A tiny brown muzzle and dark, confused eyes are finally visible. The grey mare, flanks slick with sweat, rallies and completes the last push. It’s really happening; your foal is here!

The new baby’s nostrils are clear, and you sigh with relief while listening closely to his breathing. For many of us, it’s a dream come true to be present as the long-awaited little one makes his or her entrance.

Published information abounds on the subject of preparing a mare for the foaling experience, yet there is surprisingly little about preparing a mare to be in foal. Without a doubt, the health of our precious foal depends on the well-being of the mare long before she is bred. Here are five important steps to consider prior to breeding mares:

1. Assess body condition

Research show that optimal body condition at time of breeding can have an enormous impact on the health of both mare and foal. While the ramifications of malnourishment are quite obvious, obesity can be a lurking concern. Recent studies indicate that foals born to obese mares have a higher risk of certain metabolic disorders and osteochondrosis, a bone development disorder. Furthermore, obese mares generally have larger foals, which may increase the chances of foaling complications.

Not sure if your horse is at a healthy body weight? Consult your veterinarian or click here to learn more about evaluating body condition.

2. Vaccinate

Simple, right? Work with your veterinarian to make sure your mare is current on her immunizations. The American Association of Equine Practitioners considers Eastern/Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, Rabies, Tetanus, and West Nile Virus to be core vaccines. Other vaccinations may also be advised based on your region or risk level. Remember that certain vaccines may not be safe to give your mare once she is in foal, so it is essential to consult a knowledgeable veterinarian.

 3. Evaluate Nutrition

Now more than ever, it is critical that the mare’s diet be providing balanced nutrition. For instance, vitamin E deficiency during a mare’s pregnancy can cause her foal to develop Equine Neuroaxonal Dystrophy, which is often fatal. Consult your veterinarian for nutrition concerns specific to your region. If in doubt, consider sending a sample of your mare’s blood for nutrient analysis.

 4. Dental examination and floating

Most veterinarians agree that sedation should be avoided during pregnancy when possible. For that reason, it may be ideal to complete dental exams and floats one to two months prior to breeding. This ensures that any dental issues are in hand, allowing the mare to comfortably feed herself and the foal.  

 5. Parasite evaluation

Last but not least, evaluate the parasite status of your herd. Fecal tests are highly recommended, but remember that such tests may not detect a tapeworm or encysted small strongyle infestation. Also consider that not all anthelmintic products are approved for safe use in pregnant mares. Based on fecal analysis, work with your veterinarian to develop a common sense strategy that discourages parasite resistance.

There’s nothing more awe-inspiring than a healthy newborn foal, and nothing harder than waiting eleven months for him or her to arrive. Focusing on optimizing your mare’s health before, during, and after pregnancy is a crucial endeavor that will help to not only form a closer bond with her, but the foal as well.  

Throughout her childhood on the family horse farm, Heather Malcolm found her passion for equine nutrition, behavior, and wellness. After graduating with a degree in Animal Science, she took a job in the companion animal industry. When she’s not riding her horse, she enjoys reading the latest equine research and cuddling up for a nap with her favorite dog.