Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.
Normal Gestation of a Mare
Spring is here and the long wait is coming to an end. Your mare's due date is approaching. Normal gestation for a mare is 335-360 days, so you have about 10 days leeway on your foaling date even if you have kept careful records noting the days she was bred. So don’t get too nervous if day 360 rolls around without a newborn foal appearing. Some mares do go 12 months without a problem. But, if you are approaching day 360, it is a good idea to have your vet check on the mare to be sure all is well.
The Mare's Last Trimester
It is the last third of your mare’s pregnancy when you begin to observe changes. During the last trimester, you should move your mare to the area where you want her to deliver. This is so she is exposed to particular bacteria and viral antigens and her body can produce the antibodies to them. She can then pass them onto her foal during birth. Also, she will be comfortable in her new surroundings before the due date.
In the late stages of pregnancy, you will notice the mare’s belly has enlarged and she will be less active than normal. In the last two to three weeks, the abdomen muscles become more relaxed and the foal will “drop.” This is usually more obvious in older broodmares.
In another week’s time, the muscles on either side of the tail head become very soft, somewhat like Jell-O. In the last two-week period, the mare’s udder will begin to enlarge until during the last week the teats fill out. When you can see a clear secretion, you are approaching the last week or days of pregnancy. By the last two days, the secretion becomes thick and cloudy, sometimes leaving a milky droplet on the end of her teats. This is what is called “waxing.”
Do not be alarmed if in those last days your mare experiences edema along the center of her underbelly—called ventral edema. Turning her out in a larger area to move around more a few hours a day or hand walking her will help with this. It has nothing to do with her milk as some old wives tales indicate.
Four Stages of the Foal's Birth
Birth of the foal happens in four stages.
In phase one, the mare will be restless and even seem to have mild colic. She will lay down, get up, nibble hay, swish her tail, and repeat. This indicates the last couple of hours before foaling.
In the second phase, her water will break. The mare is usually standing up when this happens. The front feet of the foal will appear in this phase, which takes about fifteen minutes. If 20-30 minutes go by and the feet do not appear, call the vet because she may be having trouble. Most mares deliver easily and quickly. If you need the vet, walk your mare until she or he arrives.
In the third phase of normal birth, the mare will usually lie down and labor begins. In a normal presentation, the amnionic tissue with one foot appears (in phase two) with the sole of the foot downward, the other foot appears next, and then the nose of the foal. Anything different from that and you should call your vet.
The foal delivers quickly after that initial presentation. The mare will remain lying down for a few minutes. This gives her time to rest and the blood to flow from her to the foal before breaking the umbilical cord. The cord will break naturally when she stands up—do not cut the cord as this may cause hemorrhaging.
The passing of the afterbirth or placenta is the fourth and final stage. This can happen a few minutes to one hour after the foal is born. Again, the mare will experience contractions and behave as though she has colic. This may continue even for a few hours after the placenta is expelled. Examine the afterbirth to be sure it is intact. Any part left inside the mare can cause infection and serious consequences. If the placenta is not expelled within two hours call your vet. A retained placenta can also cause complications.
It is very tempting to jump in and “help” the foal to its feet and guide it to the teats. This is not usually necessary. Just be sure the foal is breathing, remove any membrane that may be covering its nose, then let nature do her job. Have your vet come give the foal its first check-up to be sure the heart and lungs are working normally. The mare’s milk contains important antibodies that will protect the foal from disease until its own immune system develops. The colostrum, or first milk, contain these healthy benefits only during the first 24 hours after birth so it is important that the foal nurse during that time. Some new mothers are reluctant to let their foals nurse and may have to be restrained at first. Once the foal has nurse and relieved some of the painful pressure the mare feels on her udder she is usually fine and will let her foal nurse without a problem.
Now you can call your friends to come see your beautiful new foal and get the cameras rolling. But don’t overtire the mother and baby; they need their rest.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: Do you know what "foal squeeze" is?
Answer: No, I've never heard of it. Please tell us about your experience.
Question: Can horses have more than one foal at a time?
Answer: Yes, they sometimes have twins. Your vet can check and tell if your horse is going to have twins.
© 2009 Donna Campbell Smith
Tina on January 08, 2020:
I am in the but hole of Arkansas. To no fault of my own all 3 of my mares are pregnant. Ages 16 to 24. There are no vets within an hour and a half in my area. No way to take them anywhere and no vet will come out. Please all that read, pray i have God on my side and have 3 healthy foals.
Kathleen on April 24, 2019:
Hi..i encourage all to look up "foal squeeze" and learn this technique..it works for "dummy" newborns..NO drugs needed..
chloe putt on January 15, 2019:
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on July 19, 2017:
I'd suggest you have a vet out to examine her.
johnnie fitzwater on July 16, 2017:
my horse looks like she is pregnant but I'm not positive. And she is a maiden mare.
moonlake from America on June 17, 2013:
Interesting hub. We saw a mare and her foal today. I tried to get a picture but I don't think I got a good one. Voted up.
Greg on May 26, 2012:
I have a mare 3 months to foaling she has quite a lot of central edema the vet saw her last week and she is having a corse off sulpha t paste and a weekly injection of atrenogest till foaling im a little worried still as she lost her foal before she foaled 2 weeks early any info would be great
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on January 21, 2012:
Shaunda, I couldn't venture a guess by a picture. The best thing is to have a vet check her.
ShaundaA on January 21, 2012:
Donna my mare should be 209 days pregnant now there are days when she definitely looks pregnant and others I question it when should she be showing. she is a registered thoroughbred very tall and lanky. I could send recent pix if this helps.
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on November 08, 2011:
Scudder, you really should have a vet look at her to know if she is in foal and how long before she is due. It does sound like she may be.
scudder on November 08, 2011:
I have a mare that I think is pregnant.I think I feel a colt moving around a little.she also has stuff that looks like honey from her bags .can you help and if it is a colt I feel moving how far along do they have to be before this feeling a colt can happen.ty
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on October 25, 2011:
She is probably establishing her position in the herd and wants to be "boss mare." Probably has nothing to do with if she is pregnant or not. If you suspect she is pregnant the best thing to do is have your vet check her out.
Marissa on October 24, 2011:
we just got a mare about 3 weeks ago an we just let her out with the other mares and she goes ofter them. an where she came from the stud just ran so could she be more grouchy if she is pregnet?? but we got her from an action an she still was nurseing her other baby could this be the problem why she goes after them?
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on July 03, 2011:
My recommendation is to have your vet check her out.
darlene on July 03, 2011:
hey im going crazy here i have a jenny that has made 3 udders and then thay go away and come back if this was a false pg would she keep making udder any one plz help me if you can
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on November 18, 2010:
I am glad my article was helpful, Mackenzie!
mackenzie on November 18, 2010:
That was very good info because we have a pony who was bred with and we did not know.It all at the place were kids with altism could ride, horses.Well turns out that the male horse, that she was in pasture with was not completely fixed.The other two mares she was in pasture with were bred with and are for sure pregnant and we, found out a month after we got her that she was bred with too.So,its been four months since we got her back and,she has gotten to were she is grumpy all the time and she is way fatter than she was when we got her.So, now that I have read what you wrote .I think we are going to call the vet to come and find out for sure.
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on August 24, 2010:
Gert, I am so sorry to hear this story. The only suggestion I can offer is to have a necropsy done on the foal in hopes of finding the cause. If the sac was not broken suffocation is possible. That is only a wild guess. Your vet can hopefully offer a better answer. Let us know what you find out.
Gert on August 24, 2010:
Hi. I have an Arab cross mare, she has delivered once. This foal is now a handsome two year old colt. I had her covered on the 11th September 2009 with my own Boerperd-Friesian cross stallion. She stayed in the veldt with a few other horses as most of my horses do and as always I brought her in once a month, did a check-up, groomed her thoroughly and took her back to the veldt again. Normally I bring my pregnant mares in to the stalls two weeks prior to their due date, and that is exactly what I did with her... She came on beautifully, all the right signs was there, a few days after her due date her teats began to expand, at last, and I monitored her more closely. Last night I slept at a friend's house, but early morning I went back. At 7:30 I found my mare with a bit of matted hair on her one side and somewhat tired. The foal was on the ground, still covered in it's embrionic sac, the sac was still intact. He was even still warm when I found him. The afterbirth was also intact and was lying nearby. The mare was fine, no injuries or even tight muscles or anxiety or nothing. The foal was quite big, but nothing she couldn't handle. The foal was 100% normal. Strangely, she foaled in an open part of the paddock, all my mares usually foal in the open stables where there is thick bedding, and there is also other shelter and trees in this specific paddock, but she walked around and foaled in almost the most open place where there is also usually a lot of activity during the day. Do you have a possible explanation of what could have happened? I am devestated because I had huge plans for this guy. And he really was one of the most beautiful colts I've ever seen, with a long sloping neck, long curly black mane and tail a buckskin coat, with long legs and exceptional conformation and well-formed hocks and knees. What went wrong?
isabella on August 07, 2009:
does anyone have a good site or good information on early signs of pregnancy. there is a pony and we think she may be pregnant but are not sure
Horse Care on June 14, 2009:
This page has helped me with my horse thanks for the great info.
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on April 11, 2009:
I want to hear about your mule babies - and send me pictures! hope all the mama's and babies do well.
XLdonkeys from Martin, TN on April 11, 2009:
Donna, good information! As I write we have a Clydesdale (first time Mama), and a high pedigree AQHA mare that are "overdue" with their mule colts. The QH mare is an exhibitionist and likes to have her foals in the afternoon with an audience. We shall see. It is that time of year again and we are looking forward to this year's mule foals with great anticipation! We will keep you posted.
pacwriter from North Carolina on April 04, 2009:
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on April 04, 2009:
He sure has grown a lot from that day!
Tara on April 04, 2009:
That is one cute foal, but I'm partial! :-)