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Problems in the Breeding Barn - Possible Foaling Complications

Updated on March 6, 2013

Breeding Your Mare

It is a big responsibility even when things go right. What do you do when things go wrong? Complications can and do happen to everyone, regardless of their plans or their level of experience.

What are the common issues that can happen when foaling, and what should you do about them?

Red Bag Delivery

One of the things breeders dread the most is a 'red bag' delivery. When the caul around the foal becomes visible, it should be clear. If the inside of the caul is red, then that means the placenta has detached from the uterus prematurely.

If you have this happen, then you need to react quickly, or the foal will drown. It is essential to immediately break the caul and break through the red substance to free the foal's head. In some cases, you can do this with your bare hands, but sterilized scissors are better and should be kept on hand when you are expecting a foal. Once this is done, call the vet. (Do not call the vet first...every second counts in terms of getting the foal out).

Incorrect Presentation

When the foal comes, two hooves should be seen with a nose 'above' them (towards the mare's spine).

If you see anything else, the foal is presented incorrectly. It could be breech, upside-down, or just have a leg folded back (which can cause it to get stuck). Novice breeders should not attempt to turn a foal - call your vet. It is possible to fix the presentation, but it requires skill...and a fair amount of physical strength.

Stuck Foal

Equine labor is very quick. Normal delivery takes no more than fifteen to thirty minutes. If a foal takes longer than that, it is probably stuck.

Caesarean section is not normally performed in horses except as a last resort to save the mare. It is, however, often effective to gently pull the foal, or to push it back slightly so as to unstick it. If you do pull, pull both forelegs slightly downwards. Be very gentle and never jerk on the foal as you can end up tearing the vagina or even the rectum. Then call the vet. If you only see one foreleg, call the vet immediately...a foal can get very stuck if one front leg is tucked under it.

Retained Placenta

The mare should deliver the afterbirth quickly. If she does not, you should call the vet. You should also examine the placenta and make sure that it has two 'tips' or horns and no holes in it. A missing tip or holes may indicate that part of the placenta has been retained.

This is definitely a call the vet situation. The vet can literally wash out the mare's uterus to remove small pieces of placenta, or use a more complicated method to encourage her to pass an entire placenta or larger pieces.


Excessive bleeding is most often seen in older mares who have had several foals, and can range from mild (causing minor colic) to life threatening.

Often, the mare bleeds into the broad ligament. In most cases, the blood flow is self-limiting and the mare will be in pain, but not in serious danger. If the ligament ruptures, however, then it is very likely that the mare will die.

A mare may also bleed into her uterus, which is visible as 'spotting' from the vulva when she moves.

Mares are generally treated with a sedative to keep them from going into shock and an anti-inflammatory, usually banamine. They may also be given IV fluids.


As mares give birth so quickly, it's not uncommon for mares to experience tears. These tears often affect the lips of the vulva and can sometimes involve the rectum. Cervical tears are also known (and can affect the mare's future ability to carry a foal). Most of these tears are easily repairable and are not life threatening.

More serious, is uterine prolapse (part of the uterus emerging from the vagina). Very rarely, part of the colon can also prolapse through the vagina, which can be life threatening.


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    • mwilliams66 profile image

      mwilliams66 5 years ago from Left Coast, USA

      Very interesting, well thought out and nicely written hub JenniferProvey. Voted up, interesting and useful