What is Parturition?
Parturition is the act or process of giving birth to an offspring. In nature, horses normally foal in secluded areas away from others. They tend to foal at night to keep away from predators, so by morning they are far away from the birth site. In a commercial setting, horses are kept in foaling stalls so they can be monitored in case of any birthing complications to avoid loss of the foal or even the mare.
Signs that a mare is experiencing parturition
This is the first stage of labor. She may move to a corner, paw the ground, swish her tail, and become very restless. After the water breaks the foal should be out within 15 minutes to prevent oxygen deficiency.
This is the second stage of labor. The mare is lying down and begins pushing and straining from the contractions. This can last up to 10 to 15 minutes.
This is part of the second stage of labor. The correct position of the foal is the forelegs first with the muzzle in between. Once the mare has passed the foal’s shoulders the foal should easy slide out with one or two more contractions.
During the third stage of labor the placenta is expelled. This process can take up to 2 hours after birth before is fully removed.
When does Maternal Behavior begin?
Maternal behavior can begin immediately following parturition to 1 to 3 ours after labor. The mare will begin to shed the placenta, nuzzle, lick, nurse, and encourage the foal to stand up.
The mare will stand 15 to 20 minutes after giving birth and begin to lick the amniotic fluid off the foal and nuzzle the foal.
Reasons for licking
Nursing is instigated in the immediate post partum period. Most foals will nurse within 30 minutes to 2 hours after foaling. The first few hours after birth are critical for the mare to recognize and accept her foal. The intake of colostrums is important for the foal because they get their initial does of antibodies from the mare.
Foals can be confused about the location of the teats and may try to nurse the mare’s neck and under her belly. This is completely normal at first. Watch for the mare exhibiting aggression towards the foal when this occurs (ear pinning and threatening to kick is common).
Some mares will terminate nursing when the foal is very young by simply walking away. As the foal gets older, it will stop nursing on its own.
This is the response when a mare will stay in close proximity to their foal when it is very young. It functions to protect the foal from predators as well as keeping it from becoming lost. New born foals spend most of their time lying down, and the mare will stand next to or graze in circles around the foal to keep a close proximity. When the foal is awake it is responsible for maintaining contact with the dam.
The response gradually decreases as the foal matures. During the first weeks, the mare will maintain a distance of 5 yards of the foal 94% of the time. By month 5 of the foal’s life, the mare only spends 52% of her time within this distance.
Vision and Olfactory senses are the most important for recognition. These actions occur solely in the first few hours following parturition and are critical for the mare to recognize her foal selectively. Foals usually take about a week to recognize their dams and may follow and large, moving object.
The mare will also recognize their foal by vocalizations. This is important if the foal is separated from the herd. The mare will vocalize and the foal will go toward the mare’s call.
Mares usually protect their foals and may resort to aggression in their defense, be it against other animals or humans. The mare and foal should be given adequate time to bond away from other horses and people, and should not be reintroduced into groups that are excessively nosey, pushy, or aggressive.
Maternal aggression is generally not a problem in a herd situation because most mares will not allow a foal this is not their own to nurse, and new mothers are very protective of their foals for the first few weeks,
Good maternal behavior including protecting the foal from aggression by other horses as well as predators is important for foal survival.
Defense mechanisms include: biting, kicking, rearing, and bucking.
Foal rejection by its dam is a well known abnormality due to its potential consequences. The causes of this problem are diverse, so a treatment must be determined on the basis of a combination of particular causes.
Factors of Rejection
3 Types of Foal Rejection
Licking is one of the first signs of mare/ foal bonding. This is important in stimulating, encouraging, and drying the foal.
Nudging is another form of bonding between the mare and foal. The mare encourages the foal to stand and directs the foal to the udders by doing so.
This behavior sometimes needs a little help from the mare or as a last resort human help. Standing needs to occur within 2 hours, and while more than likely take multiple attempts. The foal will forcefully swing themselves up in attempt stay balanced and eventually be able to run quickly.
Nursing usually occurs right after the foal stands up. The mare helps by nudging the foal in the direction of the udders.
Eliminative behavior in foals is known as the passing of the meconium. This is the “first poop” and is firmer than normal fecal matter. More than often the newborn is given an enema to aid in passing the meconium.
Foals have very playful behaviors so don’t be surprised if they jump, crash into each other, fall, or dart off. Their playfulness actually increases as foal ages.
This is the investigation of novel objects
This is an example of a submissive behavior exclusively in foals and sub-adults, directed towards fearful objects
Fear is a powerful, unpleasant feeling of risk or danger, either real or imagined. It is a neural circuit that has been designed to keep the organism alive in dangerous situations. Fear goes beyond feelings and emotions. After a frightful experience, an animal can remember the logical reasons for the experience (example: time and place of the happening), and the animal can also “feel” the memory while his body reacts. The body can react in such ways as increased heart rate, respiration rate, and sweating. We often call the act of a horse reacting to fear as a “spook”.
What Causes Fear?
Flight- Often a reflex reaction:"organized responses using neural circuits which range from simple spinal arcs, involving only two large neurons, to elaborate internuncial networks of many small neurons localized in higher brain centers”
The reactivity involves the reflex of moving when startled and the orientation of turning towards or away from the source of fear.
Head shy horses- Often the result of abuse
Fear of humans- Caused by using fright inducing actions and sounds to achieve actions from the horses
Every human-horse interaction should cause a benefit, not hindrance to the training of the horse
This is the waning of a response, which could still be shown, to a repeated stimulus. This results in a decrease in response shown by the horse with each successive stimuli. Eventually, repetition leads to no response.
“Habituation to the environmental situation can be an important first step in a training program. The horse is allowed to adapt to the surroundings through repeated or continuous exposure to the fear-inducing or distracting stimuli.”