How to Care for Newborn Horses

Your mare gave birth to a newborn foal - congratulations! Now comes the challenge to care for it, which is not an easy task nor something to be taken lightly! Yet putting in the time and effort to ensure that your foal grows, matures and acclimates to its handlers and environment properly is more than worth the time spent with your new one.


  1. 1
    Be prepared. Read this article and ask your vet any questions you have about foaling out your mare. Gather the things you'll need and have them ready. Keep an eye on your mare for a better chance of being there when she foals.
  2. 2
    Learn the maximum "healthy" timeline for the foal (if the foal takes much longer than this; contact your vet):
    • Foal should stand within first hour.
    • Foal should start nursing within two hours.
    • Foal should pass the meconium (first feces) within three hours.[1]
  3. 3
    Clean out the foal's nostrils with a soft, clean towel. This is always the first thing to do with a newborn foal.
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    Wait for the umbilical cord to break, then soak the umbilicus (navel) in a weak solution of Betadine for a minute or two. You can do this using a clean film canister or small, paper cup. This should be done as soon as possible to help prevent bacteria from entering the foal's abdomen.
    • Do not cut the umbilical cord. It should break by itself soon after birth, or with the mare's help. If it doesn't fall off within 10 minutes, call your vet for further instructions.
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    Start handling the foal. Begin by rubbing it all over and carefully using a finger to desensitize each 'opening' (ears, mouth, nostrils, rectum, etc.). This is the beginning of the foal trusting and bonding with you, which will help in the long run.
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    Let the foal nurse as soon as it can stand. The most important aspect concerning a newborn foal is to be sure that it begins nursing soon after it is up and walking.
    • The foal should be standing within one hour, and nursing within two. If it isn't, consult your vet.[2]

    • The first of the mare's milk contains colostrum, which is rich in the antibodies that the foal needs to develop a strong immune system against common diseases, as long as the mare had been current on her vaccines prior to foaling.
    • The drinking of the colostrum must be done within the first 24 hours of life, as that is the only time period in which the foal's stomach will be able to absorb and process the antibodies. Without colostrum, the foal will be extremely susceptible to many conditions, especially upper respiratory viruses (Flu, Rhino, etc.).
    • Most foals have little problem with figuring out how to nurse, as long as the mare is tolerant of this new creature! If there is any question as to whether or not the foal is nursing correctly, give your vet a call.
    • If the foal is low, or has had no colostrum, it is imperative that she/he receive an IV transfusion of antibody-rich plasma, to obtain these much-needed antibodies. Once the vet has determined that the antibodies are present, you know that the foal will have a relatively disease-free start in life.
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    Arrange for your foal to be examined by a vet. Your new foal should be seen within one to two days of foaling, and the dam examined at that time too. Your vet will be able to determine if the foal has the proper antibodies with a simple blood test, which can normally be done on-site.
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    Find a good place for the newborn horse and dam to shelter. Open pasture with shelter is the ideal situation. This gives the foal room to run and move, which is essential for early muscle and body development.
    • The pasture should be well fenced (non-climb fencing is recommended) to prevent the foal (and/or dam) from escaping or getting caught up in the fence, which can cause serious injuries.
    • This also gives the foal the chance to start browsing grass, etc., which will further help in developing their digestive system as it gets closer to weaning time (normally at 5-6 months).
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    Plan for vaccinations. If the mare is current with her vaccines, there is no need to vaccinate the foal until 3-4 months of age. The most common foal vaccines are 4-Way (Eastern/Western Encephalitis, Tetanus and Flu), and depending on the foal's environment, Rhino, West Nile and Strangles vaccines can be given at this time as well. It is extremely important that the vaccines are repeated (booster shots) 3-4 weeks following the initial vaccines.
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    Deworm your foal. As far as deworming your foal, it's normally best to start at 3-4 weeks of age, depending on environmental conditions (clean stalls, pastures, proper husbandry). Your vet can also perform a fecal analysis on your foal to see what type and how many, if any, internal parasites are present.
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    Keep interacting with your foal as it grows. The more time you can spend handling your foal (getting her/him used to their feet being picked up, halter being put on and off, and generally being touched all over), the better your experience will be in the long run. Of course there are myriad books written on how to properly train foals, but that subject is for another topic.
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    Have fun with your foal. Let yourselves enjoy, trust, and get to know each other, and that will start the foundation for a long-term fulfilling relationship.


  • When a baby horse is born, the mother will clean her baby.


  • Always be careful when approaching the newborn because the dam may be protective. Even if she has been the nicest dam previously, having a foal can change things. She may be aggressive in protecting her foal; be on your guard for kicks, bites, etc.

Things You'll Need

  • Cell phone with vet's number
  • Soft, clean cloths for cleaning foal's nostrils and drying foal (if necessary)
  • Weak solution of Betadine for umbilicus (navel)

Article Info

Categories: Horse Care | Horse Health