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Preparing to Deliver a Foal: A Horsebreeder's Eight Emotional Stages

A lifelong horsewoman, Marcy has worked on breeding farms and has personally bred and raised generations of Arabian and Quarter Horses.

Smart Lil Poppy makes her grand entrance after a 367-day gestation period.

Smart Lil Poppy makes her grand entrance after a 367-day gestation period.

The Eight Stages of Foaling

Anyone who has had an overdue mare can easily recognize these eight stages of foaling—in themselves, that is. After nearly a year of waiting for the foal's arrival, we do get a bit impatient!

Stage One: Excitement

Ah, the joy we feel when the vet, his arm immersed in the mare's nether regions, winks at us and says, "There's a baby in there!" What excitement! In just 340 days there will be a brand new foal on the ground, its tiny hooves covered with "golden slippers," its little muzzle covered with soft whiskers, and its fuzzy little body covered with that new horse smell. We just can't wait. There's nothing quite like a new foal.

There's no doubt about it: we're excited. For eleven-some months, we nurture that mare. We try to imagine what the foal will look like; will it be a colt or a filly? What color? We work out color genetics. We draft potential names on scraps of paper. We mark the due date in our calendar. We happily tell our friends, "Oh—I can't possibly go on that day. There'll be a new foal that week!" We post pictures of our pregnant mare on Facebook. We're excited.

Zipping Cody Bertie enjoying the fringe benefits of being an expectant mama.

Zipping Cody Bertie enjoying the fringe benefits of being an expectant mama.

Stage Two: Apprehension

As the day approaches, though, we change. Just as the mare's body changes and the foal changes position, we begin to change from excitement to apprehension. We start reading the stack of books on foaling. Our heart skips a beat when we get to the part about "dystocia" or "red bag." We know that 90% of mares foal without any difficulty—and that mares have been foaling for thousands of years without us right there to help—yet we feel we should prepare for the worst, just in case. We read the scary stories and look at the frightening pictures and start to fear what—maycould go wrong.

Meanwhile, our mare is perfectly happy. She's enjoying the extra attention, the extra feed we give to make sure she's getting enough nutrition to support her and the foal. She's loving the time we spend tending to her needs, keeping the stall extra tidy, and grooming her so she'll look gorgeous in those first photos with the new kid.

Stage Three: Denial

But day 340 comes and goes. We check the mare religiously—several times a day. We squeeze a few drops of milk out, checking the consistency and color. We watch for bagging up, waxing, behavioral changes, softening of the muscles around the tail, changes in body shape. We sleep in the empty stall in the barn, surrounded by sleeping bags and cots and flashlights and thermal cups filled with coffee. We stare at ourselves in the mirror the next morning and try to wash the dark circles from beneath our eyes. We return to the barn and stare at the mare again: this can't be real. She can't be overdue.

Each time we awaken we rush to the foaling stall, looking first to see if the mare's standing, then working our ways downward. We know right away if she's foaled just by looking at her ears: once a foal has arrived, the mare's ears tilt back; her focus is entirely on that little baby. If her ears are on us as we approach, there's no baby yet. We can't believe it.

We recalculate the breeding days. Something must be wrong: she can't be overdue. The stallion owner must have made a mistake. We only arranged three days off from work to be here. This can't be happening. Why me, Lord? We can't believe that after all our planning and feeding and nurturing and arranging that our mare is not producing.

Zippin' Cody Bertie on her due date.  I'm still excited here!

Zippin' Cody Bertie on her due date. I'm still excited here!

Stage Four: Anger

We're tired, now. She should have foaled three days ago. We've spent a year preparing this mare for this event, and she still hasn't done a darned thing. We've invested in her good health, and ensured her fitness. We've pulled her shoes, wrapped her tail, and given up weeks of sleep—and this is the thanks we get? We go from our nurturing kindness to annoyance and anger. We quit calling the mare, "Sweet Mama," every time we are near her, and begin to call her, "Nasty Old Bag!"

We've been betrayed, and we're not good with it. Friends call and ask, "Is it here yet?" and we swear out loud. We tell them we're going to close the barn door on the mare and squeeze that baby right out. They laugh. We hang up.

We quit giving her daily massages and we chase her around the corral a bit, partly because we know that exercise is good for pregnant mares, and partly because it makes us feel better to see her lumber around like that.

Stage Five: Bargaining

Anger has gotten us nowhere. It's now a full week past the due date. Being tired has yielded to full-body zombie-like exhaustion. We begin to bargain with the mare. "C'mon, little Cody. Have the foal tonight and I'll never sell you. What do you want, Cody? More bran mashes? What do you need from me? Whatever it is, you've got it. Have the foal, Cody. Have it tonight." She looks at us with those big, round, soft eyes. She raises her tail slightly—we catch our breath in anticipation—and she passes gas. Mares.

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We make other promises. We promise we'll buy her a new fly mask and that we'll ditch the spurs and that we'll never, ever turn her out with the boss mare again and let her get pushed around. We will bring her carrots every day and twice on weekends. She'll have such a good life. Just have the foal. We sound like a used car salesman: "So, what's it gonna take to get you to foal tonight?"

The foal in the belly:  so close, and yet so far away.

The foal in the belly: so close, and yet so far away.

Stage Six: Depression

We're ten days overdue now. The mare waddles around like a goose with a poopy diaper. Hey, that might not make sense, but when's the last time we got any decent sleep? We're worried, fatigued, and depressed. We are listless and have trouble getting excited anymore. "So, new baby on the way, huh?" someone says, meaning well. We glare at them with as much emotion as we can muster at this point. "Yeah, what about it?" we murmur. "Whatever." At this point, we figure we'll give up horses completely if we have the energy to do so. Why did we ever breed our horse anyway? We're losers.

Smart Lil Poppy, cute from day one!

Smart Lil Poppy, cute from day one!

Stage Seven: Acceptance

Two weeks past due, and all's well. We have given in to the fickle whims and caprices of the pagan pony gods. Nature will take its course. "When's that mare going to foal?" our friends ask. "When she's ready," we smile. "Aren't you worried?" they say. "Oh, no, whatever will happen will happen," we say stoically. We quit wrapping the mare's tail every night; we know we can't hurry things. We recognize that everything might be just fine but even if it isn't, we can handle it. We quit sleeping in the barn.

We check the mare at midnight. She's just standing there, perfectly content. We're good with that. We have a zen-like attitude, now. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.

Three weeks pass. Four. The mare has now carried the foal for over a year. We call the vet...but rather than asking panicked questions, we leave a cheery message: "Well, it's over a year now. She's seriously overdue. But she's in no distress, and she'll have it when she's ready to have it! Talk to you later!" We have gone from the passive to the sublime. We sleep.

Stage Eight: Excitement

We mosey out to the barn. After all, it's been 368 days now since the mare was last bred. We're war-hardened gestation combat veterans. We've already made our chai—the right way, with a teabag, no dunking, and honey, pre-stirred and melted before we add the chai, and some whipped cream on top. After all, why hurry? The mare's not going to have that foal anytime soon, anyhow—heck, it's been a year. Why rush?

As soon as we step out the front door, though, we sense it. We can see her ears, tilted back the way they do; her neck, bent at the poll as she reaches around to nuzzle what can only be a brand-new foal. She's alert all over, glowing—truly glowing. It's true. They glow. They exude happiness. She makes that little "huh, huh," noise that mares make to their babies. We start to jog, just slow enough that we don't startle the new mama. Chai sloshes out of the cup. Hell, we ditch the cup into the shrubbery. We're in a bolt now. There's a new baby! It's here! It's standing! It has all its new-horse parts, little fingers, little toes—well, little hooves, anyway.

We start calling, texting, tweeting, and taking photos of the baby with our smartphones all at once. "It's here!" is all we need to say, and the world knows. Our horsey friends reply, "One hole or two?" and we realize, in our rush to check the placenta and dip the umbilical stump and imprint the foal and admire the white markings that we didn't check to see if he's a he or a she. It's embarrassing in our excitement to realize we just dipped his little boy part in the antiseptic, and totally missed the umbilical stump, but it happens. We're excited. He's here.

We've done it. We've had our foal. He's beautiful! And it seems like only yesterday we bred that mare. Are we breeding back? We snicker. Of course! We can't wait to do this all over again! Nothing is as exciting as having a foal to look forward to!

Get Your Foaling Kit Ready!

How Well Can You Relate?

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: My mare is twelve days late, and no milk has appeared yet. Should I worry?

Answer: No, there's no reason to worry yet. Sometimes mares won't bag up until immediately before foaling is imminent; other mares will start to bag up weeks in advance. Are you positive of the breeding dates, and was your mare checked/palpated and found to be in foal?

© 2013 Marcy J. Miller


Lisa Smith on April 15, 2020:

OMG, this is the best! I'm laughing and crying right now. My maiden is at day 343 and has put me through everything over this last month already! I'm so glad I'm not alone and crazy.

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on January 15, 2019:

Hi, Karen! Hang in there. Your ladies will wait until you've just about given up and then surprise you. I have one mare (she'll be 33 in a few weeks) who waited until I checked her at midnight and had gone back in and turned off the lights, and promptly had the baby immediately. By the time I went out two hours later, the colt was dry, walking, and nursing. If you check the milk from day to day, you'll notice a change in it and can often tell if they're getting close - but that's a technique for a whole new article!

Karen on January 15, 2019:

I have 2 mini mares and 1 mini Jenny that were all bred at the same time. They are overdue. I just had the vet out to re-ultrasound because I thought I was crazy! They should have had them by now. He checked, said yes all feels ok on he outside and the ultrasound shows movement. He said anytime.. They'll come when they are ready. The Mini Jenny he was able to palpate and feels hooves! Whew.. but as of this day we are still waiting. All during the night....every morning etc. Your article describes exactly what I am feeling! I made the comment that one of them was acting different, maybe today, to which my son replied, you said that yesterday and the day before that. She's just standing there looking the same to me! But we watch these mares, every move, every twitch etc. We know that her front leg is extended 1 inches more than yesterday and her belly is further down. We know because we have been obsessed for over a year! I'm at the point with whatever. I asked the what happens if they don't foal by end of month.. he said they have too, it's been a year. I don't think my mares got the memo.

Sophe on February 09, 2018:

I have a dapple grey welsh cob/standardbred mare who was due around feb 3rd. Sometimes it seems like she is faking labor, how do I know when it’s real?

jesstar on February 17, 2015:

ThAnks so much for writing this.i thought I was the only crazy one! 358 days and counting!!!

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on April 16, 2014:

Oh, my, Helen, you must be exhausted from the waiting. When it comes to foaling, mares have it easier than the mare-owner, I really believe. I've never had a mare foal on time -- three of mine have gone over a year, and the rest always pushed it until I had just run out of the vacation time I used to take in preparation. To paraphrase the old adage, people plan … and mares laugh.

Good luck with your mare. Please check back in and share the good news when your big, healthy, worth-waiting for foal arrives!

Best -- Mj

Helen on April 16, 2014:

I am at day 376 now with my Belgium mix, I have called the Vet twice now and she says that Drafts are usually over a year on foaling, I have not lost hope because the foal is still moving. Just want her to drop ASAP, I am concerned, I have never heard of a mare going past 11 months until now. The Vet says they are more common that people think. Still waiting.

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on January 29, 2014:

Hi, Renee,

Thanks for visiting and commenting! You're right … they're only overdue in our minds. Funny, as frustrated as I was last year waiting for Cody to foal, I'm really missing that eager anticipation now as I left all my mares open this year. Fortunately, that little filly from last year is an absolute joy!

Best, MJ

Renee on January 29, 2014:

Mares are never "overdue". If they have a viable pregnancy it takes as long as it takes. Fun how you followed the stages of grief for your story. Very appropriate.

norochoofprints on August 19, 2013:

Thanks. that was a real let down. Luckily I did have another foal earlier this year and so he will be getting all my attention for now. He is on facebook under his name STRAIT LEG BLUE JEANS. thanks for your support !

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on August 18, 2013:

Oh, Noroc, I am SO, SO sorry. That is heartbreaking. I had a mare resorb a foal at five months once -- I know how incredibly disappointed you must be. Please know you're in my thoughts! I'm glad you let me know what happened -- I have been thinking of your mare daily.

I'm glad she's okay and I hope you'll get an early start on the breeding season next year. Best wishes and sympathies -- MJ

norochoofprints on August 18, 2013:

vet checked on Friday after I started to worry about a dead mummified foal and she is EMPTY. no foal. she was checked in foal at 5 months and actually had false labor pains and all. but no baby!!! I am SO SAD.....

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on August 04, 2013:

Ahhh dangit, Noroc, I was so excited when I saw the "comment" notification on my screen here, thinking you'd have baby news ... You deserve a medal for patience. (And so does your mare!)

Best -- MJ

norochoofprints on August 04, 2013:

Love that name. No baby yet......

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on August 04, 2013:

420? I'm stunned, Norochoofprints. I hope that as I am writing this, you are admiring a wonderful, healthy foal and enjoying that new horse smell! I look forward to hearing about your "It's About Time" baby! (I had a colt I once registered as Oats About Time because he was so overdue.) I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for you!

norochoofprints on August 03, 2013:

we will be at 420 days tomorrow. seeing some major changes today. fingers crossed !!!!

you need to add stage 8 to your article. EXHAUSTED and tired of people thinking I am crazy...

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on July 20, 2013:

Oh my goodness, Norochoofprints, I am amazed. When Cody finally had her foal, it was the day after the full moon. I cannot believe you're at 405 days! Wow! I'll cross my fingers tonight!


norochoofprints on July 20, 2013:

405 days. thought maybe last night, but false alarm. full moon coming up and hoping!

norochoofprints on July 10, 2013:

will keep you posted. she is enjoying all the drama and extra attention....

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on July 09, 2013:

Hi, Norochoofprints -- wow! 394 days! That's incredible. I hope you will very, very soon relate to the happy, healthy baby (and full night's sleep) stage. Please check back in and let me know when your foal has arrived. Hang in there. I appreciate your comment -- and I'll look forward to hearing how that mare is doing -- I can't even imagine 394 days! Best -- MJ

norochoofprints on July 09, 2013:

My maiden mare is now at 394 days. I can so relate to the 7 stages!!! great writing...

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on June 11, 2013:

I want to thank those of you who have shared this on Facebook. I don't know who you are ... but I certainly appreciate your visits and shares!

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on April 27, 2013:

Thank you so much for stopping by and letting me share Poppy's story with you, Moonlake. I'm definitely being the proud mother here wanting to share baby pictures with the world!

moonlake from America on April 27, 2013:

He was worth the wait. He is beautiful. Congratulations on your new baby. Voted up and enjoyed your story.

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on April 26, 2013:

Awww thanks, Bill! This mare's pregnancy was just about enough to put me in an early grave. 367 days! I truly did go through every emotion above ... but all is well now that my beautiful filly has safely arrived!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2013:

If I ever have another horse I know where I'm turning for answers to all of my questions. Thank you for sharing this experience with us all. Very useful, Jennifer.

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