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Foals: The First Hours of Life

By: Dr. Mary Rose Paradis

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Even the nicest mare can change her behavior toward humans after the birth of her foal, and you should be cautious when entering a stall with a mare and foal. It is best to acknowledge the mare first by talking quietly to her and stroking her forehead and neck. She will be normally anxious about her foal and may exhibit protective behavior by placing herself between you and the foal.

It is usually safest and easiest to have two people present when attempting to catch the foal. One person should be holding the mare with a lead shank while the other person approaches the foal. It is best to approach the foal in a slightly crouched position with arms held out wide. A normal foal will attempt to run away and hide behind his dam. The person holding the mare can aid in catching the foal by backing the mare into a corner so that the foal can't run behind her. If he does then the mare holder can block his movement while the foal catcher approaches from the other side.

Once the foal is caught it is important to hold onto him. The best method for controlling the foal is to place one arm under and around the base of his neck and one hand on the tail. By encircling the foal like this you are able to control his forward and backward movement. Leverage on the tail will add more restraint for more rambunctious foals. If too much restraint is applied, the foal may react by collapsing in your arms. This is normal. All you need to do is lighten up on your pressure. Once the foal realizes that you are not going to hold him up, he will jump up. Continue to encircle the foal with your arms as you lighten your pressure so that you can continue to restrain the foal as necessary.

Once you are though handling the foal, his normal reaction is to run back to his dam and begin to seek the udder and nurse. The security of knowing that the milk is still available is comforting to the foal. This is also a good method to evaluate whether the foal is nursing well or not. If the foal does not run back to the dam or suckle, your foal may be depressed. Depression and anorexia are two early signs that the foal is sick.

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