Fence materials: Wood boards and rails, synthetic rails and certain types of woven wire are safest. High-tensile wire, monofilament and rubber-strip fencing can entangle your foal.
Height: Use your mare’s eye level as a guideline. If she’s 15 hands high, your fencing should be about 5 feet tall to contain your foal safely.
Corners: Fence your enclosure with rounded (not square) corners to avoid injury.
Rail spacing: Space boards (or rails) 8 to 9 inches apart—close enough to keep your foal in, but far enough to prevent his head and legs from getting stuck. Set the bottom board or rail 1 foot off the ground. Fill in wide gaps with woven wire.
Woven wire: Use V-mesh or diamond-mesh wire; foals can wedge their feet into 2-by-4-inch–square (or non-climb) mesh. Make sure wire is woven, not welded, for longer wear and to avoid sharp edges.
Maintenance: Check for loose rails, wobbly posts, or sharp protrusions.
Exercise wisely. When it comes to pregnant mares, vets’ advice for exercise is similar to what doctors tell pregnant women: Keep it consistent. Work your mare as you normally would, but avoid unusually strenuous exercise. If she’s been idle, don’t start a program now. By her fifth month of pregnancy, avoid activities that require a lot of effort and athletic maneuvering. Two months before her due date, put her on maternity leave—riding will probably be cumbersome at that point.
Schedule a 5-month check. Have your mare checked at the 5-month mark to make sure she’s still in foal.
Vaccinate. Make sure your mare is vaccinated against rhinopneumonitis (equine herpes virus) at 5, 7, and 9 months of gestation.
Test fescue. Fescue grass can be affected by a type of fungus that can cause problems with pregnancy. Before turning your mare out on fescue pasture, check with your county extension agent for testing.
Deworm on schedule. Maintain your regular deworming program.
Check her pearly whites. Once she reaches the 5-month mark, schedule her for routine dentistry. She can handle sedatives at that point.
Do your homework. Take advantage of the months ahead to read and research foaling. It’ll give you something to do while you wait, and you’ll feel prepared for the big event.
Disinfecting the Stall
1. Remove all bedding.
2. Remove all removable objects, such as buckets and feeders. Using a mixture of hot water and dish detergent, scrub them free of residue. Rinse thoroughly, then scrub again with a solution of 1 part laundry-type chlorine bleach to 10 parts water. Allow them to air-dry without rinsing. Scrub one more time with hot water and dish detergent. Rinse thoroughly to remove any bleach or detergent residue.
3. Sweep cobwebs, dust, hay, etc., from the stall floor, walls, ledges and door.
4. Wash walls and other solid surfaces using a pressure washer (or garden hose), a stiff scrub brush and dishwashing detergent.
5. Mix Lysol Disinfectant Concentrate (2 1/2 tablespoons per gallon of water) in a garden-type spray tank. Wear protective clothing, including long sleeves, long pants, gloves, goggles and head gear. Spray a soaking mist of disinfectant onto all surfaces and allow to air-dry. Repeat.
6. Return clean buckets and feeder to your horse’s stall. Bed with clean bedding.
Immediately Following Birth
Here’s how to handle your mare’s afterbirth (or placenta) for safekeeping.
- Tie it up. A large part of your mare’s placenta will already be exposed by the time she stands (usually within a half-hour after foaling). You need to tie it up to keep it from dragging on the ground, where she might slip on it or tear it. To do so, tie a three-foot length of string around the exposed portion of placenta, approximately one foot from the ground. Then lift this section until it meets the placenta just below the bottom of her vulva. Secure the two sections with a second three-foot length of string.
- Leave the stall. Avoid pulling on the placenta. Instead, stay out of your mare’s stall and minimize distractions so she will feel secure enough to lie down and push, if the impulse hits.
- Examine it. When your mare completely drops her placenta (usually within three hours after foaling), take it to a clean, well-lit area for examination. If you’re unsure what to look for, or you see something that looks questionable, set the placenta in a clean, woven-plastic feed sack, so your vet can examine it.
Foaling Do’s & Don’ts
- DO note the time your foal is born so you’ll know if he stands and nurses on schedule (he should stand within two hours and nurse within three hours), and if the placenta passes on time (within three hours).
- DO help support your foal on his sternum if he can’t sit up–his lungs will drain more easily in this position.
- DON’T pull his feet out of the mare’s vagina unless he’s moving them a lot.
- DON’T dry him. This could interfere with the mare-foal bonding process.
- DON’T help your foal stand. Intervene only if there are obstacles and hard surfaces that could injure him. Keep him from falling onto obstacles, but allow him the learning experience of falling.
- DON’T help him nurse.
- DON’T pull on the placenta–your mare must push it out (see Afterbirth Protocol below).
When to Wean
In the wild, foals remain with their dams for a year or more, pushed away only when the mares are preparing to give birth to the next season’s foals. Though breeders today may wean their foals as early as 4 months of age, the most recent thinking is that waiting until the foal is at least 6 months old may offer advantages to the foal’s long-term health and wellbeing. In particular, research has shown that early-weaned foals are at greater risk of developing, later in their lives, stereotypic behaviors such as cribbing or wind-sucking, weaving, and stall-walking.
Types of Weaning
- Gradual Weaning
With this approach, you remove the mare for short amounts of time that gradually increase over a period of two weeks or more. The first separation may last just 15 minutes or so. Eventually you remove the mare completely out of earshot for increasingly longer periods of time, until neither foal nor mare objects to the separation.
An advantage of this method is it enables the mare’s milk supply to decrease more naturally over time, thus avoiding the discomfort of an overly full udder.
You’ll need a helper to monitor the foal in a safe stall or other enclosure whenever the mare is removed, especially in the beginning.
- Proximity Weaning
This method places the mare and foal on opposite sides of a safe divider, where they can see, hear, and touch one another, but the foal can’t nurse. One example would be adjoining pens, with foal-safe fencing dividing them.
Proximity weaning involves less management than gradual weaning does, plus doesn’t require an out-of-earshot location for your mare when she’s separated from her foal.