Horses are some of the most majestic and most useful animals ever domesticated by mankind. They pull our wagons, plow our fields, let us cross vast distances and difficult terrain quickly and even carry us into war.
In keeping with their centuries-long importance, entire dynasties have been founded around the breeding and rearing of horses.
You probably won’t be the next horse baron, but there is lots to know if you want to breed your own at any rate. The first thing we need to know is how long it takes horses to reproduce.
What’s the gestation period like for horses?
Gestation for horses generally lasts between 11 and 12 months, though it can be as short as 10 months or as long as 14 months in some cases. This relatively long gestation period is due to the size of the foal, which at birth can weigh anywhere from 60 to 100 pounds, or around 10% of the mare’s weight.
That is quite a lengthy time to be pregnant, and in that time both you and the mare will have to overcome plenty of challenges.
You’ll need to know what to expect and what to do, so keep reading to learn more about the gestation of horses.
How Long Does it Take for a Horse to Gestate?
The average gestation period for horses is between 11 and 12 months, though it can be as short as 10 months or as long as 14 months in some cases.
What are the Signs a Horse is Pregnant?
There are a few telltale signs that your mare is with child. The first and most obvious sign is that she will stop cycling, or come into heat.
Mares usually cycle every 21 days, so if she goes longer than that without showing any interest in breeding, it’s a good chance she’s already pregnant.
Other early signs of pregnancy in horses include changes in behavior, such as increased affection seeking from the mare or restlessness.
She may also experience an increase in appetite, though this can also be a sign of illness so it’s not definitive on its own.
As the pregnancy progresses, you’ll notice physical changes in the mare as well. Her abdomen will begin to swell as the foal grows, and her nipples will become engorged with milk.
These changes will be most noticeable in the last few months of gestation.
What Should You Do if You Think Your Horse is Pregnant?
If you think your mare is pregnant, the best thing to do is to call or take her to the vet for a confirmatory ultrasound.
The vet will be able to tell you definitively whether or not she’s pregnant and how far along she is.
Alternately, a vet might also perform a rectal palpation. This is where the vet reaches into the mare’s abdomen (via the anus) for the presence of the foal.
This method is less accurate, however, and can only be used after some time of gestation.
Once you’re sure that your mare is pregnant, you’ll need to start making some changes to her diet and schedule!
How Can You Tell When a Horse is Nearing Birth?
As the birth of the foal approaches, you’ll need to be on the lookout for some warning signs. The most obvious sign that labor is imminent is when the mare’s water breaks.
This can happen anywhere from a few hours to a day before she gives birth.
Other signs that a mare is about to foal include restlessness, a drop in body temperature, and an increase in vaginal discharge.
The mare may also start to exhibit nesting behavior, such as making a bed of straw in her stall.
When these signs are present, it’s best to confine the mare to a small area, such as a paddock or stable, so she doesn’t injure herself or the foal during labor.
It’s also a good idea to have a vet on hand, just in case anything goes wrong.
What Happens During Horse Labor?
The actual process of labor can vary quite a bit from mare to mare, and even from pregnancy to pregnancy. In general, though, the process takes anywhere from a few hours to half a day.
The first stage of labor is when the mare’s water breaks and she begins to experience contractions. These contractions will help to push the foal down the birth canal.
The second stage of labor is when the foal actually starts to be born, leaving the mare’s womb and entering the world.
The third and final stage of labor is when the mare expels the placenta, or afterbirth. This usually happens within an hour or two after the foal is born but might happen much quicker.
What Happens if My Mare is Pregnant for Longer than the Anticipated Time?
If your mare is pregnant for longer than expected, it’s called “overdue” and you should contact your veterinarian.
There are a number of complications that can arise from an overdue pregnancy, such as the placenta detaching from the uterine wall or the foal growing too large to be born safely without intervention.
Your vet will likely perform an ultrasound to determine if the foal is indeed overdue or if there are any other problems.
If everything looks fine, they may give you some tips on how to speed up the process, such as walking the mare or feeding her certain herbs.
If the foal is overdue, your vet will likely perform a cesarean section to deliver it. This is a fairly common procedure with a high success rate, though there is a limited window to administer the procedure prior to the onset of labor.
What are the Risks for Horses Associated with Pregnancy?
Though complications during pregnancy are relatively rare, there are a few things that can go wrong.
One of the most common problems is called “dystocia,” which is when the foal becomes stuck in the birth canal and cannot be delivered vaginally.
This often happens when the foal is too big or positioned wrongly for delivery.
Another problem that can occur is called “twinning.” This is when a mare gives birth to two foals at once, which happens in about 1% of all pregnancies.
While it’s not necessarily dangerous, it does put major stress on both the mother and babies and can lead to complications such as low birth weight or premature births.
Finally, a mare might experience something called “uterine torsion.” This is when the uterus twists on itself, which can cut off blood flow to the foal and cause serious damage. If not treated quickly, it can be fatal for both the mare and foal.
Fortunately, most of these problems can be avoided with proper care during pregnancy. For example, regular vet check-ups can help to identify dystocia early on, and mares who are at risk for twins can be given special care to prevent complications.
How Should You Care for a Pregnant Horse?
Pregnant mares need special care to ensure a healthy pregnancy. For starters, they should be fed a diet rich in nutrients, such as hay, oats, and vitamin supplements.
It’s also important to keep an eye on the mare’s weight. Mares who are overweight are more likely to experience problems during labor, so it’s important to make sure they stay at a healthy weight throughout the pregnancy.
Exercise is also important for mares of any weight while they are with foal. It helps to keep the mare’s muscles strong and also helps to prevent problems like dystocia and uterine torsion.
Finally, it’s important to give the mare plenty of rest during the last few weeks of pregnancy. This is when the foal is growing the most and the mare needs all her energy to support him.
Pregnant horses should always get regular vet check-ups to ensure everything is going well. The vet will check the mare’s weight, listen to the foal’s heartbeat, and check to make sure he is positioned correctly.
How Long Does it Take for a Horse to Wean?
After the foal is born, he will start to nurse from his mother. For the first few weeks of life, the foal will drink nothing but his mother’s milk.
This milk is rich in nutrients and antibodies, which help to keep the foal healthy.
Around four to six weeks after birth, the foal will start to eat solid food. He will gradually wean off of his mother’s milk until he is eating only solid food. This process usually takes around two to three months.
After the foal is weaned, he can be separated from his mother and turned out with other young horses. He will continue to grow and mature over the next few years, eventually becoming an adult horse.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.