It seems that each year mother nature throws us a few curves during foaling season. Due to these tricks of nature, we have learned two important lessons related to observing expectant mares.
1. Be extremely aware of the telltale signs that indicate a mare has started foaling. (Please refer to our discussion titled Foaling.)
2. Be vigilant to assure that we are present for each foaling event.
We had a number of mares in the barn since their theoretical foaling dates were close at hand. This particular mare we had determined to be very close. Using milk test strips had verified that she would probably foal within the next day. We had the alarm device on her and she was in a stall so that we could monitor her with closed circuit TV.
About 1:00 a.m. the alarm went off and based on the subtle signs, it was apparent that the mare was getting close to foaling. We hustled to the barn. As we arrived, we observed that the mare was getting up and down and pacing the stall impatiently. At this point things appeared to be heading toward a normal foaling. The mare then lied down and rolled up on her back. At first we were not too concerned. She got up, paced a bit more and lied down again. She then started rolling quite frequently. She began a pattern of getting up and pacing about one circuit of the stall, lying down and pushing for a couple of contractions, then rolling back and forth from side to side a number of times. This behavior was totally out of character for normal foaling behavior. Of course, all of our book reading had told us that the rolling procedure is the mare’s method for repositioning the foal. We watched this for five to ten minutes and could see that the mare was becoming more agitated and violent in her behaviors.
1. The mare had been having contractions for 10 minutes with no apparent progress.
2. Her water had not broke.
3. Her rolling was completely out of character from a normal foaling.
Our level of concern had reached the point of intervening in nature’s process to figure out what was going on.
Due to our substantial distance and time delay (approximately 1 hr.) from veterinary assistance, we have been forced to take action in birthing events on our own. Obviously, if we had veterinary help close by, we would have them coming to our farm A.S.A.P. We believe if there is any chance of having a live foal, earlier delivery is definitely preferred over one that takes a long time. If we waited an hour for the vet once the mare started contracting, having a live foal is highly questionable. With that said, we decided to physically examine the mare and determine the progress of the foaling. We stood the mare up. I held her head. Joanne scrubbed up and applied lubricant to her hand. She palpated the mare’s vagina. When she entered the vagina she found NOTHING. Normally body parts of the foal are in the vagina. As she proceeded to the uterine end of the vagina, she felt a large bump at the pelvic opening where the foal should be coming through. She also stated that she thought that this large bump had a small bump on it. Joanne then said the words that I hate the most “Larry! I think you need to check this one out.” She’s the horse person in the family. I’m just along for the ride. I don’t like being put in the driver’s seat.
After scrubbing and lubing, I palpate the mare. Remember, this mare’s water has not broken yet. After feeling around it is apparent why. What we had was the rear end of the foal plugging the cervix and pelvic opening. The small bump that Joanne had felt was the foal’s tail. We had a DYSTOCIA (mal-presentation) in the breech position. Decision time! Do we pack the mare up and take her to the OSU vet school? Do we attempt to deliver the foal ourselves? At this point we don’t know whether the foal is alive or not. If we leave immediately there is no question that we will have a dead foal after a 1 1/2 hour drive to the vet school. If we attempt to assist with the foaling ourselves, we may have a chance for a live foal. If we are unsuccessful, we can still go to the OSU Vet School. In cases like this, it seems like we start looking at risk factors and considering damage control. We decided to attempt the delivery of the foal.
We have had the greatest success manipulating foals inside the mare when the mare is standing. Sometimes mares will not cooperate, however, if the mare stands, the foal and all of the mare’s weight tends to pull away from the cervix and pelvic opening. Joanne stood at the mare’s head and we attempted to keep her up against a wall for stability. My first step was to tear the placental sac that was covering the foals rump as it protruded through the cervix. This was easily done with my fingers. The hindquarters of the foal were pressed tightly against the cervical opening like a stopper and very little water was released when the placenta was torn.
All the rest of the discussion is somewhat difficult to describe in words since it involves a lot of visualizing the foal’s anatomy. I passed my hand through the hole I had made in the placenta and could feel the smooth, amniotic sac containing the foal. The tail was very distinguishable now. I followed it to its root. I determined that the foal was upright in the uterus positioned much the same as the mother was standing. The legs must be toward the mare’s belly. I traced the foal’s right hip with my hand. I followed the hip to the leg and I was able to find the right hind foot. By this time my arm was in the mare well past the elbow. Fortunately the mare had not lost all of her water and her uterus had not contracted around the foal. There was quite a bit of room to manipulate the foal’s leg within the uterus. I cupped the foal’s foot and fetlock in my hand and utilizing the normal bending of the leg joints was able to guide the right rear foot out of the uterus and through the pelvic opening into the vagina. We were told to cup the foot with a hand to hopefully prevent damage to the uterus and cervix. I found out we had a live foal on our hands because it immediately pulled its leg back into the uterus. Talk about frustrating! I then tore open the amniotic sac and repeated the procedure. This time I went inside the amniotic sac and had the actual leg and foot rather than holding it on the outside of the sac as before. When we got the foot into the vagina we put a nylon strap noose around it. The noose was placed above the fetlock joint The foal could not pull its foot back into the uterus. The procedure was then repeated and the left hind leg was turned and guided into the vagina.
We now had two rear legs in the vagina. The next concern was that once the body of the foal entered the vagina, its blood supply would most likely be shut off. This would occur because the umbilical cord would be flattened by the pressure of the foal’s body against the wall of the vagina. In a normal birth this is not a problem since the head and chest are the first to come out. The foal can begin to breathe on its own to get oxygen. In this case, our foal’s head was immersed in amniotic fluid in the uterus. Once the umbilical cord was pinched off, no oxygen would be getting to the body. If the delivery was not quick, brain damage was the immediate concern and, of course, the life of the foal and also the mare was also at risk.
Our option was to each grab a rear leg and pull forcefully as the mare contracted. Frankly, we were amazed at how easily the foal was delivered once the legs were turned around. The foal was entirely delivered within a minute from the time that we initiated pulling. As the foal’s shoulders came out of the mare there was this huge gush of fluid. We quickly cleaned off the foal’s head and cleared its nose. She took off as if everything was normal. It was a truly amazing sight and a memorable experience.
We were very careful with the mare that spring prior to rebreeding her. Shortly after foaling we infused her uterus to combat any infection that may have been introduced as a result of our intervention. We did a number of diagnostic procedures prior to rebreeding to assure ourselves that the mare had fully recovered from her ordeal and that she was sound for rebreeding. Since that experience the mare has had a number of successful foalings.
We feel very fortunate that this situation turned out in our favor. It has probably taken longer to read this article than the entire process from getting to the barn to wiping off the new foal. We credit catching the mare early in the foaling as very useful. Manipulating the foal with the mare standing is also helpful if the mare will cooperate. Another major factor that came into play is just plain LUCK. The circumstances just happened to fall into place for us. By the way, a more fitting name couldn’t have been suggested by one of our friends. SPECIAL DELIVERY
Questions about foaling? Don’t hesitate to E-Mail us. We would be glad to give you our opinions on any topics that may be of interest to you related to miniature horses in general or health issues in particular.