Ask The Vet: Foaling Injuries and Complications

Courtesy of AAEP

Question: My friend just bought a 15-year-old mare from a PMU farm. The mare has been on line for 12 years and has not been ridden since she was 3-years-old. The mare will foal in May and the new owners are determined to ride her since it is their first horse. Some people are telling them that it is ok to get on her now, but I think they should wait until after she has foaled. Should they wait or is it alright to ride her now?

Answer: In this case, it would be wise to wait not only until the mare foals but until after the foal is weaned to start the mare into training. I say this for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, the mare is in her final three months of gestation when the foal grows the most. Her body is already tasked with an extreme amount of metabolic need, and the stress induced by training could; in fact, induce a premature parturition. Since she has not been ridden for nine years and likely has not had any other form of athletic handling, reintroducing her to saddle and rider would not be wise in the advanced state of pregnancy that she is currently in.

Additionally, after she foals, any stress induced by separating her from the foal for training sessions will not produce an attentive mare. The foal will be unduly stressed, and it would be in the best interest of the mare and foal to wait until the foal is weaned. Given the mare has not been ridden for nine years, waiting another five months is a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Question: I have a Palomino mare that had a Cremello foal with blue eyes and light colored skin. All seemed fine until a few days after foaling. The foals eyes turned from blue to a greenish color and now she seems to be blind. I had a veterinarian look at her and he is totally baffled. Could this be genetic or caused by the environment?

Answer: The green tinge to this foal’s eyes is likely secondary to a septic condition where bacteria have gained access to the foal’s bloodstream. This can occur with navel infections or if the mare had placentitis late in her gestation. The green tinge occurs because inflammatory cells have accumulated in the iris and ciliary body secondary to uveitis (inflammation within the eye). The green tinge usually goes away following treatment of the sepsis and most foals that survive sepsis will regain their sight. However, the green eyes are an indication of a much more serious problem.

Question: In the case of a breech delivery, at one point in the foal’s progress through the birth canal, is the umbilical cord pinched so that the foal is no longer receiving oxygen from the mare?

Answer: In a normal birth, the foal’s front feet and nose present first and the umbilical cord is far enough back that it is not contained within the birthing canal until about the time that the head is out. From that point, the foal is born very rapidly and umbilical cord “pinching” is not usually a concern. However, in a breech presentation when the back legs come out first, the umbilical cord is trapped between the mare’s pelvic floor and the foal’s body wall about the time that the fetlocks of the hind feet are visible. During this time, oxygen is not available from the placenta, nor is the foal able to breathe. The mare still has a lot of pushing to do to get the foal out at this point and assistance is warranted. Luckily, breech births are not very common and can be seen when there is early placental detachment and other interruptions in normal fetal development. So, while all foals and mares should have a post-foaling examination by a veterinarian within 24 hours of birth, this may be especially important in foals born breech

Reprinted with permission from AAEP. To view the entire article please visit