3 Things Every Person Thinks Their First Time Foaling
From the Horse Midwife
No matter how experienced you might or might not be at foaling, all of us were new to it at some point. For people breeding their own mares this feeling of being new and everything being unknown might be quite easy to recall. For those who have worked on studs having multiple foals in a night the memory may be buried a bit deeper. But no matter which end of the spectrum you are I know many of you, myself included, have wondered some if not all of these things their first time foaling.
1. You want me to put my hand where!?
Foaling is a messy job. No doubt about it. I expected that it would be, so when I was preparing for my first time foaling a mare I made sure I had some lovely ‘plastic pants’ (waterproof leggings) and a top I didn’t mind getting dirty. I was all ready to go. Waiting for babies. Waiting for water to break.
And there it was! I rushed over, all excited and turned to the Stud Manager asking ‘what next’. She smiled and told me to check the presentation. I looked back at her confused. Check the what?
She explained to me that we had to check the foal to make sure it was in the right position to come out. Checking the presentation was important at the beginning of the foaling because it allows us to identify problems early on and call a vet when we need to.
I nodded. That made sense. So how did we check this ‘presentation’?
I’m from a farm, and I don’t mind most stuff, but I remember being quite mortified as the Stud Manager rolled up her sleeve and put her arm inside the mare.
“It’s all there,” she told me. “Do you want to have a feel?” The look on my face must have been priceless. Did I want to have a feel? No, not really, but if I was going to give this whole foaling thing a crack then I really didn’t have a choice.
So, of course, I took my turn at ‘having a feel’ to see what was going on as she explained to me what I was feeling.
Since then I’ve literally felt the presentation of HUNDREDS of foals, I don’t even think about it anymore. But I can still vividly recall my initial surprise at being told du I had to stick my arm up her back end. I don’t know which one of us was more uncomfortable!
2. That’s never going to fit out of there!
You could be forgiven for looking at the vulva of your average mare and wondering how on earth a foal is going to fit out of that tiny little opening. It’s a pretty small opening and let’s face it – even as a newborn, foals can be pretty large.
But try not to fret too much. Remember that nature has all of this sorted out, and has been doing it for millions of years.
In the hour/s before foaling the vulva and all the muscles around the back end of the mare will start to relax. This is normally a really good sign that things are progressing. The relaxation of the vulva is one of the last signs of foaling you will see before your baby is delivered.
It is really important that the mare is allowed to deliver her foal in her own time so that the vulva has time to stretch naturally (unless you’re dealing with a foaling emergency).
Despite best intentions sometimes mares do rip when they’re foaling. This can happen in any mare, but is particularly common in maiden mares who haven’t been stretched before and mares who are delivering bigger-than-normal foals.
When tearing happens it is important to get your mare seen to by a vet as soon as practically possible.
In most cases the tears will be very minor if at all so don’t fret too much. Mares are tougher than we give them credit for – I definitely remember being very impressed with what she was capable of pushing out!
3. Is it dead?
This may sound silly. But I’m the first person to put my hand up and say that I thought my first time foaling a mare that the foal was a stillborn. In the beginning things seemed normal. A couple of feet, facing down, a nose positioned perfectly on top of the legs. Great. Sorted. The mare was pushing and making progress. Excellent – what was the big worry about this whole foaling thing anyway?
The mare continued pushing until the foal’s head was out. It must be time for it to start breathing now right? Still pushing – out to the top of the shoulders. Now I’m getting nervous. Why isn’t it breathing? The panic started to set in. No moving. No breathing. Oh lord. My first time foaling by myself and it was a stillborn! How was this happening? A pit of fear started to well in my stomach as I rushed in to pull the foal out and get it breathing.
All of a sudden he comes shooting out past the chest and – lo and behold – he starts thrashing and breathing. Such a relief! I cleared his nasal passage – just like I’d been shown – and a huge sense of relief washed over me.
I didn’t realise at the time but it turns out that it’s the pressure that goes onto the foal’s chest and ribcage as it passes through the birth canal that stimulates the breathing and it’s at this point that the foal starts to get oxygen through the air, rather than through the umbilical cord. Who knew? Certainly not me. I do wish I had known this earlier – it would have saved a few panicked moments at foaling time, that’s for sure!
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post – leave a comment below and let me know – what was it that surprised you your first time foaling? Can you relate to the ones mentioned in the post, or was it something else that caught you off guard?
Until then, happy foaling all!
P.S. If you haven’t already – download our FREE Foaling Roadmap