Foaling Location

Foaling Location

It's easy to imagine that most pasture-kept mares would feel less secure in the relatively unfamiliar stall, away from the usual pasture companions, than out in their field with their usual social group and surroundings.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Q. I swear our mare is trying to drive us nuts. She is a 10-year-old Connemara that we have had since she was four. She is due to have a foal–actually, overdue. She has all the signs, and each night for the last week, just about dusk, she looked like she was starting to go into labor. As soon as we went out to put her in the barn she went back to normal. We stayed up with her every night for a week. She did the same thing with her first two foals. It went on for more than a week each time.

Finally, we decided to just leave her out with the gelding and not stay up all night with her. That night she did the same thing in the evening, looking like she was going into labor. But we just left her out in the pasture and went to bed. Next morning, bingo, there was a foal running around, too frisky to catch. So, we have never seen her give birth. We have never even used our foaling stall. Thank goodness everything was all right.

This is my question–why does she do this? Could it be that she just likes it better outside, and maybe we should just let her go and take our chances?

Marianna, Alabama

A. It's very difficult to know for sure what's going on with your mare, and the many others like her, but you're certainly not alone in these observations. It sounds like your horses spend most of their time outside, and only come in when you feel it is necessary. It's easy to imagine that most mares would feel less secure in the relatively unfamiliar stall, away from the usual pasture companions, than out in their pasture with their usual social group and surroundings. Outside it is normally dark, and inside there are lights. If it is reasonable weather, pasture usually has better footing than many stalls, so it is easy to get up and down. Outside there is also plenty of room to stretch out and push.

I don't think mares consciously weigh all these issues, but many breeding farm managers and veterinarians believe this phenomenon of apparently delayed parturition when we move them and watch them is likely a simple automatic stress response. If everything is not just right and as usual, then parturition can be physiologically delayed by the mare.

Another possible explanation is that in horses, like in many mammals, there can be daily spells of minor contractions for many days leading up to real labor. So maybe your mare is fairly uncomfortable during these preliminary daily contractions, and for many days you interpreted that as going into labor. Then just by coincidence, on the nights you left her out for her first two foals, it happened to be her night for real first stage labor.

Your veterinarian can help you consider all the benefits and possible disadvantages of allowing this particular mare to just stay out and foal at pasture without close watch.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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