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Monitoring the Pregnant Mare
If you're closely monitoring a pregnant mare in the days prior to foaling, you can see patterns of discomfort periods in her daily behavior that will help predict the time frame she is most likely to foal. This pattern of discomfort identifies about a 4 hour period of restlessness that repeats on a 12 hour cycle. This 4 hour discomfort interval, repeating every 12 hours, is often called a foaling window. For example, a mare usually uncomfortable between 7 and 11 is very likely to deliver her foal - or at least go into labor - between 7 and 11 ... AM or PM.
Some mares are more obvious than others. Mare behavior indicating discomfort might include: pawing, stretching, nipping at the belly, busy tail, head shake, tail rubbing, shifting weight frequently, restless / not standing still long, belly kick, working her mouth, and perhaps lying down to roll if the foal is in an uncomfortable position. Since this kind of behavior may also be observed when the mare is in labor, several other factors need to be considered to determine if the mare is actually in labor. Some behavior observed may also be related to feeding time, other horses, or other activity not specific to the pregnancy.
The mare may lie down if she is uncomfortable, but she may also lie down to rest or sleep. The mare will have physical changes to prepare for foaling. The area around and under her tail will soften. In late gestation, the foal will change position inside the dam, turning to face the birth canal. The mare’s milk is produced to support her foal, and turns white to indicate the colostrum necessary to provide to the newborn foal. In the hours prior to foaling the mare’s belly will seem to move up and back as the foal moves into position to emerge. Often the dam will carry her tail further away from her body in the hours or days prior to foaling. When the mare is within hours of foaling, she may or may not eat, but normally there are multiple piles of very soft manure in her stall. If a mare is in labor often she will lie down and stand up several times before starting to push, or between pushing efforts. A mare’s status can change in a matter of hours from “she’s very pregnant” to being in labor.
Each mare’s due date is unique to that mare, and after several foals usually establishes a fairly reliable pattern. Some mares consistently foal 2-3 weeks “early” with good sized foals, yet another mare foaling that early might have a premature foal. Others consistently foal “late” compared to the average 340-345 days. (Some people use a more generic “11 months, 11 days” to determine a general due date.) Most mares tend to deliver the foal within a week of the due date unique to that mare, and are commonly close to the average gestation period.