Pregnancy in horses is as natural and normal as in other mammals and humans. However, if your mare is expecting for the first time, we can understand your nervousness.
Horse pregnancy is divided into three stages: Stage 1 is from conceiving to 3 months. The second stage is from 3 to 6 months when most mares start to show and the fetus begins appearing like a miniature horse. The last pregnancy stage in horses is from 6 months to the date of foaling, which is usually around 340 days after conceiving.
To make sure the resultant foal is healthy, you should run a thorough medical examination of the stallion and mare before breeding. Also, take special care of the pregnant mare.
Although in the wild, horses breed, conceive and give birth without any intervention from science. Still, to make sure the mare and foal are healthy and remain infection-free, the process is controlled and closely supervised at farms.
Read on for a detailed account on horse pregnancy signs, stages, timeline, and care.
Stages of pregnancy in a horse
The average gestation period of a horse is 11-12 months. Most horses would foal between 330-345 days after conceiving. Normally horses breed in the summers. Once the mare conceives, she refuses further advances from the stallions. You can check here for the signs of pregnancy in horses to confirm.
These birth stages are divided on the bases of fetal development.
1. Conception to 3 months
An ultrasound at 55 to 70 days will show a heartbeat along with the sac and a tiny horse fetus. The fetus will continue to grow and by the time it reaches the 3-month mark, it will start to look like a small horse.
It is recommended to get an ultrasound and blood test done by this time. If the mare is pregnant with twins, one pregnancy is mostly pinched to ensure the birth of a healthy foal.
2. 3 to 6 months
The second trimester starts at around the 3rd month. During this trimester, the fetus starts to grow in size. The 6th month marks the second milestone in a horse’s pregnancy. Most mares start to show by the time they reach this month.
A mare that has already foaled will show earlier than first-time mothers. As the foal grows and gains weight, the mare’s belly will continue to grow. This is around the time when you may want to avoid riding a pregnant mare.
3. 6 months to Estimated Foaling Date (EFD)
The average gestation period in horses is around 340 days. After the 6th month, a mare’s pregnant belly starts to grow rapidly as the unborn baby horse grows.
An ultrasound can determine the estimated foaling date for a mare. Almost two weeks before the foal is due, the mother’s udder will start to swell and it might discharge colostrum a sticky yellow fluid which is considered to be the mother’s first milk. That will be the first food for the baby horse.
From the 315th day of pregnancy, you should watch the mare closely for signs of pregnancy. For instance, the muscles around the tailhead will begin to relax.
Breeding in horses
Horses are bred in the long summer days, the mares would experience a period of heat after every 21 days of estrous. After the initial teasing and the courtship, the mare and stallion will engage in intercourse. Usually, horse breeders will let both horses mate until the mare conceives.
Need more information? Here’s the complete guide on the breeding behavior of horses.
Signs of Pregnancy in Horses
The most accurate way of determining horse pregnancy is ultrasound, but there are some telltale signs that can indicate that your mare has already conceived.
Here are some common signs of pregnancy in horses.
1. Refusal to mate
Most mares, when they have already conceived, refuse to mate. If you let her near the stallion, then she will refuse his advances.
2. No sign of estrus
A mare that has already conceived will not show any signs of heat.
3. Restricted movements
This one doesn’t have any scientific backing. But most horse owners believe it to be true. It is said and noted that when a mare is pregnant, she would avoid sudden movements in order to protect the fetus.
4. Swollen belly
Like humans, a swollen belly is one of the signs of pregnancy in horses, but the issue with this sign is most horses start to show as late as 11 months into gestation. So, even if it is a sure sign, it won’t appear until your mare is quite deep into her pregnancy.
5. Rectal examination
The rectal examination is carried out by a vet. He would insert his hand in the rectum to feel the uterus, the small sac containing foal and ovaries. This can give a good idea if the mare is pregnant or not as early as 15 to 19 days into the pregnancy. But it requires quite a lot of expertise.
The most accurate method of determining if a mare is pregnant is having an ultrasound. It can be performed as early as 55 to 70 days into pregnancy in horses. An ultrasound probe is placed in the rectum of the mare to get a real picture of the amniotic sac and the uterus. With this test, you can also listen to the heartbeat of the foal.
7. Blood or urine test
The blood and urine tests are quite accurate at 2 to 3 months in the gestation.
Do you wonder how horses get their points through? Here’s an article on how horses communicate with one another.
How to Care for a Pregnant Horse?
In the wild, horses give birth naturally and obviously don’t use any medical facility or assistance. But at the farms, to make sure the foal and mare stay in good health, you need to take care of the mare and look for possible warning signs to ensure a smooth delivery.
Here’s how you can care for a pregnant horse.
1. Regular exercise
Mares needs to stay active and regular at exercise. However, make sure you don’t push them to do extensive work. Moderation is key and if, at any day, your pregnant horse doesn’t feel like exercising, then just let it be. More on whether you can ride a pregnant horse here..
2. Proper nutrition
It is best to feed the mare regular food until the last few months of pregnancy. Gradually increase grains in the feed and hay as she moves further along in her pregnancy. Adding a vitamin supplement, salt and minerals is also a good idea.
Farnam Mare Plus Gestation and Lactation Supplement is my favorite for pregnant horses.
3. Avoid riding the pregnant mare
After about 340 day of pregnancy, your horse would finally be ready to give birth. However, the foaling process isn’t as simple as it might seem.
Foaling requires many preparations from your end. From vaccination to preparing a foaling stall, there’s a lot that you need to do before your horse foals.
A pregnant mare should be vaccinated 6 weeks or a month prior to foaling. She should be given a tetanus toxoid booster along with a booster for any disease that is predominant in your area.
The foaling stall
If you are planning indoor foaling, then you should prepare the foaling stall prior to the delivery. The stall should be 14 by 14 feet. If you don’t have enough space, then you can remove the partition between two stalls to make a double stall. The floor of the stall should be bedded with hay or straw for added comfort.
Removing the caslick (vulvar stitches)
The mare should be checked for vulvar stitches when she is bought. If she has stitches, they should be removed at least 2 weeks before the estimated foaling date.
If you fail to remove the caslicks, the mare will get a large tear during foaling. Because the stitches reduce the size of the opening, foaling can do tremendous damage to the perineum of a mare.
Signs of Foaling in Horses
The Stages of Foaling
The process of foaling comprises of 3 stages.
Stage 1 is 1 to 4 hours long, as the uterine contractions get stronger to prepare for the delivery.
The second stage of foaling is the birth of the foal which may take anywhere between 20 minutes to 1 hour if there are complications.
The third stage of pregnancy in horses is the passage of placenta which might occur after 3 hours of delivery. The process should not be intervened as it might cause uterine damage to the mare. If the placenta doesn’t pass after 3 hours, then you should consult the vet.
The mare should be dewormed within one hour of giving birth.
What to do Right After Horse Birth?
The umbilical cord of the newborn foal should be dipped in a diluted solution of chlorhexidine or povidone-iodine many times for 2 to 3 days.
The foal should be able to stand 1 hour after birth and should suckle the milk from the mother immediately after birth.
Not sure what to feed the foal? Here is our complete guide on feeding foals.
Horse Pregnancy: FAQs
We know there are lots of other questions buzzing in your mind right now. So, in this section, we’ll have a crack at some of the most common questions that people ask about pregnancy in horses.
How do I know if my horse is pregnant?
To determine pregnancy in the mare, the most accurate and relatively early method is Ultrasound. Rectal examination can give away if a mare is pregnant as early as 19 days into the pregnancy, but it requires great expertise. Blood or urine tests are also ways to determine horse pregnancy and can be conducted 2 or 3 months after pregnancy.
Can a horse have twins?
Yes, horses can have twins but it’s very rare… as rare as 1 in 10,000 horse pregnancies. Even if a horse does conceive twins, one of them often dies at birth. But there has been a success story, Lori Tucker’s mare delivered two fillies. And both of them were healthy and survived birth.
Can a mare be pregnant and not look pregnant?
You cannot tell if your mare is pregnant just by visual assessment. While some mares get swollen bellies around 6 months into their pregnancy, some don’t show until they reach the 11th month. Also, there’s no guarantee that you’ll notice any fetal movement in your pregnant mare’s belly as well. So, to confirm horse pregnancy, you should contact the vet.
Featured image by Tambako the Jaguar