When spring arrived at Oak Haven Acres, it was a welcome reprieve from winter’s cold and rainy days. Summer will soon grace us with balmy times that are perfect for horseback riding and sipping sweet tea on the porch with family and friends. For horse ranches with younger mares, the month of May begins the season of birthing foals. Most of our equine residents are retired and are past the age of foaling. Our resident vet says that mares are most fertile between 5 and 7 years old. They can continue having foals up until they turn fifteen, and then conception is more complicated. Horse owners usually don’t breed their mares past fifteen unless she is a prized thoroughbred. We put together some helpful tips on what to expect when your horse is expecting.
Occasionally, we rescue a younger mare, and she foals while she is with us. We’ve even seen older mares’ foal, but the gestation and labor are often risky and challenging. Fortunately, the vet at Oak Haven has years of experience working with equine mothers and they’re young. Some of their medical discussions about equine maternity are quite fascinating.
Did you know that a mare carries her fetus for up to eleven months? As with humans, some deliver earlier or later, depending on heredity and health issues. While birthing foals at our ranch is rare, our staff eagerly participated in the whole conception of the birth process. The miracle of life never ceases to amaze us.
When A Horse is Expecting
Unlike some mothers in the animal kingdom, when your horse is expecting they usually don’t have a nesting instinct. They spend their gestation period grazing and running with the herd. If your mother mare gets plenty of nourishing hay, feed, and freshwater, you probably won’t need to supplement her diet, unless the vet recommends it. As the final weeks of gestation is near, you may notice the mare resting more because of her body pains and hormone fluctuations.
A few summers ago, the ranch was blessed with foaling we will never forget. While we usually know if one of our rescue equines is in heat, this case took us by surprise. It has taught us that anything can be possible in the world of horses.
We rescued an older mare in a bad situation from a neighboring county. She was slightly swaybacked, emaciated, and had matted hair and cracked hooves. Who knows how long this poor animal had suffered from neglect and the elements? Although she was skittish at first, our team gently coaxed her into the trailer and brought her to the ranch.
Our vet checked her over and said that she was extremely malnourished and needed some medical care for her hooves and sores under her coat. She seemed to understand that we were trying to help her and allowed the ranch hands to scrub and brush her coat, mane, and tale. She was a pale mare with a striking black mane, so one of our hands suggested we name her Mona Lisa. The name fits perfectly.
What They Need When Your Horse Is Expecting
We followed the vet’s advice and supplemented her food with the vitamins her body desperately needed. Judging by her teeth and other factors, he guessed that Mona Lisa was at least fifteen years or a little older. Even after years of neglect, this magnificent mare learned to trust the other equine residents and us.
Within a couple of months, she began to gain weight and strength in her body. While she was never in a full run, we often watched her galloping through the fields, searching for a sweet clover for a snack. Our vet said that she would probably have delicate health due to her past issues.
After a routine checkup, the vet contacted us with the startling news that our horse is expecting. Mona Lisa was pregnant! It is often difficult to tell if a mare is expectant, even during the late-term. She must have conceived a while before we rescued her, and none of us were any the wiser.
What is Considered a High-Risk Pregnancy
The vet warned us that she was a high-risk pregnancy because of her age and health history. Each day, we monitored her diet and kept watch over her as our vet recommended. She didn’t gain much more weight during her year-long gestation, and we still couldn’t tell she was pregnant by looking at her.
One early summer morning, we noticed that Mona Lisa seemed more listless than usual. She refused her food and drank little water. Since horses don’t prepare a birthing area or nest, we knew that she would birth her foal wherever it landed. That evening, some of us sat up with her in the stalls to ensure comfort and safety.
She whinnied a bit during labor, but it lasted throughout the night. As the sun rose in the east, she welcomed her baby stallion. By instinct, mother horses sniff at their foals for recognition and nudge them to walk and nurse. The first three hours are crucial for bonding. Our mare accepted her young one with wonder and maternal pride.
Sometimes, a new mother may become aggressive and overprotective of her foal. Mona Lisa kept her baby out of view for a while then gradually allowed us to see him up-close. As the baby stallion nursed hungrily from his mother, we agreed that he should be named Leonardo.
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A loving family adopted both mother and foal about a year after he was born. Once you see the miracle of birth, you will be forever changed. It was one of those rare miracles for a horse retirement ranch and an equine beauty. It’s just another magnificent story that comes from Oak Haven Acres. We love our animals, and here they are, family.