Mares have multiple heat cycles during one part of the year and no cycles during the rest of the year. The cycles normally begin in early spring and end in early fall. The cycle may last from 21 to 23 days however, there is only a period of 8 days that the mare may breed. This is nature’s way of assuring the foal is born at the best time of the year for survival. The normal gestational period for horses is 320 to 370 days with an average time period of 340 days. Mares are individuals and each pregnancy is unique however, there are five signs that predict foaling time is near.
- Bagging Up: Approximately one month before foaling, the mare’s udders will begin to fill with milk especially at night when the mare is resting. During the daytime, the udders may appear less full. One week before the birth, the udders should appear shiny and black. Colostrum will begin to leak out of the udders at this time. A congealing of the secretions, known as "waxing" may appear. 24 to 48 hours before foaling, the leaking colostrum may turn to milk.
- Pressing Against a Wall: Pregnant mares will often press their backside against a wall to help relieve the pressure of the foal. Sometimes owners mistake mares rubbing their tail heads as a sign of worms. This sign may begin up to 90 days before foaling and may continue up to foaling. Some mares never display this sign.
- Abdomen Drop: As the foal date approaches, the foal will not have room within the abdomen to move very much. The abdomen may drop and take on a shelf-like appearance. The abdomen may appear semi-pear shaped two to six weeks before the time for the foal.
- Relaxation of the Pelvic Muscles and Vulva: The muscles on either side of the tail will take on a soft, or sponge-like appearance, one to three weeks before foaling. The vulva begins to prepare for birth by elongating 24 to 48 hours before it is time to foal.
- Restlessness and Sweating: Some mares will appear restless and start to sweat during the first stages of labor.
Although births may vary, hopefully these signs may help owners predict foaling times to prepare for adequate care for both mare and foal.
*Photo courtesy of Momma Horse with Baby on Board by Tiny Red Warrior at Flickr's Creative Commons.
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