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Submitted by: Becky Shultz Redrock Miniature Horses
With foaling season upon us and in light of some foaling tragedies, I thought it might be beneficial to post what I do in certain situations. If it saves just one life, it is well worth the info passed along. I do not proclaim to be a vet and in all instances of doubt, the FIRST thing to do is CALL THE VET!!
As I am sitting here waiting for one mare to foal at anytime, many thoughts go through my head. The other thread regarding foaling kits has lots of excellent information! Be prepared with the items mentioned as well as always having a phone and vets (more than one) phone numbers handy at the barn.
As the mare progress towards actual labor and delivery, some signs become apparent. Increased udder development, relaxation of the abdominal muscles as the foal 'drops', relaxation of the muscles around the tail head, lengthening of the vulva, etc.
When I have a mare who's udder has become very hard and has thick, sticky milk, she is not left unattended for more than 10 -15 minutes.
Signs of first stage labor generally are increased restlessness, alertness, pacing, yawning, looking at her sides, biting her sides, kicking her belly, rubbing her rear on anything(!) and rubbing her head on her front legs.
These signs can last for 30 minutes or possibly show off and on for several days.
As first stage labor draws to an end, the mare will generally be pooping frequently, urinating frequently and looking for a place to lay down.
Internal contractions are going on but can't be seen with the naked eye.
Stage two labor starts when the mare is actively contracting (pushing) and her water breaks. It's at this point that I generally step into the stall. I usually wait until I either see the water break or the mare is down and pushing hard before I head to the barn. If you interrupt her before this time, she can likely stop labor and wait until you leave!
Once the mares' water breaks, usually the bubble (sack) is there with the foals front two feet and nose. Wearing gloves, I normally go in and check and see what is there. If I find two feet and a nose, great! If I find one foot and the nose, I check to see where the other foot is. More often than not, it's up over the foals head. I gently take it and pull it down under the foals chin. I believe in delivering foals quickly so I generally always help the mare to deliver her foal. I maintain a good grip on both front feet keeping one slightly ahead of the other to ease the shoulders through the mares pelvis. I pull as the mare contracts. You need to pull straight out until the shoulders are delivered, then down towards the mares feet to deliver the hips.
If the above scenario is not taking place, then I quickly try to evaluate what is going on. If the mares' water breaks and she is having active contractions and nothing is appearing, I check to see if I can figure out what is going on. I wait no longer than 5 - 10 minutes to call my vet in that type of situation if it's something I can't resolve. Time is of the essence to deliver a live foal or possibly save a mare.
If I'm delivering a foal presenting both front feet normally and the nose is there but pushing towards the rectum, I will take one hand and cup it over the nose and gently guide it down towards the vulva.
Occasionally there are other positions that require quick intervention to have a happy outcome. There are some positions that are best left to a vet to handle. I had one mare go into labor last year that when her water broke, what I saw was red instead of the clear sack. My first thought was red bag, but in this case the foal had just not pushed through the placenta yet. As the mare gave one more push the foal came through. Upon checking the position, I got a real surprise! I found legs and nose, but it was upside down! Panic started to take over, but the mare got up, the foal slid back in and when the mare went to pushing again, the foal had turned over much to my amazement. After discussing this with my vet, he told me that you can deliver a foal that is upside down (says he does it all the time!), you just need to pull up instead of down.
If you see a red looking membrane coming out first, it's best to assume it's placenta previa (red bag) and be prepared to cut or pull it apart. Time is of the essence to deliver a foal in that situation because it's oxygen supply has been cut off.
If you are having problems with the foals position, you can push it back in up to a certain point to try to manipulate it. It's been my experience that once the shoulders have been delivered, you can't push them back in.
I've also had late term dystocias that required vet assistance to get them out. I feel in most of those cases that were mal presented, the foal was dead when labor started. They usually are not presenting at all and the head is turned down with the feet still in the uterus or they are breech with the foal still in the uterus. I am not comfortable delivering those and always have a vet available.
The foal itself is an active participant in the actual labor and delivery process. In a normal foaling, the foal decides when it is time to be born. Hormone releases trigger actual labor. The foal is upside down until late first stage labor when it turns over into the diving position. I have observed my mares late first stage when I actually think I am seeing the foals turning over as they are active and the mares' side bulges out as I think it would if the foal were turning. Pretty interesting!
Sorry this is so long, but if the information helps just one person to deliver a healthy foal, it's worth it! Again, I am no vet, just describing instances from my own experience and how I've dealt with them.
I think we all need to remember the veterinarians' creed, which is "First, do no harm". So deciding what needs to be done and who needs to do it with the least amount of trauma to either mare or foal is paramount.