You’ve waited (im)patiently for your new foal, and now it’s time to make sure they get the best start possible. Most mares will give birth without any assistance and will have all of the first steps completed before you even know the foal has arrived. The umbilical cord will naturally tear at a weak point when the foal is born or when the mare moves around. Never cut or clamp the umbilical cord, wait patiently for the cord to break on its own. Dipping the umbilical cord in a dilute chlorhexidine or betadine solution will help prevent infections and should be done for the first few days of life until the cord is shrivelled and dry.
Initially you should allow the mare to bond with the foal without any unnecessary intervention. If the mare remains lying down for an extended period or seems uninterested in the foal, you can move the foal to her head to encourage bonding. The mare’s licking will help dry the foal and stimulate the foal to stand. While foals have a “suckle reflex” immediately after birth, some need a little assistance in finding their way to the mare’s udder. If the mare has very engorged/sore teats she may have to be encouraged to stand still for the foal to get its first meal.
Even though foals are large, we must remember that they are still babies and will spend most of their time eating and sleeping. Foals are unable to regulate their body temperature for the first 3-6 weeks of life, so they must be protected from the elements. They do need exercise, but it should be limited to cool parts of the day and avoid excessive heat.
Ideally, your foal should be checked by your veterinarian within the first 12-24 hours of life, or sooner if there are any concerns. Your vet will examine the mare and foal to make sure they are both healthy. If the foal has been up and nursing, an IgG should be checked to make sure the foal has received enough colostrum. If the IgG is too low, that indicates failure of passive transport and your vet may need to stomach tube colostrum or give IV plasma.
A good rule of thumb for a new foal is the 1-2-3 rule. The foal should stand within 1 hour, nurse within 2 hours and the mare should pass the placenta (afterbirth) within 3 hours. If you have any concerns, it’s always a good idea to chat with your veterinarian, even if it’s just for some reassurance.
BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine. After completing an advanced internship and working as an associate veterinarian, she is currently practicing at Polk Equine, LLC. Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine.