Whether it's your first foal or you've been in the business over 50 years, as the clock winds down toward foaling day, the anticipation rises. You wouldn't be normal if you didn't find yourself worrying about the mare and how awful it would be if something went wrong at the 11th hour. What would you do? How can you prevent this from happening to your mare?
Heavily pregnant mares tend to be subdued (or grouchy) anyway, and often don't move around too much, so it can be difficult to tell if they're feeling well. Having a system for monitoring them keeps you organized and makes the job much easier. Red flags mean at least a telephone call to your veterinarian is in order.
Going off feed is always a good indicator that a horse isn't feeling up to par but is common in later pregnancy. The large uterus crowds the digestive tract, often leading to mares eating less. There may also be some direct discomfort from the weight of the uterus and the fetus or from early contractions as the uterus prepares for delivery.
There's no need to panic if the mare doesn't clean up her grain, or skips a meal entirely, although you should always give her a quick check for red-flag signs. This will sometimes go on for a few days before she spontaneously goes back on full feed. During periods of poor appetite, monitor water consumption closely (this should not drop) and be careful to observe how much hay she is eating and/or if she is actively grazing.
Red flags are:
- Mare also stops drinking and eating hay or grass.
- Mare is also showing obvious signs of colic/abdominal pain.
- Manure production is greatly decreased or absent.
It's easy to lose sight of the body condition of the mare when she has a big belly, especially under a winter coat. Weight loss can occur quickly in late pregnancy if calorie intake isn't adequate.
Train yourself to feel for ribs and along the top line. Keep an eye on her neck and shoulders for weight loss. You want to keep your mare around a body condition score of 6 throughout pregnancy and foaling, so that she has adequate energy stores to support the beginning of lactation/milk production.
All the extra weight puts considerable strain on any joint, tendon or ligament problems the mare may have. Be sure to keep an eye on these areas and ask your vet for management tips if you think anything is bothering her. In general, unless she is having an acute flare up of a problem it's best to make sure the mare spends as much time outside the barn as possible since gentle exercise is beneficial.
Pregnancy can also be a high-risk time for laminitis, which may be associated with a degree of insulin resistance that pregnancy induces. Ask your farrier to keep an eye out for white line stretching and sole dropping.