One of my favorite memories from veterinary school was when I had the opportunity to watch a foal being born. It was a “meant to be” moment.
I was horse-crazy since childhood, but most of my experience was with geldings (neutered male horses) or mares (females) who were not slated for breeding. Given those circumstances, it isn’t too surprising that my experience with the foaling process was negligible … not the best scenario for a veterinary student who thought, at the time, that horses were going to be a large part of her life in practice.
I wasn’t alone in this regard, so my veterinary school set up a program with a nearby equine breeding facility that let students spend the night in their foaling barn. Our job was to keep an eye on the expectant ladies and, if one went in to labor, wake the foaling manager so help was on hand should the mare need it.
There were no guarantees with this arrangement. Mares tend to foal in the middle of the night and the blessed event is usually over within 30 minutes or so. Chances are a veterinary student would give up many hours of precious sleep and never be on hand for a single birth. That is not what happened to me.
Within just a couple of hours of starting my first shift in the foaling barn, a classmate and I noticed one of the expectant moms getting restless. She would circle, lie down, stand back up again, turn her head to stare at her belly, and then start the process all over again. Thankfully this mare had read the textbook on what her behavior should look like just prior to active labor. Her signs were obvious enough that even two wet behind the ears veterinary students knew what we were seeing.
The foaling went perfectly. We all stood quietly outside the stall and watched as a beautiful new Morgan foal entered the world. He was standing within the hour and nursing just a short time after that. I left the farm as the sun rose over the Blue Ridge Mountains with a huge smile on my face. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.
Now you have the opportunity to experience the anticipation and thrill of trying to witness a “live” equine birth. The University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School’s New Bolton Center is preparing a “Foal Cam” so that we can all watch My Special Girl, an 11-year-old Thoroughbred mare, give birth to a baby that was conceived via intracytoplasmic sperm injection, an advanced reproductive technique that is frequently used to help people conceive but is relatively new to the horse world.
The foal’s biological mother is a Thoroughbred-Cleveland Bay cross and the single sperm that was used to fertilize her egg came from a frozen sample saved from a Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse stallion who is now deceased. My Special Girl is due to foal in mid-March. The Foal Cam will go live on February 26.
Dr. Jennifer Coates