Foaling: best practice


For novice and experienced breeders alike, foaling remains a special moment, often combining stress and excitement. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of the arrival of a newborn foal.


I. Before foaling

The gestation period for mares is between 338 and 343 days, or around 11 months and 11 days. A foal is considered to be born prematurely if it is foaled before 320 days gestation. Extensive veterinary monitoring will then be required. On the other hand, a gestation period of more than 340 days is considered long: you should check with your vet that there are no complications. 

A few days before foaling, physiological changes happen: the foal's lungs prepare to breathe air, its intestines prepare to receive food, and above all, it secretes hormones to help the mare prepare for foaling. Some mares show signs that foaling is approaching (but this is not the case for all mares, and the timing is not always the same from one mare to another!): the teats will be distended 4 to 6 days before foaling, and the wax plugs (dried colostrum) will appear 1 to 4 days before birth.

wax stoppers mare
Wax stoppers (source : IFCE).


Foaling approaches when the mare secretes relaxin. This relaxin is produced by the placenta and causes a relaxation of the tissues around the mother's rump. 

The experts at the IFCE (Institut Français du Cheval et de l'Équitation) recommend that when the mare is preparing to foal, she should be brought into a large, clean, well-mulched foaling box in the evening, with a halter on her head and a tail band (make sure it is not too tight to avoid making a tourniquet). If the mare's vulva is stitched, have your vet remove it.


II. Preparation

Preparation is the first stage of foaling for the mare. She shows symptoms of anxiety, restlessness (caused by uterine contractions) and has a tendency to lie down and get up repeatedly. She looks at her flanks, may bite them, turn in circles and urinate frequently. 

You can make sure that the mare's thighs, udders and vulva are clean (wash them with a mild soap if necessary) and stay at a distance while keeping an eye on her (coming soon: how to keep an eye on her during foaling), who will need some peace and quiet to give birth. 

This preparation stage generally takes one to two hours. This is when the foal will move into the "diving" position, i.e. the front legs in front, followed by the head.

Positions of the foal at the end of gestation

Positions of the foal at the end of gestation
(Source: Jeffcot et Rossdale, Supplement n°27 of Journal of reproduction and Fertility).


III. Presentation of the foal

Keep your foaling kit to hand (article to come on the contents of the foaling kit!): sterile lubricant, scissors, clamping forceps and a 2% tincture of iodine or 0.5% chlorhexidine solution to disinfect the umbilical cord. 

Keep your distance and only intervene if necessary!

The foal's expulsion process begins when oxytocin is secreted: this is when the water breaks. Once the mare's water has broken, a white membrane called the amnion appears. The foal's head then appears.

The best position for expelling the foal is dorso-sacral, in an extended posture.

  • If the foal does not present well, call the vet immediately! In the meantime, walk the mare: walking will calm the contractions and it is possible that the foal's position will change naturally.
  • If, when the foal comes forward, it does not break the white membrane, break it yourself so that you can clear its airways.
  • If you see a red membrane appear at the vulva, this is a "red bag": the placenta has not ruptured, and without intervention, this is a major risk for the foal, which will suffocate. Make a vertical incision in the membrane using round-tipped scissors. The allantois empties, and behind it is the placenta, which will also need to be pierced to prevent the foal suffocating.

Foaling generally takes around 20 minutes. Contact your vet if the expulsion takes longer. 

Once the foal has been expelled, the umbilical cord still connects the mother and the newborn. It's important that the umbilical cord doesn't break too quickly, as blood is transferred immediately after foaling. Care and disinfection of the umbilical cord are essential to prevent germs and infections. See our article on caring for the newborn foal to find out more about caring for the cord. 

Once the newborn has been ejected and the umbilical cord has been severed, it can be gently brought to its mother's head. At this stage, it is advisable to retire and let the mare and foal get to know each other without any outside intervention.

foal and her mother


IV. Expulsion of the placenta

The last stage of foaling is the expulsion of the placenta. This stage is quite long and can be painful for the mare, who may show signs of colic. Never pull on the placenta: the risk of haemorrhaging or tearing the placenta is too high. If a piece of placenta were to get stuck in the mother's uterus, it would induce parturition laminitis. You may want to tie a knot in the delivery to prevent the mare or foal from stepping on it, and so that the weight of the knot facilitates expulsion naturally. If, after 2 hours, the placenta has still not been expelled, contact your vet. 

It is important to examine the placenta, once it has been expelled, in order to detect any problems that may require intervention with the mare or foal. To examine the placenta, turn the delivery over "like a sock": the red velvety side is the one that was in contact with the mare's uterus and allowed exchanges with the foal.

You must try to ensure that she is whole, with a uniform appearance, more or less dark red in colour. This must be done quickly as the placenta will degrade and change colour fairly quickly. 

If a piece of placenta is missing: call your vet, the mare must be treated. 

Similarly, if there are areas of discolouration, thickening or unevenness, the foal should be monitored very closely by your vet. Don't hesitate to take a photo of the placenta to show your vet, and put it in a cool place (but don't freeze it!) so that he can examine it if necessary.

placenta mare
Placenta (source: IFCE).

V. Monitoring the mother and foal. 

Once foaling is complete, give the mare and foal the care they need. For the mare, make sure she has access to enough clean water, plenty of hay and clean, comfortable bedding. Monitor her rectal temperature, which should be between 37.5 and 38.5°C.

In the first few hours of its life, the foal will require special attention and care: see our article on caring for a newborn foal to find out more about this new stage.


Good to know:


Don't be surprised by the appearance of the newborn foal's hooves: although they are already fully formed to enable the foal to move very quickly, they are still wrapped in the perioplic membrane (the eponychium) so as not to injure the mother when she gives birth. However, the eponychium quickly dissolves after the foal is born.


Foal's hooves

Foal's hooves (source : Lennye Lusitano).


Did you know: the mystery of the hippomanes


At foaling time, you may find in the straw a strange cake about 10-15 cm long, in brown colours, dense but soft, with a vague, strange appearance of half-cooked liver... Don't worry, it's normal! 


Hippomane (Source: Wikipédia).


We also call it "foal's bread" or "foal's tongue". It's the hippomane! It is an agglomerate of minerals whose constitution and usefulness are still the subject of debate today. It is produced in mares and cows (although not systematically) and possibly in certain carnivores. In short, the hippomane is still a mystery!