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Coping with complications

Catherine D'Helft from Barntown, Co Wexford, foals down Irish Sport Horse and Connemara mares at her family's home at Bolgerstown House Stud every year.

Here, she outlines some of the common complications which can occur during foaling and how she deals with each issue.

However, she insists that the first reaction of an owner, if they have any doubts about their mare or foal's condition, should be to call the vet.

Red bag delivery

If I see the placenta is a red colour, emerging before the foal, I cut the placenta to allow oxygen to the foal and pull the foal out to ensure it does not suffocate or become deprived of oxygen.

Bleeding/short umbilicus

A very short umbilicus can cause bleeding and may need to be tied off using an elastic band and then disinfected with iodine or betadine to prevent infection. Then dry it up. The ideal length is about three inches.

Retained Placenta

Check the placenta is complete. If the placenta or some of it is retained, the mare can be injected with 1ml of oxytocin intra muscularly (IM) to cause further contractions to expel the retained placenta. If this does not work, she will need flushing by a vet.

If the placenta is half-way out, tie it up using a bag to prevent infection and keep it clean, the weight will help pull it out gently.


The foal's first dung, called the meconium, is very hard and the foal may have problems passing it.

Signs of constipation include straining, tail swishing and mild colic.

The foal should be given an enema. Insert only lubricated, soft-tipped enema kits to a maximum depth of one inch into the rectum to avoid perforation.

Failure to suckle

Foals can be encouraged to suckle using your fingers, or by placing some milk on the udder, while foals can also be encouraged to drink by putting milk in a bucket.

Failure to get up

If a foal fails to get up, it could be due to any number of reasons, including contracted tendons, limb malformation, fractures or perinatal asphyxia syndrome (dummy foal).

Call the vet if the foal doesn't get up within two hours of birth.

Laboured breathing

Laboured breathing could be due to cracked ribs as a consequence of hard birthing, aspiration pneumonia or premature birth. Call your vet.

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