How to Care for a Pregnant Mare

Caring for a pregnant mare can be hard only if you make it hard. Making the process easy will be helpful to you, the mare and the growing foal.


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    Make sure that you have a large paddock for the mare to graze and exercise, in the coming months before birth. This bigger paddock will be the mare's home for the first 8 and a half months. This paddock should have 24/7 access to water, shelter and adequate fencing.
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    Realize that the coming months are important for the growth of the foal. If the mare has inadequate feed, nutrients and water, the foal may be aborted due to dehydration or any other natural cause. Conversely, a fat mare is more likely to produce a foal with angular leg deformities and she will be much more prone to difficulty foaling. Light regular exercise is good for a pregnant mare!
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    Look into the correct vaccination schedule for pregnant mares. The mare needs pneumabort at 5, 7 and 9 months to prevent abortion from rhino. Rhino is brought in by new horse's, lives in the ground and can be In the water. One month prior to foaling she should be wormed and have a five way spring vaccines, rabies and West Nile. She should also have Potomac fever and botulism, depending on where you live. This will ensure she passes on the right immune cells to the foal.
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    Pay attention to safety and nutrition. The mare needs not be watched 24 hours a day. But she should be checked daily to make sure everything is running smoothly. Her feeding program should consist of forage or bulk and foods rich in protein, energy, minerals and vitamins. For a mare of 15 hands a diet would consist of approximately: 7kg per day of high quality roughage (GOOD quality hay). If she is grazing plentiful high quality pasture this can be reduced. A balanced concentrate mash containing chaff, a good quality mineral supplement and a high energy/protein feed. Many feed suppliers offer a balanced 'mare mix' that only needs to be mixed with chaff. Follow the directions with feeding rates - some feeds are more concentrated than others, so just 'giving her a bucketful' is not the right approach. Her needs will change as the pregnancy progresses, follow the advice on the product packaging.
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    When the mare eats, only feed enough so that she'll eat it then walk away. Have adequate roughage (hay or pasture) so the mare can eat as she pleases - horses are 'trickle feeders', and should have access to roughage AT ALL TIMES. Avoid feeding your mare in the morning and evening and her having nothing in between - if she does not have access to pasture, feed hay in a small-weave hay net to extend the feeding time as much as possible. This applies to all horses, particularly in stables, and reduces the incidence of gut ulcers and colic.
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    Exercise your mare. If she is a riding horse, you can ride her lightly up to basically when she foals, but it's totally up to you. Alternatively you can lunge her, and groom her to get the blood circulating. If the mare is used to affection and attention, she will be less likely to be aggressive or nasty when the foal is born. Handling her teats and underneath her belly is a very good idea - mares unaccustomed to this kind of contact may kick at the foal when it tries to nurse!
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    When the mare is about a month to foaling, move her to a smaller yard where she can run around, but that is more sheltered and is fenced in to protect from wild dogs etc. At this time, increase her feed slightly, but do not add anything new, as this may upset her system and cause colic, etc.
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    Recognize the signs of late-stage pregnancy.
    • About 2 weeks before foaling, you will see her pregnant belly move from a hanging position to a position that fills out her flank area.
    • When she has about 1 week to go, you will notice her udder increasing, some mares you won't depending on how many foals they have had.
    • About 4 days before, the foal would have moved back into the position to be born.
    • About 24 to 48 hours before birthing, the mare's teats will become waxy. This precedes the first milk, or 'colostrum' which contains the immune cells vital to your foals health. Foals are not born with immune cells present in the blood - they receive them from the mare's colostrum. If you follow the correct vaccination routine for the mare in the months leading up to the birth, she will pass on all the immunity your foal needs. As the mare gets closer, the 'caps' might fall off and milk may trickle out - you may see it as a gummy coating on her legs. If your mare runs a great deal of milk before she foals, she may pass all of her colostrum and deprive the foal of it's essential immunity. This leaves the foal weak and highly susceptible to infection. Your vet can easily check your foals immunity levels with a blood test at 24 hours of age. If you suspect that your mare has passed all her colostrum before foaling, ask your vet for a serum glutaraldehyde test (IgG test), it is cheap and easy to do, and can make a great deal of difference to the early health of your foal.
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    You will probably miss the birth of the foal as they usually foal in the early hours of the morning between 12 and 5. But if you're lucky enough to see it, keep in the background as you may cause her to stop pushing and alter the natural process. Do not startle her with camera flashes or a crowd of people watching. She will become restless as she is preparing to foal and may pace the fence, paw at the ground and roll repeatedly. Eventually she will lie down and begin pushing in earnest. The first thing visible should be some of the bluish white membrane, then the front hooves of the foal with its nose resting on top. From this point it should take a maximum of around 20 minutes for the delivery to take place. Any longer than this, or anything other than front feet and nose presented, and you should call your vet. If the membrane is bright red the mare is having a 'red bag' delivery, meaning the placenta has separated from the uterus early. This means the foal is no longer receiving oxygen from the mare through the placenta, and can be severely compromised. (see Neonatal Maladjustment Syndrome or 'dummy foal') It is important that the foal is delivered as quickly as possible in this case. Call the vet.
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    If you find that the mare has foaled, ensure that the placental membrane is entire - spread the membrane out on the ground, there should be one large tear where the foal emerged. Any pieces missing my be retained inside the mare causing severe infection and blood poisoning. Your mare will display colic symptoms and a rapid rise in temperature in the next few days if this is the case. The membrane should be a healthy pink colour, a green or yellow cast can indicate placentitis, and brown muck means that the foal has passed some meconium during the birthing process, usually a sign of a protracted or difficult labour. If the membranes are turned inside out a red bag delivery is very likely. Sometimes it can take a while for the mare to pass the membrane - never pull the membrane from the mare as this can tear it or cause her to hemorrhage. If it is dragging on the ground or tangling her legs it can be tied up into a ball with twine.
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    Ensure the foal is alive and walking. Your foal should begin trying to stand quite soon after foaling, and should be nursing within two hours at the most. Check its reactions and look around the paddock for sticky black manure (called Meconium), which is the first manure the foal passes just after birth. This can be difficult to pass, particularly for colts as their pelvis is narrower. If the foal displays signs of a retained meconium (repeated straining, flagging or agitated switching of the tail) administer an enema or call your vet to do so.
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    Make sure the foal drinks and urinates. If it doesn't, watch for the next 24 hours and if nothing happens, call a vet to look at the foal.
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    At first you may want to keep the foal and mare in a small yard, but after about 3 days, move the foal to a bigger paddock and let the foal exercise.
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    Leg deformities are common in young foals and some are much helped by extending the confinement time. If your foal has lax tendons ('down on its bumpers' - the foal will walk on its heels or even pasterns or fetlocks, and the hooves will tip upward with toes off the ground) box or yard rest is advisable to stop it running about and damaging its legs. This condition will resolve itself as the foal strengthens. Contracted tendons, where the foal is 'knuckled over' and walks on its toes, may require splinting to reduce the risk of pulling tendons and ligaments from their attachments.


  • Make sure you have feed and water available at all times, the mare will drink after birth and a dehydrated mare may lose her milk.
  • Don't be alarmed if the mare's appetite drops off a little, she has a belly full of foal so there isn't much room for food. However any sudden changes to her behavior, or her going off her feed entirely, is a cause for concern and increased observation.
  • You can clean up the mare and remove any blood so that flies are not attracted.
  • Foals can become seriously ill within a much shorter timeframe than adult horses. Observation is the key to catching issues before they become problems. If you have any doubts or questions, seek advice.
  • A foaling alarm is good so you can watch the foaling if the mare is prone to having problems, or its the mares first foal.
  • Try to find someone who is experienced with foaling mares with whom you can spend some time to learn the details that are missed in books and information pages. Volunteering a few weekends at a stud farm is an excellent way to learn, and it's absolutely worth the effort of cleaning some stables for the return of first-hand experience and observation.


  • Give the mare and foal lots of attention but be willing to accept they may not want people around them all the time.
  • Put a halter on the foal and handle them a lot during the first couple of months, so they will get used to humans and contact. Teach your foal to pick up its feet and be groomed and hosed.
  • Resist the temptation to 'baby' your foal. Treat it like a small horse - bad behavior like nipping, mouthing or barging that is tolerated in a 'cute foal' will become dangerous as the horse grows up. These behaviors are the early establishment of herd instinct and pecking order, and if your foal learns that it can crowd or bite you, it will see you as less dominant than itself and you will have trouble later on.
  • Some mares can become overprotective or 'foal proud' and aggressive toward people or other horses. Lots of handling and affection before she foals will show her that you aren't a threat, and her subsequent enjoyment of your company will be passed on - foals learn by example!
  • If the mare is a first time foaler, put within sight of another mare who is relaxed and settled. Even next door will allow the mare to have company without being crowded. It is better not to put her in with another horse as this may make her anxious (mares will naturally leave the herd to foal alone) and occasionally some mares try to 'steal' other mares' foals. Even another horse approaching out of curiosity can make the mare stand up earlier than she otherwise would, breaking the umbilical cord early and depriving the foal of the cord blood it should receive.
  • Make sure the pasture grazing is suitable. In some parts of the Midwest, some farms have fescue in their pastures. This is NOT good for pregnant mares for the last 3 months of their pregnancy, it causes the sack to become so tough, that the foal is unable to get out, and will die if no one is there to help. Know what kind of grass you have. In Missouri people put their mares in a dry lot with plenty of good hay.
  • Make sure you have the details of your vet handy in the weeks up to foaling. This should be a horse vet experienced with foal work, NOT the small animal vet who sees your dog or cat.
  • Make sure that the mare is moved away from any stallions or geldings when ready to foal.

Things You'll Need

  • Contact numbers of vets.
  • Torch
  • Notepad - write down the times of each stage as it happens (mare lies down, first presentation of foal, delivery of foal, foal stands, foal nurses, passes meconium etc) this is invaluable for the vet if the foal needs any treatment. Also if you intend to re-breed the mare, having her history available makes it easier to tell if anything is out of the ordinary in future foalings.

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Categories: Horse Breeding