How to Deliver A Foal
As we all move closer to the birth of The People's Horse, we brought in a few veterans from Taylor Made to talk us through the process.
Geoffrey Gray, True.Ink founder, in conversation with:
Logan Payne, Broodmare manager
Steve Avery, Farm manager
GEOFF: I heard most foals are born at night. Why is that?
STEVE: That was the safest time for a mare to foal back 10,000 years ago.
LOGAN: It’s harder to hunt at night. It’s crazy how horses are pretty much in a human environment now, but they still have instincts that they’ve had in the wild. What gets a horse moving when you [make the sound] “click, click,” that’s just a replication of a cheetah breaking over a stick. It alerts them and it keeps them moving.
STEVE: I didn’t know that one. I mean, the foal instinctively nurses. So, instinct is huge. They say that the foal is the one who initiates the birthing. The foal slips into position.
GEOFF: So, how does it actually happen? Walk us through a typical foaling.
STEVE: Initially, the mare starts acting differently. Usually. They all have different quirks. They get a little sweaty and they get a little nervous and then they break water. The amniotic sac appears and at that point in time, the foaling person needs to put on a glove, and check to make sure that the presentation of the foal is there.
LOGAN: You’re reaching in and you want to feel the nose. Then, you want to feel the feet below.
STEVE: Both front legs are up and the head and there is not a third leg and everything is kind of in position. Like the foal is going to dive out of the mare. And after that, 99% of the time, the human doesn’t even have to be there. But they don’t really need us.
GEOFF: How would you describe the experience?
LOGAN: It was pretty magical for me. The fact that the mare can carry a foal that long, and that big. And after the mare has the foal, Mother Nature kicks in and the foal is standing within an hour or so, and nursing within two hours.
STEVE: The miracle has disappeared for me, but I’ve been doing this forty years. I’ve probably seen a couple thousand foals being born.
GEOFF: What was your first one like?
STEVE: I was scared to death. I worked nights at a breeding farm and there was nobody there but me. I knew kind of what to expect but, whew…When you push your hand in there, the mare is so powerful I think that you could break your arm. She got me once when I was in there, and I was like, ‘Woah.’ She’s pushing. Her muscles contract, birthing contractions, so, they are extremely powerful. There’s not a whole lot of room in there for your arm. If your arm is in the wrong spot, it hurts like heck.
GEOFF: So, what are the elements you look for?
STEVE: Any time the foal comes out and is breathing, that’s a big plus. We have oxygen, but what I do is clamp off one of the nasal things and blow in the other nostril. It helps me to inflate the lungs. I’ve heard of guys that take the foal up and swing them by the hind legs around.
GEOFF: Swing the legs around? Why?
STEVE: Because it’s supposed to move the diaphragm, but I’ve never seen that. I’ve just heard it. There’s oxygen masks that you’re supposed to be able to put to cover the nose that squeeze air into, but I’ve never had them work very well for me.
LOGAN: When they are coming out, all of that fluid is in the cavities. One of the first things that you are doing as soon as they’re out, and you can see that they are breathing and everything is okay, is you’re just kind of loosening all that stuff out. You’re not shaking the head, but you’re giving enough movement, taking your fingers in there and just clearing it all out. After that, the umbilical is still attached. Once the blood stops flowing through there —
STEVE: That’s one of the old wives’ tales. The umbilical cord is usually attached and sometimes they detach when they are foaled. But I’ve even read this in books that when the foal is out, you let the blood run through the umbilical cord into the foal. You wait until it stops pulsing before you cut the cord.
GEOFF: What can go wrong?
LOGAN: When the foal is stuck in there.
STEVE: The fetal diarrhea sometimes, which means that something’s beencompromised in utero. There’s nocardia, which is an infection within the placenta and the foal doesn’t get the nutrients. Red bag is big— we see a lot of those. That’s when the placenta proceeds the amnion — the foal is supposed to come out and the placenta is supposed to drop. If the placenta separates early, the foal has no oxygen during the birthing process and it can be hypoxic.
LOGAN: When you have many issues with the foal, you have a lot of issues with the mare. Just like in humans. When the mom has a baby, there can be issues there. It is systematic that the night watch manager checks the placenta and makes sure that there is not a tear, or missing pieces. If there is a missing piece, then it is still in there. She’s going to spike a temp and we’re going to know about it.
GEOFF: Let’s talk about the mares. What’s a typical pregnancy?
STEVE: After 15 days, you can see a pregnancy, and about 28 days is the date that you can pretty much see heartbeat and tell if it is normal. After around 42 days, the endometrial cups form in a mare, which means that the uterus is supplying all the nutrients to the foal.
LOGAN: Once you are at 42 days, it’s a lot more comfortable knowing that they’re going to keep the pregnancy. If you are in the 90-day range, then it’s smooth sailing from there. With the three horses in The People’s Horse, they’re all greatly in foal. No issues.
GEOFF: Many of us, naturally, are concerned. Just like in life, unfortunate things can happen.
STEVE: The difference is, we can save a lot of disasters here. Out in the wild, many of these horses would be dead. I had one born without an eye. It’s not good, but we can save it. If they are very, very small because of pansteatitis, an infection in the uterus, they can’t stand up for three days. We can save those too, with medicine.
GEOFF: How common are complications?
STEVE: We always have some. I would say probably about 5 out of 125. Probably less than 5%.
GEOFF: When is the best time for a foal to be born?
STEVE: Oddly enough, to me, it seems like the foals born in January have less problems than the ones that are born later on.
GEOFF: Why is that? It’s interesting that the foals that are born in January. You had a theory about this.
STEVE: I thought that it’s less disease around. Germs don’t thrive as well as they do in the heat of the summer. I don’t know if that’s true. It sure feels that way though. The diarrheas are lessened. The respiratory diseases seem to be lessened.
GEOFF: We heard another theory, that spring is better because the grass is growing and fresh grass has more nutrients.
STEVE: I feel like it’s better to get mares in heat as well. Once spring hits, it’s just Mother Nature for them and they know.