour until 6 hours then call the vet.   If you don’t have oxytocin, call the vet after 4 hours.

If the weather is cold or wet, put a foal coat on the foal.  Dog covers are great with Velcro fasteners.  The foal should pass meconium after 6 hours. These are hard, big pellets that are black or dark in colour.  If the foal is straining with its tail up, give it an enema or call the vet.  You will need someone to hold the foal. Be very careful inserting the nozzle into the anus.  You can use Microlax or just a wide nosed syringe with warm water and obstetric lube.  You know when the meconium is finally expelled when the foal’s faeces if bright yellow.  Dip the umbilical stump twice more over the next 12 hours.  

The foal should drink every 20 minutes then lie down and sleep or run around.


  • White bag appears and no sign of foal legs after 10 minutes.
  • Only one leg presented and after examination you can’t find the other leg
  • Legs presented but you can’t find the head
  • Head presented with no legs visible
  • Unable to get head and legs out despite mare pushing and you pulling on the legs.  While waiting for the vet, get the mare to get up and ask her to lie down on her other side.  This often changes the foal positioning and the mare can push the foal out.
  • Instead of a white bag appearing, you get a red bag.  This is a real emergency.  The placenta has come away from the uterus prematurely and thereby starving the foal of oxygen during the birth process.   Ring the vet then immediately break the red bag open, even if the mare is standing, pull the foal out as quick as you can.  Once delivered the foal will need oxygen or resuscitation.  If the foal has suffered from oxygen deficiency, it may be a dummy foal.  No suck reflex, floppy head,, unable to stand up.  The foal may seem normal immediately after foaling but may deteriorate within an hour.   The vet can use the Madigan Squeeze technique to help the foal if they are confident to use this technique.  Otherwise, the foal will need to be referred to hospital for intensive care.
  • If the foal has a major deformity of its limbs and is unable to stand.
  • Foal doesn’t reach his 1 hour standing time, or 2 hour drinking time or the mare 3 hour cleaning of the placenta.   You can obviously give and take with this rule but don’t leave it too late to treat.
  • If the foal’s feet presented at the vulva are hind legs. (Breech birth)
  • If the foal’s feet are upside down or sideways
  • Foals tail presented
  • Mare appears to be straining with no presentation of a foal
  • Lack of straining in the mare
  • Mare is colicky or uninterested in foal up to 48 hours after birth
  • If foal is straining to pass meconium after 6 hours or after you have administered an enema.  If the foal is not drinking well, dehydration can increase the chance of meconium impaction.
  • If the mare has been dripping milk/colostrum in previous days to foaling or the mare’s colostrum is pure white like milk seek vet assistance to start the foal on frozen or powdered colostrum.
  • Mare doesn’t seem to be producing enough milk
  • Foal has milk coming out of its nose after drinking.  Could be a soft palate problem or cleft palate.

While waiting for the vet, get the mare up and walk her around.  She is unlikely to push while she is walking.  Don’t let her lie down until vet arrives.

IgG  This is a blood test to determine the amount of successful absorption of colostrum by the foal.  Vet will take blood after 24 hours and within a day give you an IgG reading.  Above 800 is considered successful colostral transfer.  Below 800 means partial or little transfer.   In this case the foal will need a plasma IV infusion to increase its immunity.  Low immunity can lead to joint infection and inability to fight off infections, and potentially death.


Monitor your foal closely.  For the first 7 days, the neonate foal is very fragile. If your foal stops drinking, appears listless or is scouring call your vet immediately.  The faster the treatment, the better the outlook for your foal.  Scouring can occur anytime during the first 7 days but the earlier it happens the more serious.  You may notice wet diarrhea on either side of the foal’s bottom or a dripping wet tail.  Call the vet urgently.  A scouring foal will not survive very long without aggressive treatment. This is the popular treatment for a scouring foal:   3 days Gentamicin, 5 days Calefur, Metronidazole, Carafate, and Bio Sponge.   Try to stay away from Penicillin as this is very hard to administer to a jumpy foal safely.

Foaling your own mare at home can be a fantastic experience or a fatal disaster.   I always think that the loneliest place in the world is the foaling paddock at 3am in the morning when you mare develops foaling problems.   Preparation and knowledge will help you through this process.   Good Luck.   If you have a problem or want to discuss your foaling, I am happy for you to call me 24/7, even at 2am in the morning while waiting for the vet.  027 685 7717.  


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