Zenyatta, 2010 Eclipse Horse of the Year, is due to foal today. That doesn't mean that we will be hearing the patter of baby hooves, it means that calculating from the day she was bred by Bernardini last spring her gestation reached full term today. Be assured that the Zenyatta foaling team is on full alert, eager and waiting!
A maiden mare giving birth for the first time hasn't read What to Expect When You Are Expecting, gone to a Lamaze class or consulted with a doula. The best you can do to prepare a mare for her first foal is let her see other mares and foals as they walk by in the barn. That way when confronted with this new little creature in her stall, at least she has seen something similar before.
Another important matter is getting the mare used to having her udder handled in preparation for the foal nursing. Many a maiden mare acts with an initial "How rude!" followed by a quick kick when she is introduced to the new role her udder will play. The mare's attendants manually check the fullness and size of her udder well before her due date so she isn't so touchy when her foal launches its full nursing assault. Once a foal learns how to latch on to the udder, it is a constant and demanding nurser.
With horses once the foaling process begins, with all going well, it is fast, focused and intense. From breaking water to having a foal on the ground, it ideally takes less than half an hour. If there are problems, like an oddly positioned foal, most times experienced attendants along with the farm vet can correct the presentation and have a normal delivery.
When the baby has been delivered, it is still attached to its mother by the umbilical cord. Care is taken to keep the mare and foal quiet and safe to ensure the full amount of blood is transferred to the foal. When the umbilical cord breaks, the stump on the foal's abdomen is dipped with a strong antiseptic solution. This is done because the umbilical stump is a potential pathway for pathogens to enter the foal.
A strong foal will stand within an hour of birth and nurse within two hours. While this is going on, the mare will be monitored closely with particular attention paid to the afterbirth which should be released within a couple of hours after parturition.
Once the foal is nursing and the afterbirth passed, it's time to let the mare and foal rest, with the mare having a nice flake of hay and the foal having self-serve milk on tap.
For a closer look at the foaling process check out "The Promise of a Foal".