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The Foal Parent to Be

If you have gone through all the pros and cons and decided to breed your mare, you have nearly a year to prepare for the new arrival, but don’t wait until the last minute — start now.

As I have written before, I have never had one of my own mares bred, but I have some experience. My sister-in-law was an Arabian breeder long ago, and I have many friends and neighbors that stand stallions or have a nice crop of foals each year.

I have heard many sad stories of what can go wrong. Generally those come from the horse owner who is breeding a mare for the first time. Big breeders have sad tales to tell too, but they also have the background and experience to be prepared when things go wrong.

Start well before your mare’s due date to prepare for the event. If your foal is going to be born at your stable, you can start by preparing your property. Do you have a stall big enough for the birth? In my barn, we left one area where a wall can be easily removed so that two regular stalls can be quickly converted into one very big one.

Most mares foal at night, so unless you are watching, you may miss the big event. Many of the big stables in my area have grooms’ quarters attached, so that someone is always with the horses, but that is a luxury not everyone can manage.

You could camp out in a vacant stall or aisleway with your cot or sleeping bag, but even then if you are a heavy sleeper you may miss the birth. There are foaling monitors available that will signal when your mare goes down to foal, or you can try a sound monitor system to hear what is going on in the barn, or put in a video camera to watch the stall.

If you are alone in this venture, you will have to sleep sometime, and that could be just the moment when things start happening. This is a good time to enlist some help to take turns staying in the barn or listening for the monitor.

Most mares can give birth without assistance, but there could be complications. If at all possible, volunteer to help a friend with their mares this spring so you can be there to see a live birth. You could watch videos, but that’s no substitute for actually being there to see the progress of a normal birth. If you know what a normal labor, presentation and delivery look like, then you will be more likely to notice the firs signs of something going wrong.

Discuss with your vet in advance to decide when he wants to be called. As things start to happen, or don’t happen, and you suspect something is wrong — call your vet. It is far better to spend a few dollars to have your vet correct a problem when it firs appears than to wait and take a chance on losing the mare, the foal, or both.

After being present at a birth you may decide you really are not up to handling this on your own. Now is the time to start looking for a stable that will take your mare for the last month or two of pregnancy and see her through the delivery.

It could be the farm where your stallion stands, or if they do not offer that service, check out other breeding operations. It does not have to be a Saddlebred farm, but it should be a location where you know the people are experienced and professional. If you don’t know anyone who fit the criteria, your vet can give you a recommendation.

The big advantage to having your foal at a busy breeding barn is that they are equipped for the job. Not only will they be quick to realize when a mare is in trouble and needs assistance, but they will also recognize a foal that needs special care. Getting the necessary attention in the firs few hours of life can save a foal with a problem. If you decide you can not keep your mare at home, but you still want to be there for the birth of that foal, make sure that everyone at the farm where she is staying knows that you want to be called as soon as they see anything happening.

This could lead to a few false alarms, or things could move so fast that you miss the event anyway. Just relax, and make the best of whatever happens. Don’t be disappointed if the spotted mare has a solid baby or the filly you want is a colt. Enjoy this new step in life for you and your horses.

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