Understand Normal Mare and Foal Behavior

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Allison Price

Understanding the normal behavior of mares and foals will allow you to identify and manage health issues before they become serious.

Since your mare’s pregnancy was confirmed almost 11 months ago, it has been a long-standing dream to see her foal. You’re now a little anxious and wondering what to expect.

Nature will generally take its course once the mare gives birth to her foal. He begins to grow in the weeks and days that follow his birth. Being a good observer is a vital part of the process. You will be able recognize the normal course of events and the behaviour of a mare or foal and can intervene to save the horse.

Preparing for Foal As the due date nears, you will spend more time with your mare. You should look out for any changes in her behavior. Some mares may be unfriendly or aloof and seek attention. Others who are more social can become withdrawn. Some mares might bite or kick when being handled. These types of behavior are not unusual, but it is important to discipline mares who behave in a disrespectful or dangerous manner.

Understand Normal Mare and Foal Behavior

While you may want to be there when your mare gives birth to a foal, she might have other plans. The most peaceful time of the day for mares is when they are asleep or rising in the morning. Wild mares tend to give birth in the dark, to protect their foals from predators for the few hours they need to be physically able. Domestic mares can also delay foaling until she feels safe and comfortable. You might need to let your mare rest in a safe area until she is ready for labor.

The Stages of Labor Each stage is characterized by similar behaviors.

Stage 1 – Contractions. As she experiences contractions, your mare will become restless. The foal will be in the right position to pass through the birth canal due to the tightening of her womb muscles. Your mare will behave like she is suffering from colic during this stage, which can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. Your mare may pace, paw the ground and lie down and then rise often. She might also look at her sides or bite them. These are all normal signs, but if she starts to roll or thrash, call your veterinarian immediately.

Stage 2 – Delivery of her foal. This is the most active stage in labor. Mares enter this stage when their water stops. She will likely lie down for the next 30-40 minutes as her foal passes through the birth canal. She may occasionally stand and remain standing, or she may reposition herself to lie down. She might look at her sides, nudge, or bite them. She may also nicker, whine or snore. Your veterinarian should be notified if she struggles for longer than 30 minutes or is not making any progress in delivering her foal.

Stage 3 – Passage of placenta. This is the membranous organ connecting the foal to the uterus during pregnancy. It can take between 30 and 2 hours for the placenta to pass after the foal’s birth. For a final push, the mare can lie down again. Your veterinarian should be notified if the mare retains her placenta longer. You should not pull on the placenta. You could cause serious injury to your mare.

Normal newborn development Foals exhibit a variety of behaviors within the first hour after birth. Your veterinarian can examine your newborn if he fails to reach any of the milestones in the given timeframe.

This timeline shows you what to expect as your baby develops.

1. Breathing. A mare will often rest immediately after giving birth but her foal is always busy. He raises his head and neck, then rolls onto his back. He can usually break the amnion, which is the sac surrounding him. This allows him to start breathing in about 30 to 45 seconds. To aid natural drainage, if your foal doesn’t break the sac, you can tear it open. If your foal does not begin breathing within 30 to 45 minutes, rub the area vigorously. Then, breathe into one nostril and close the other. This is called mouth-to-nose assisted respiration.

2. Crawling. A newborn will crawl forward once his neck and head are clear of the sac. He will pull himself along using his front legs and remove his body and hind leg from the amnion. He may also pull the umbilical cord out of his body.

The newborn’s first few moments of life will be unsteady. His ears may flop to one side, and his neck and head might wobble. He will stay sternal on ground for approximately 15 minutes, until his forelegs become strong enough to lift him off the ground.

3. Standing. It will likely take the foal at least 30 minutes to get his hind legs strong enough to lift him. He will stumble to his feet and then lurch to one side, before finally falling to the ground. He might take a rest before trying again to stand. He will be quite stable on his feet by the age of an hour.

4. Your foal will soon be able to walk. Although he may fall or stumble, he will still try to improve his skills. He will walk normally within two hours after his birth. He will also be able trot and gallop within two hours.

5. Nursing. A foal’s instinctive desire to nurse is already present. Once he can walk, he will use his muzzle to search for his dam’s udder. A healthy foal will usually find his dam’s nurses and teats at least once in the first two hours. Your newborn will nurse approximately 45-50 seconds four times per hour.

6. Foals often have trouble lying down during the first hours of their lives. Your newborn will likely bend at the waist, then bend forward, then bend back again. Then he may collapse on his side. He will eventually be able to gracefully lower himself to the floor after several repetitions. Your foal should be able, no matter how awkwardly he tries to lay down, to get up when he is startled.

7. Resting. Most foals sleep for around 30 minutes after standing and nursing their first time.

8. Bonding. Foals form a bond with their dam in the first few hours of their lives and will then hide behind her whenever they are anxious. Horsemen differ on their roles during this period. Because of the possibility of human interference disrupting the bonding process, many believe it is best to leave the foal and mare alone. Some others use the foal’s fearlessness to train and handle him.

9. Eliminating. He will then defecate about every 10 hours, and urinate approximately once an hour.

The New Mother’s Reactions A mare will often take a break from her foal’s breathing and test his legs for 30 minutes. Your veterinarian should be notified if she doesn’t stand within 45 minutes after giving birth. A mare may watch her foal even if she’s on the ground. She may even nicker to him. She will smell him and take a deep breath on him once she has risen. To remove any membrane remnants and dry his hair, she may lick him.

Mothers tend to be protective and aggressive towards their foals, which can lead them to become very aggressive towards other horses. To drive her newborn away, your mare might pin her ears or charge horses nearby. You may be hurt if you get in between your mare and another horse. A mare can also be dangerous to people in certain situations, especially if her foal is being threatened. Keep the foal close to you and his dam, in order to protect yourself.

If a mare is lethargic or apathetic, refuses to stand or struggles to get up or hangs her head, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention. This could indicate a ruptured artery, herniation or a torn uterus.

When lack of interest becomes rejection Indifference or aggressiveness toward foals can be a sign that a mare is not interested in him. Foal rejection is very rare. However, foal rejection is rare. If it does occur, the newborn might need to be separated from his dam because of how she treats him. One of the three types of foal rejection are:

1. A mare may discourage her foal from nursing by licking and nuzzling him, making him nicker when he is away from her, but refusing to let him nurse. He may try to suckle, or she might push him away with her head. This behavior is most common when:

  • A new mother is anxious about her foal being close to her teats.
  • A mare’s udder may be so full it causes her discomfort
  • Infection or injury have made the teats of a mare or the surrounding area painful.

This situation may be resolved by you being able to hobble the mare and position her foal for nursing. His dam will likely feel less stressed once he has gotten to nursing. Ask your vet about taking milk from the mare to give it to the baby via a bottle or stomach tube.

2. This mare will not acknowledge her foal. She won’t touch him or smell him. He may approach her and she might kick or bite him. This behavior could be an indication that the mare is scared of her foal, or that she may have been injured or sick. Before allowing her foal to nurse, have her examined by a veterinarian.

3. A mare may attack her foal by biting or kicking him. She might grab him and lift him from the ground, shake him or try to trample him. She can injure him or even kill him quickly if she is not stopped. This behavior could be a result of trauma to the mare during childbirth or fear for her foal. It is unlikely that she will be able to be restrained. She will most likely not get used to her foal. He will be attacked again. You should immediately seperate the mare from her foal, and contact your veterinarian.

Foal rejection rates are higher among first-time mothers, mares who had a difficult birth, and mares who are stressed. This could be because they are in unfamiliar places, are not being properly cared for, or are intimidated by horses. A mare may ignore her foal if she is not able to bond with him or does something else that might cause problems.

Research suggests that a mare’s genetic predisposition could determine whether she rejects her foal. One study showed that Arabian mares rejected foals more frequently than other breeds. Hormones may also play a role. Another study found that estrogen and progesterone levels were lower among mares who had rejected foals.

The Bond is Strong A mare can be aggressive towards other horses or people in the days following her foal’s birth. This is normal behavior, but it should not be taken lightly. If your mare kicks, bites, or strikes at you, discipline her. You can start to let her out with other mares or foals as her aggression decreases. Avoid placing them with mares and geldings, or with mares that don’t have foals. Mares may try to steal foals and geldings might be aggressive towards them.

Your foal will continue to take 30-minute breaks throughout his first months. He will start to nap less frequently and for shorter periods of time after he turns four months. For the first week, he will nurse between three and four times per hour. As he gets older, this frequency will also decrease.

He will be able to run around the dam alone for the first month. He will be more comfortable playing with other children as he grows older. They can run, buck and kick, and will engage in mock battles. These skirmishes happen all the time, and foals almost never get hurt while roughhousing. Research has shown that young animals play with each other, and they often choose the loser or winner. They learn to avoid harming each other by training their actions and movements. Play may involve both fillies and colts mounting each other. A foal without a dam will usually try to play with his dam if he has no other companions.

Understanding the behavior of foals and mares will allow you to understand the many events that accompany the birth of a horse. You’ll be able identify the typical reactions and actions by being an experienced observer. You will also be better equipped to identify signs that something is not right. You can intervene quickly if you see trouble to prevent it from becoming a crisis. Your observation skills will pay off as your mare and foal live healthy lives.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!