I can’t believe I haven’t yet shared with you folks my very first foaling. It’s not as you might expect. Let me explain.


One lovely spring day during my freshman year of undergrad, prior to vet school, I was out on a bike ride in the countryside. Toward the end of the ride, I passed a small horse farm. With a modest wooden stable in the background, a single dark horse stood in the field in front. As I rode past the field, I slowed to watch this horse lay down and roll. Coming to a stop and squeezing between the hedges that divided the field from the road, I continued to watch and soon realized this horse wasn’t just rolling for a dirt bath — she was having a baby!


Abandoning my bike on the sidewalk, I pushed through the hedges and against the fence. The mare was quiet on her side for a minute or two and then the intense contractions began. I could see them from where I was standing, about two hundred feet away. Luckily for me, the mare was laying such that I could actually see the foal as first its front feet emerged, then its nose and head.


Incredulous, I watched as the mare took a rest from the pushing after the foal’s shoulders were out. The vast majority of foalings occur in the dead of night (one study showed 65 percent of mares foaled between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.) and here I was, in the middle of the afternoon, witness to one in the middle of a field!


Soon, the mare began her contractions again. As I watched the foal’s hips emerge, another bike rider, who saw my bike on the sidewalk, poked his head through the hedges, asking if everything was okay. I nodded and pointed to the mare in the field in front of us. This other rider watched with me as the mare finished delivery, stood, and turned around to examine her newborn foal, which was soon shaking its head and wobbling back and forth as it attempted to sit up.


Although the other bike rider left soon after, I stood a while longer, watching in fascination as the mare cleaned the afterbirth off the foal. Soon, the foal’s long legs started to unfold in shaky attempts to rise. Again and again it tried to stand, but either the front half or the back half wouldn’t quite cooperate. As a general rule, foals should be standing within an hour of birth. I decided to stay and watch until the foal was able to stand on its own. After a few more attempts it was finally able to stand, albeit briefly, on all fours with, I swear, a look of triumph on its face.


Satisfied, I pulled myself back through the hedges, collected my bike, and finished my ride, which was the most enlightening bike ride I’ve ever had.


Dr. Anna O'Brien


Image: Nigel Dowsett / Shutterstock