Caring for Pregnant Mares

Caring for Pregnant Mares

Written by Sr. Apprentice Nieve for her Journeyman Project


This book has been created for the purpose of people in the Craft who breed mares. Thank you to everyone who assisted me (me meaning Nieve), including my mentor Master Damista, Journeywoman Xinea, and various other Herders who put up with my snappiness while working on it. To summarize briefly, this book covers pregnant mares, from how to tell your mare's in heat, to caring for your newborn foal. It covers risks involved, feeding, exercise, how to tell of impending birth, et cetera.

OOC: All information in the book is from my own mind, and the following websites:

How to Tell Your Mare's In Heat

Many people are unsure of how to tell their mare's in heat, so here are the most common signs: Aggressive behavior towards humans and other runners.
Urinating frequently.
When a mare is in strong heat, the fluid discharged is more of a white, creamy texture, rather than yellow as is urine. You will often find this excretion covering the backs of their hind legs, under their tails and below. Raising their tail frequently.
Opening and closing of the vulva. ('Winking'.)
Her vulva will become elongated and soft.
She may stand with her legs spread and tail raised, suggesting her readiness to the stallion or teaser.

Remember, the signs aren't always so obvious, and an examination of the reproductive track by a beasthealer may be necessary in order to determine when she's in heat.

Necessities for Successful Breeding

The mare's body condition also affects her ability to become pregnant. Mares which are too thin or too fat have a lower chance, especially thin mares. Most breeders and beasthealers use a body condition score of 1 to 10 to rate the mare before breeding, a 5 to 6.5 score being ideal for breeding. You can score your own mare by feeling the flesh around her ribs, withers, neck, shoulders, and tail head. Rate your mare from 4 - 6 using the following chart: 4 - the mare's vertebrae can be felt in the crease of her back.
5 - The mare has a smooth, straight back
6 - The mare has a crease down her back where water might form a pool after a bath 4 - Her ribs can be seens slightly at a distance and can be felt as well
- Her ribs cannot be seen but can be felt
6 - Her ribs are covered in spongy fat
4 - She has some fat on her tail head
5 - She has some spongy fat on her tail head
6 - She has spongy fat all around her tail head
4 - Her withers do not look thin
5 - Her withers are rounded
6 - Her withers have fat pockets beginning along the sides of them
4 - Her neck does not look thin
5 - Her neck blends well into her body
6 - Her neck has the beginnings of fat pockets on the side
4 - Her shoulders do not look thin
5 - Her shoulders blend smoothly into the rest of her body
6 - Her shoulders have the beginnings of fat pockets behind them

With an average rating of 4 - In short, she looks to be in moderate, athletic shape, quite like an average performance runner would look. Before breeding, she should gain enough weight to cover her backbone and tail head. With an average rating of 5 - Basically, this mare's bones do not show through her skin, and she does not have fat deposits in pockets in any of the above listed areas. She is at optimum weight for breeding. With an average rating of 6 - She looks plump and well fed, quite like the average halter runner should look. She is at her optimum weight for breeding. It is much more important for the thin mare to gain weight because it can cause her estrus cycle to change, therefore confusing mare owners and breeders as to the best breeding time. Runners with a score lower than 4 should have their diet and exercise programs changed to meet a score of 5 or higher before breeding. Of course, every mare carries her fat deposits and weight distribution differently. However, too thin mares may not become pregnant and will not have the proper nutrition to give to her foal.


Mares that are heavy with foal need smaller, more frequent meals than runners that are not. This is due to the fact that they have less room in their abdomens for feed. The way we feed our runners today is not a natural way for runners to eat. Giving them one or two meals each day that can be consumed in an hour or so is not natural. A runner is designed to eat a generally poor quality, high fiber diet which takes them many hours to consume. They eat for long periods throughout the day, taking breaks to rest, drink, roll, and socialize. A diet of free choice, quality grass hay (fiber, protein, & phosphorus), supplemented with small amounts of alfalfa hay (calcium), and grain products. A 900 lb runner should receive grain products according to this formula: (900 lb x 0.005 = 4.5 lb of grain per day). An overweight runner should receive less. It is better for runners, and especially pregnant mares to receive free choice, good quality grass hay or pasture with rather than concentrated feed once or twice a day. Add a leaf of alfalfa. Hay and grain should always be fed by weight, not by volume. Weigh your leaves of hay to see exactly what your runner is getting.


All runners need access to clean, fresh water at all times. The only time a runner should not be allowed to drink freely is if it is overheated due to exercise or some other circumstance. The average runner drinks about 10 -15 gallons of water a day. Ponies will drink less, hot weather and feed affect the amount of water needed also. Algae, dead bugs, dirt, and feed in the water can all affect the quality and palatability. Dirty water can lead to colic and other problems. Scrub buckets and troughs as necessary, and be sure to rinse completely. Also, there is evidence that animal droppings in the water can lead to serious disease, so it's a good idea to clean your water buckets and troughs regularly with soapy bleach water and rinse thoroughly.


A healthy mare in early pregnancy can follow her routine exercise and competition schedule. Mares may compete and even jump fences up to 6-8 months into their pregnancy as long as there are no sudden changes in their level of competition. It is usually recommended that you gradually decrease your mare's hard work at around 7-9 months of pregnancy, depending on her physical condition and disposition. The most important thing to remember is that your mare's routine should not be changed drastically just because she is pregnant. For example, an idle or light-working broodmare should not be suddenly submitted to strenuous training/exercise, or vice-versa, just as any other runner. Whether in a light, moderate or hard work schedule, all pregnant mares should be allowed plenty of turnout for voluntary exercise, preferably in pasture, throughout pregnancy.


1. Maintain mare on an adequate and balanced feed ration - feeding a ration, which meets the requirements of the pregnancy, will help your mare to produce a strong healthy foal with good bone. 2. Attend your mare's feet on a regular basis - as a rule, sound, free moving mares make better mothers, thereby rearing healthy well adjusted foals. 3. Ensure that you have the correct covering date for the mare so you can calculate her due date. Mares tend to have the same gestation length year on year so information on her history is helpful 4. Routine health care - pregnant mares can be wintered out as long as they have adequate shelter and a dry place to rest. Rug only with a good quality turnout rug, that fits your mare properly - ill-fitting rugs pose a hazard. 5. Get to know your mare - her habits, likes and dislikes - monitor and address any changes in her attitude - it may be an indication that something is amiss. Avoid any unnecessary stress. A healthy, relaxed confident mare is a better foaling proposition. 6. Try to keep an area of fresh unspoiled grazing for turning out your mare and newborn foal - it is not safe to turn a your newborn foal out in a poached paddock with other animals until the foal is at least 3 days old - even a small garden area will suffice and provide a safer area for mare and foal to graze and exercise for the first few days.

What To Do/Not To Do During Pregnancy

DON'T transport your mare unless necessary.
DON'T keep her stall-bound.
DON'T overfeed her just because she's pregnant.
DON'T restrict her access from fresh water.
DO use caution when exposing her to other runners.
DO provide nutritious forage, but DON'T overfeed.
DO carefully evaluate the mare before deciding whether to breed on foal heat. Consult a beasthealer for that. DO follow her normal routine exercise. Schedule and allow her plenty of turnout. DO feed her a balanced diet.
DO give her plenty of access to fresh, clean water.
DO continue with her routine teeth and hoof care.


If you intend foaling your mare at home be prepared to invest time monitoring her night and day as she approaches her time. It may be necessary to enlist the help of others to take turns watching and waiting. Do not leave a mare close to foaling unattended. It is essential that she is checked at least every 2 hours. Checking a mare close to foaling last thing at night - regardless of whatever devices you may attached to her - and expecting everything to be okay courts disaster. Monitor your pregnant mare on a twice daily basis, noting the development of her udder, most especially the appearance of a wax like substance on her teats, the change in her body shape, (the mare appears to be rounding down rather then out), how the foal is carried and the softening of her pelvic muscles (her hind quarters will soften and the muscles will relax). You may also notice a lengthening of her vulva. There is only a 5% chance that your mare will experience problems foaling, but if it's your mare, this statistic ceases to have any relevance. The life of your mare and and/or foal might depend on your knowledge of foaling. When a difficult birth takes place, you only have a narrow time frame in which to work to save one or both. Understanding the normal birthing process, recognizing problems in time, and knowing what to do, and what not to do could make all the difference. Have a suitable stall to foal the mare - adequate size, light, access to hot water. Before introducing the mare to the stall in which you intend to foal her in, strip it of all bedding, wash it out thoroughly to remove all surface dirt and then disinfect using an approved disinfectant. Have a basic foaling kit. It is better to have your foaling kit organized and ready.

Foaling Kit

A foaling kit should include the following:
1.Tail bandage (any type of light weight kind.)
2. Enema - give all foals a warmed enema shortly after birth, which will help the foal to pass the meconium. (Meconium is the dark green matter that accumulates in the fetal intestina, and is discharged at or near the time of birth.) Foals that are slow to pass meconium can become distressed and fail to nurse. 3. Hot solution with which to treat the foals navel. Be careful when applying so as not to scald the foal. 4. Long gloves, so you're as clean as possible while handling the foal and mother. 5. String to tie up afterbirth. Carefully and quietly tie up the mare's afterbirth to prevent her from walking on it. An afterbirth trailing behind a mare is unhygienic and can act as a source of infection. The mare may stand on it, causing a break or tear. 6. Two clean buckets, cotton wool, and towel.
7. Something to write on and with which to keep notes on relevant times (time sweating starts, time water breaks, time mare foals) - having this information may assist at a later stage. 8. Something blunt to cut with in case of a Red Bag Presentation (premature separation of the placenta, where the placenta is delivered before the foal) The mare begins to push, and the attendant will see a red bag at the lips of the vulva; this is the placenta. If this happens there is no time to call your vet. Using the blunt cutting device, while you avoid cutting the foal, cut open the placenta and help the mare deliver the foal as quickly as possible. Immediate action is needed because the foal receives its oxygen through the placenta until he is on the ground breathing, when the placenta is separated from the mare's uterus. The foal is receiving no oxygen, and can die. 9. A black bag in which to put the afterbirth. Once the mare has passed her afterbirth it is very advisable to check it or ask a beasthealer to do it so to ensure that it is intact, and that the mare has not retained a piece. Retention or partial retention of the afterbirth will cause complications. The placenta should be a good healthy color (rich red), with an even texture and not smelly. Learning to 'read' afterbirths can prove invaluable in assessing and predicting the health of your mare and foal. Remember the afterbirth mirrors the mare's uterus - the afterbirth is where your foal has been for the past 11 months. The placenta has acted as a filter: filtering food and oxygen through to the fetus. If the afterbirth is dirty you will need to monitor your foal very carefully.. A mare should pass her afterbirth within 2 hours of foaling and will need to be attended by a beasthealer if she retains it for 6 hours or more. 10. A bottle. Foals are born with out a glucose storage, and if they fail to stand and nurse within 2 hours their attempts may become more clumsy and weak. Being able to milk into the bottle and supplement the foal may go a long way to helping keep your newborn on the right track.

Signs of Impending Birth

Filling of the udder (two to four weeks pre-foaling)
Distension of the teats (four to six days pre-foaling)
Waxing of the teats (one to four days pre-foaling)
Obvious dripping of milk
More subtle signs include the following:
Softening and flattening of the muscles in the croup
Relaxation of the vulva
Visible changes in the position of the foal

Normal Delivery for Mare

Stage 1: Any or a combination of any of the following: restlessness, patchy sweating, (especially a cold clammy sweat behind the elbows) walking around with a raised tail, frequent urination, usually in small amounts (not to be confused with breaking waters), grunting, pawing (making a bed). This stage lasts usually 15 - 90 minutes Stage 2: Begins with the rupture of the placental membranes (breaking water). The mare may get up and down a few times. Foal's forefeet emerge, soles down, one just a few inches behind the other with the head nestled between the knees. Mare may get up and down again, usually 'righting' the foals position. The entire head will clear, followed by the elbows, withers and middle emerging. The hindquarters are expelled and finally the hind feet. The foal is fully delivered. This stage is rapid, with normal delivery completed 15 - 45 minutes after waters breaking. Stage 3: Mare will soon get to her feet and tend her foal by nuzzling and licking it; she may experience continued uterine contractions and show signs of discomfort such as lying down and or rolling. This should stop within 2 hours.

Normal Delivery for Foal

Stage1: The mare / foal hormonal changes signals readiness, and the foal rotates from a position of lying on its back with his forelegs and head tucked towards his tail to a position where his head and forelegs are extended, one foreleg stretched out further than the other toward the mare's birth canal, with the head nestled on his knees. Stage 2: Entering birth canal - still in white amniotic sac and receiving oxygen through the placenta. Elbows and shoulders negotiating the mare's pelvis, mare's contractions will clear the foal's lungs of fluid. Amniotic sac is broken during birthing process, foal's head and neck emerge and foal begins to breath on his own. Stage 3: Umbilical cord breaks, gains sternal position - will stand within one hour and nurse mare within 2 hours.

Post-Foaling Care

Allow the mare and foal time to bond - allow the mare time to relax with her foal. Always show the mare respect by approaching her first in the stable, as if asking permission to handle the foal. Never position yourself between her and her foal. Mares that have trust in people with and around their foals are easier to manage. If frightened or worried, mares can be come "foal proud" and difficult to work with. Maiden mares may be a little excitable when they first foal, and they usually take a little while to settle. It may be necessary to hold them while the foal first nurses. It is better to be kind and patient with them. 'Show' them that all is well and encouraging them to be good with the foal. Offer your freshly foaled mare warm water to drink.
Provide a warm soft bran mash only after (1) she has passed the afterbirth and (2) the foal has nursed. If possible and without causing to much disturbance, remove any soiled bedding and ensure there is adequate bedding to prevent the foal from injuring himself while attempting to stand. It is usually advisable to leave some damp bedding on the ground covered by clean bedding. If it is necessary to introduce more straw, shake it up before putting it in the stall. Monitor and ensure your mare is going to the bathroom fine after foaling. Some mares may be a little sore and may become somewhat constipated. Some mares get a little excited when first turned out with their foal. Excessive exercise can cause injury to foal. Confine the mare to a small area. Monitor your foal and be sure that he is coping. It may be advisable to turn the mare and foal out for an hour in the morning and again for an hour in the afternoon, bringing them in so as the foal can rest. Do not turn out a newborn foal with other mares and/or foals for at least three days.

Caring for Your Newborn Foal

A healthy foal will stand with one hour of birth and nurse within two.
A healthy foal will nurse its dam an average of 7 times in an hour.
Have a beasthealer do a routine newborn foal exam on your foal.
Handling your young foal will get him accustomed to being handled, and teaching him to lead from an early stage will make him easier to manage. Avoid restraining your foal by the ear (it may be necessary on occasion but should never become a routine method of restraint). Avoid pulling your foals tail up and over its back as the tail can break. It is preferable to pull the tail down and around and this should not injure your foal. Put your right arm around the foal's chest and hold the skin over the withers, pulling tighter when you might need to and relaxing if and as the foal settles. Never lift a foal underneath its rib cage. A healthy foal will gain up to around 4.5 pounds per day for the first 30 days. If a foal fails to gain weight or condition it is an indication that something is wrong and the situation should be investigated.

Problems During Birth

Mare pushes for 45 minutes and no feet appear - Summon a beasthealer immediately! The foal may be in the wrong position and needs help before his oxygen supply is endangered Foal's feet are upside down - The foal may be simply upside down. Getting the mare to her feet may turn him around. He also may be backwards, or breech. Time is critical here. Summon a beasthealer! Some suggest walking your mare until she arrives to prevent the delivery from progressing, but you cannot stop labor once it hits the third stage!. Mare stops labor completely and returns to normal - Have a beasthealer examine her…she may have a thickened placenta, which did not rip to allow fluids to escape. She also may have shut down because she felt threatened. Mare's water broke, but after 20 minutes, nothing has happened - The hormone that stimulates hard labor may not have been released because the foal isn't moving. Tug on the foal's leg if you can see it…this will cause him to counter-tug, and stimulate contractions. If he doesn't tug back, summon a beasthealer immediately! Mare has pushed the foal's shoulders out, but can't remove his hips - Get a beasthealer! The mare and foal's pelvises have become locked! Mare stands quickly after birth, breaking the umbilical cord, and blood gushes everywhere - Is the blood coming from the cord, or from the foal's navel? If it's coming from the foal, pinch stump to temporarily stop the loss of blood, tie cotton string around it, making sure to allow it to bleed first to prevent infection. Mare stays down, and placenta begins to come out - Break the cord about 2 inches from the foal's abdomen and tie the stump off with cotton string to prevent infection in his bloodstream.

Problems After Birth

Foal is 6 hours old and still hasn't nursed - Make sure he can find the nipple and that the mare is haltered so you can hold her while he drinks. If he still doesn't drink, call a beasthealer! He may have no suckle reflex, an illness, or brain malfunction. Mare won't let the foal come near her or seems afraid or aggressive - There is too much activity going on! Rub the foal's smell (amniotic fluid) on the mare's nostrils, and leave the two to bond. If she is in danger of harming the foal, halter and restrain her, and summon a beasthealer. Foal is weak, barks like a seal, wanders aimlessly, convulses, or walks as though he were drunk…(also noticable in older foals) - Get a beasthealer! If these symptoms last an hour after birth, the foal may have brain damage, resulting from stress, trauma, or illness. Foal has frequent, watery bowel movements - Foal could be in danger. A virus may be the culprit. Get a beasthealer! The whites of your foal's eyes are yellow - Get a beasthealer! It could be jaundice from liver problems, a ruptured bladder, or a problem with his mare's milk which can be fatal! Foals legs look deformed…fetlocks touching the ground, crooked joints, standing on his tippy-toes, or knock-kneed or bow-legged - Most foals are born with weak tendons and ligaments that will develop with exercise. If, however, the foal's legs don't straighten out after the pair are turned out the next day, summon a beasthealer! If any of his joints are puffy, it could be an infection that causes permanent damage or death. Foal's navel looks enlarged or drips urine, his testicles seem huge, or a filly looks like she has testicles - Get a beasthealer! It could be an infection or a hernia. Foal is a solid-white, blue-eyed offspring of a frame overo or other parents - Lethal White Syndrome. Foals appear healthy at birth, but either have fatal intestinal blockages or abnormalities that will cause death within three days. Get a beasthealer to evaluate him, and then put him down to prevent further suffering.


Abortion is the premature delivery of the foal. Such a miscarriage is rare in runners, and even more rare in ponies. There can be a number of causes for it, including trauma from an injury, a foal not growing properly, infections, twins, and colic. The signs are just as if the mare is giving birth, but usually without milk being present in the udder. It's very traumatic for both mare and owner, and if the runner shows signs of early labor, a beasthealer should be called at once. It's unlikely the foal will survive if it's more than 4 sevendays early, and even if it survives, it may have health problems and won't be able to do much. Be very kind to the mare after such a delivery, and do everything you can to minimize the emotional distress she will probably suffer. Make sure when she's outside you have her where she can't see other mares and foals, as this will definitely upset her further.

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