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Miniature Horse Foaling Problems = Dystocia

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Breeding season is approaching and as it does, my research continues on how to deal with problems during the birthing process. We have been blessed to not have any problems yet, but know that it may happen. I want to share what we are learning and will continue to update this page. I am always open to hearing what others have dealt with if anyone wants to email me more. It is IMPERATIVE that you keep a close watch on your expectant mares. You just never know when it's going to happen.

I can't say enough about the book called, The Complete Book of Foaling. We had read that and then went to Dr. Laura Harris' clinic on dystocia and miniature horse foaling. She is THE vet in Phoenix that all of the big mini breeders have used for years and years. Some of these mini breeders have had hundreds of foals.

After the book and after her clinic, it seems to me that the most important thing to remember when you are in the beginning stages of foaling is to assess the position of the foal. If the foal is presented correctly, thank the Lord and grab a bucket of popcorn.
But, there are many presentations where you push the foal back in and then try to reposition him. Then, there are some presentations (red bag and back hooves out) where you should start pulling immediately. Then, there were some presentations, where you should immediately call the Vet. All of these actions boil down to you being able to assess the foal's presentation accurately and quickly.
One encouragement was that in many of the cases you have a bit of time because the foal's umbilical cord is not being pinched. In the two cases I mentioned above the foal's air supply is gone (or going as in back hooves out) and you are against the clock. You have only 6 minutes to get baby out, and he takes his first breath of air 30 seconds after his air supply is gone.

The Complete Book of Foaling reviews the presentations and tells you how to maneuver the foal with helpful diagrams. Having twine (or I have shoelaces from the dollar store) on hand is important to tie to one of those pasterns if you have to push baby back in. Having other helpers on hand also seems important to me.

And as a homeschooling mom, The Complete Book of Foaling can also serve as a Biology text!!

The notes below are the notes that I plan on having with me the night our mares deliver, just incase a mare is having problems with dystocia. Remember that I am only 14 years old and these are only my tips. You should not take my recommendations, but call a vet!!

by Lisa Dales (age 14)  

I. Normal Birth

   A. You should see two forelegs and a nose

  1. The two forelegs should be staggered 3”-6” apart

  2. The nose should be right behind the hooves, about the level of the knees, with the ears the level of the elbows

  3. If the mare has been pushing for 20 minutes and there is no progress, enter mare to assess problem or call for help

   B. Stage I – Positioning

  1. Starts with the mare going into labor and ends with the water breaking

  2. This time period can range from a short interval up to 24 hrs and still produce a live foal

   C. Stage II – actual birth

  1. Starts with water breaking, ends with delivery of foal

  2. Duration from 15 minutes - 1 hour. If foal is not out in an hour, CALL VET

  3. White sac should appear after a couple hard contractions; if there is no sac, reach in mare and find out why

   D. Stage III – Passing of placenta

  1. Duration: 5- 45 minutes is normal

  2. If placenta is not delivered within 3 hrs, CALL VET


II. Abnormal Presentations of foal (dystocia)

   A. Critical Things to Remember:

  1. Before putting your hand in the mare, ALWAYS WASH carefully and LUBE generously!

  2. If you know there is dystocia, keep mare from pushing and straining, for all she is jamming the foal tighter against the pelvic wall. if a mare is walking, she cannot push!

  3. Pointing the mare downhill may help, too  

  4. If you pull, only pull with the mare's contractions. You can actually cause the tissues that line the birth canal to bunch up and make delivery impossible.

  5. Always think about the arc-like pathway that a foal must follow to emerge from the birth canal. He is delicate, as are the inner tissues of the mare. 


   B. Presentations where you MUST PULL THE FOAL OUT NOW!

In the following three presentations, you must always get the foal out immediately. If not, the foal will be oxygen deprived and will probably die. In all three presentations, the umbilical cord is being pinched so the foal is getting no air from that source. After the umbilicus is cut off, you have 30 secs before the foal’s first breath and 6 minutes before brain damage.

          1. Red Bag Click here to read more and see videos of red bag births

  • You will see red, terry cloth like sac coming out of mare

  • The foal is inside of the red sac and white sac. You must cut the red sac, go inside that, rip the white sac, go inside that and pull the foal out FAST! Remember, ALWAYS pull a foal out downwards, towards the hocks of the mare. 

         2. Backwards Foal (hind legs coming first)

  • You know that you have a backwards foal because the  hind legs come first. The soles of the feet are pointing up, and not down  as usual. The umbilicus is being pinched on pelvic rim.

  • Grasp the legs, and pull toward the mare’s hocks.                


              3. Hip lock (Foal's pelvis is locked on the mare’s pelvis.  Four approaches for unlocking....


  • First approach – cross foal’s front legs, and while pushing foal back into   mare (only push during a time of no contractions) twist the front legs in a rotational movement. If the foal doesn’t “pop” out, cross legs the other way and try again

  • Second approach – Roll mare onto back. Have helpers hold her on back. Grasp the foal’s forelegs. Even though you are still pulling towards the mare’s hocks, you are now pulling towards your waist because the mare is on her back. Baby should pop out

  • Third approach – grasp foal’s front legs and pull down to the left, then down to the right, slowly trying to walk foal through birth canal. Alternate the way you are pulling, down to left, down to right.

  • Fourth approach - Grasp foal's forelegs and attempt to rotate foal 180 degrees,  pull foal upwards and out.

   C. Presentations to CALL THE VET, don’t try it yourself!!!!

In the following presentations, you could hurt mare and/or foal if you try to do it alone. While waiting for the vet to arrive, walk the mare slowly around the stall. A mare can’t push and walk at the same time. Have your trailer hooked up, deeply bedded and ready to haul her in.    

         1. Full Breech (Backwards with no legs coming)

  • You will see a tail and a butt and no legs, emergency! 


         2. Upside Down Breech (backwards & upside down)

  • It will look like a full breech, but with the tail on the bottom

         3. Back (spine) of foal first, also called transverse

  • Mare will be pushing…nothing coming, you stick your hand in, and hit a solid wall of foal, the foal’s back.

         4. All 4 feet coming at same time, another transverse

   D. Presentations that may need my intervention....or a nearby vet. 

  1. One forefoot or foreleg deflected back (most common dystocia )(Read Lisa's story of a birth by clicking here)

  • I will see only one leg and a nose.

  • Tie a clean shoe string around the visible pastern. Next, push the head and leg back into uterus a little ways. Slide your clean, well lubricated hand into mare, with palm towards center. Locate hooked leg, slip two fingers behind knee, pull up, then towards the middle of foal’s chest, then out. If the leg does not come, try grasping toe of hoof and bringing it forward.

  • (If the foal’s left leg is missing, use your left hand with the palm towards center of mare) Whenever you are moving foal’s legs inside the mare, protect her uterus from the sharp hooves by cupping the foal’s hoof in your hand. 

           2. Both forelegs back (second most common dystocia) (Jewel's baby presentation)

  • You will see the nose, but there will be no legs

  • If the foal has a blue tongue, don’t worry; that is normal in this     situation

  • Enter with your palm towards center and do the same process as written above on both legs instead of just one leg

         3. Head caught on pelvic rim

  • The legs may or may not be in birth canal.

  • Tie string to visible pasterns and then reach in mare. Find the foal’s two mandibles, then run your hand down his face to his chin. Grasp under chin while having your helper push the foal back  into uterus. (with each contraction, the foal’s head is being jammed harder and harder into the pelvic rim. That is why the helper must push foal back to undo the blockage) with your hand under the chin, gently but firmly pull on it and unhook from the rim. Once the head straightens, the foal will deliver without further ado. 

         4. Head & neck turned to one side


  • This presentation may look like the one above, but when you put  your hand in, on one side of the foal will be a mass of neck. Tie strings to the pasterns, and, while helper is pushing foal back, slide  hand along neck to chin. Grasp chin and gently straighten head.

         5. Upside Down

  • You will see the soles pointing upwards, telling you that the foal is either upside down or backwards. Discern position  by entering and trying to find head or hocks. If there is a head, the foal is upside down.

  • This position may correct itself. Allow time for the mare’s rotational contractions to turn foal. Allow time for mare to lay down and roll to position foal before getting worried.

  •  If intervention is necessary, first put hand in and re-check foal’s position to make sure that only 2 legs are in the birth canal. If hind leg is there, do not push foot directly back in!(Read section 6 on how to unhook a third foot) Foal will be tipped to one side. This is because the rotational contractions are trying  to turn the foal that direction. Work with the pre-established direction of the foal. If foal is tipped to your left, grasp foal’s legs and cross right leg over left. Hold the legs crossed, and wait   for mare’s contractions to pull. (mare should by laying down).  When she pushes, pull and twist firmly but gently. Rolling the foal  happens gradually, not suddenly. Don’t pull when the mare is not having a contraction, but in between contractions, don’t let the foal slip back, hold all progress you have made. 

         6. One hind foot coming under chest (Dog-sitting position)

  • Instead of the normal two front feet and a nose, there will be 3 front feet and a nose. The first thing you have to do is figure  out  which leg is the back leg. Put hand in and feel for hocks or run hand down foal’s front legs to find chest.

  • Once you find the back foot, put two fingers behind

  • pastern/ankle  try to LIFT HOOF over pelvic rim while your helper pushes foal back. As soon as you feel any movement or release, slide your hand with palm upwards and catch the sharp hoof tip as  it falls, protecting the mare’s uterus

         7. Forelegs over head/ears

  • Foal will be coming out, except for that the hooves will be on top of the nose instead of the nose on top of the hooves. Lube well and go in with your palm towards the center

  • Once you locate the knees, which will be hooked over the ears, gently lift legs from head into normal position

Need more reading??

Click here for a foaling calculator

Click here for a foaling kit list

Click here for ideas of  what to do 30 days prior to foaling

Click here for a description of a redbag birth

Click here for notes about dystocia during foaling

Read product testimonials here

Click here for our post foaling check list

We have kept extensive foaling journals to help others.....look on the articles page




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