Yesterday I received my 5th call for the season of people wanting help as they have tragically lost their mare or foal or both in the birthing process.

The lady I spoke to yesterday was kind enough to allow me to share her experience in the hope that people really rethink if breeding a foal at home is a good idea. Samantha did everything right. She read books, she got the vets advice, she had a foaling alarm, she had her mare in a safe paddock…… but the night before last she lost her precious mare giving birth. She now has an orphan.

It seems Sam’s maiden mare had a tough delivery and this followed with a uterine prolapse (the uterus turning inside out and being delivered as well) and a bleed that caused her to die before the vets could even arrive. The vets were there in 1 hour.

Stories like this are not un-common. I want to help those of you that are thinking of breeding understand a little more about the risks of breeding a foal.

Choosing the stallion and getting the mare pregnant is the easy part. The joy, the excitement of the impending baby is all really special. You organise a foaling alarm, you make sure you have a safe place for her to foal down and you give her all the love and care that she needs in late pregnancy. So why is there so much risk?

When the mare decides to deliver the foal, it happens VERY FAST. Most of the foals we have bred (26 years of breeding every year) are born 10-15 minutes after the foaling alarm has gone off. The mare has usually started the birthing stage of delivery before we get there. It’s only when she keeps her head flat long enough to set the alarm off do we know. If the foal doesn’t appear within 20 minutes from when the mare’s waters break, a veterinarian should be called immediately, as the foal may be wrongly positioned.

Here is where the problem lies….. Most of the time this is late night call. It’s unlikely that the vet will be to you in under 1 hour. In many cases this is too slow and the foal dies inside the mare. The foal is usually positioned wrong. YOU need to know how to reposition the foal and it doesn’t matter how many books you read, you need practice because when you put your arm inside the mare it’s unlikely you will know what you are feeling let alone how to manipulate the position.

Did you know that a mare can’t deliver unless the foal is in the perfect position? A foal that is in the wrong position is called dystocia. Stage two labour begins with the rupture of the placental membranes. With that rupture, all of the allantoic fluids start to come out, and the foal should be presented at the lips of the vulva within three to five minutes. Normally, one leg is seen first, with the other leg 10-15 centimetres behind the first leg, and then the head. The head and both front legs should be there within five minutes. Are you starting to get a feel for how fast everything happens!! So if these legs/head are not in the correct position the foal is in dystocia.

The other 4 phone calls so far this season (and it’s only half way through) :

1. Colt foal died because the placenta was delivered before the foal and the foal suffocated. With experience this can usually be prevented.
2. Filly foal died because it was in dystocia and the vet arrived too late.
3. Filly foal died because it was in dystocia and by the time the vet arrived the mare was so badly torn from the contractions and trying to push the foal out she had to be put down.
4. Colt foal died due to dystocia. This colts forelegs emerged but the head and neck are bent backwards. The owner tried to help pull the foal out when she realised that he wasn’t coming. What she didn’t know is that if the head is retained or the head is only in the beginning of the pelvis and someone starts pulling on the leg, the head can fall back deeper into the mare’s abdomen and it’s very hard to get it back up successfully.

Being able to help the mare and foal also depends on whether you actually make it to the birth! Most mares foal at night, but there are still a lot that foal during the day. When our mares are 4 weeks prior to birth, I stay at home. Yes I mean I STAY at home. I am not prepared to miss the birth and increase the risk of death. Are you prepared to do this?

I have dealt with all of the above complications and many more here in our own breeding and have been able to save many foals and mares because we have so much experience. We still however have lost a few. One filly foal we lost (and almost lost the mare) was simply because the foal was too big to be delivered! There wasn’t even a “problem”.

So I encourage you to consider NOT breeding a foal at home. If you really have your heart set on breeding a foal, have your mare go to a facility. This also has a big downside as your mare is in a strange place which adds stress. Perhaps it’s time to save a beautiful soul who already needs a home instead? There are many foals at the slaughter auctions if you can open your heart to one.