Foal watch: A watched mare never foals

Dec 09, 2018 Jennifer Caldwell/

Pretty much anyone who has stayed up all night waiting for one of the cutest of all miracles, a new born foal, has come to the same conclusion: a watched mare never foals.

In just a few weeks, “foal watch” season kicks off as farms ready for the new arrivals. As previously discussed, “The first step on the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ is…” the breeding shed. However, once the deed is done, a near year-long wait begins before a foal is born.

As time draws near for the mare to foal, she begins exhibiting certain signs, such as an enlarged udder and restlessness. By this time, many farms have already moved the broodmares into foaling barns, where they are then watched 24/7.

At least one person is on hand to monitor the mares at all times, keeping a constant check for any indication the foaling process has begun. The advent of technology has made the job of “foal watch” much easier, with cameras set up in stalls offering a live feed, but there still needs to be a body there to watch the video.

On smaller farms, such technology may not be feasible. In some, someone will set the alarm every couple hours to check on the mares while in others a night of walking the shedrow is normal.

This process is repeated day after day, night after night, from January until June, until the mare actually foals.

Mares have a tendency to give birth in the wee hours of the morning, between midnight and 5 a.m. If a mare is turned loose she will usually leave the herd behind and find a secluded spot well away from the others, which is one reason farms have taken to putting their mares up at night.

Even showing signs of parturition, or giving birth, doesn’t mean the waiting game is over. Some mares will stay in parturition for hours, if not days, before finally delivering their foals.

During the process, mares are left alone as much as possible, though still constantly monitored in case complications arise. They are checked to make sure the foals are in the correct birthing position, their heads tucked between their front legs, and then left to themselves for nature to do its job.

To get in on the fun of foal watch, check out the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s “Foal Patrol” for past births and next year’s foaling season. 

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