Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Red Bag Delivery in Arabian Horses

Since I wrote my series of blog articles on Sassy (the mare carrying her fourth set of twins) and Laurietta's story, my Arabian horse blog statistics indicate there are a considerable number of searches being directed towards my horse blog around the issue of red bag deliveries in (Arabian) horses. So many in fact it appears to warrant a post and an image link about this particular complication of foaling in the Arabian horse and other breeds of horses .

While I have never had to deal with a red bag delivery in my Arabian horse business. I have studied extensively about it's occurrence in horses. I have also witnessed red bag deliveries on the live foaling cams on Mare Stare.

Red bag delivery is a layman's term for the foaling complication known as premature placental separation in horses. Under normal foaling conditions this red structure (known as the chorioallantois) ruptures at the cervical star (portion of the placenta where all the blood vessels merge together and form the umbilical cord) and the foal within the white sack (amnion) present through the birth canal. Occasionally, the chorioallanatois is too thick and the foal (Arabian horse) is unable to break through. This causes the structure to separate from the mare's (horses) uterus and it precedes the foal through the birth canal.

The reason this is unsafe is the red structure provides the foal (horse) all of it's nutrients, oxygen etc to stay alive. Once this separation begins, the foal is oxygen deprived and can die or suffer extensive damage if not delivered immediately.

If red bag (see red bag image) presents it should be immediately (but carefully) cut with scissors and the foal should be gently pulled from the mare. Before pulling the foal, it is also important to remember that it is possible to have other foaling complications in conjunction with a red bag delivery. Once the membrane of the red bag has been cut, the position of the foal should be determined before pulling on the foal. If the foal is in the proper position (two front feet with bottoms of hooves down and nose following closely behind) It is important to pull the foal in conjunction with the mare's contractions. Pulling against the contractions can cause the mare's (Arabian horses) uterus to prolapse (come out and turn inside out)

Also, when pulling a foal (Arabian horse), keep in mind that one foot should be positioned slightly ahead of the other foot. This allows the shoulders to come out at an angle instead of straight across. The shoulders will be able to move through a narrower opening that way making it easier on the mare and the foal (and the person pulling).

You want to get the entire foal out as quickly as possible. Some people think once you are past the shoulders the hard part is done, but a foal is still vulnerable when it is only out to that point. The constriction associated with the mare's contractions can suffocate a foal that is halfway in and halfway out. This is not a time to stop pulling, just keep it in time with the mare's contractions. Once the foal is out it should be watched closely for signs of hypoxia (oxygen deprivation or dummy foal syndrome).

In the event of a red bag delivery with a malpresenting foal, it will be necessary to reach inside the mare to ascertain the position of the foal. I keep the long examine gloves (I get them from my vet) on hand in my foaling supplies along with the scissors needed to cut a red bag. I also keep my finger nails cut short and keep them as clean as possible when I'm anticipating a foaling. This way the risk of infecting a mare can be minimized.

Anytime I have a problem with a foaling, I get my vet on the phone immediately. If the problem is a malpresentation, I keep him on the phone so I can describe to him what's happening and answer any questions. Then he walks me through what I need to do and answers any questions while he heads to my farm. It helps a lot with my confidence. I think adrenaline works a lot better with confidence than with fear.

For more complete information on red bag deliveries and the causes.


  1. Hi MiKael

    Thanks for that, it was very interesting to read. A lot of this stuff that you describe I have never experienced thank heavens and wasnt even aware that they could happen so you are educating me in a big way LOL.

    Hope your weather is improving, ours is deteriorating, and that you can get the horses out for a bit soon.

    See ya tomorrow


  2. Hi there, I enjoyed reading your blog. It was a thoroughly gripping read and told with real enthusiasm. is a website where horse lovers can meet and its a great place for anyone who wants to talk about horses. Keep up the good work. Its an excellent blog.


  3. Hi,

    just a comment on your prolapse info, i work on a large stud (200 mares) and see plenty of foalings. I would like to point readers in the right direction of your comment on prolapse - it is normally a rectal prolapse (not uterine) that occurs with foaling complications, the mare straining so much she forces the end of her bowel out. This is almost always fatal. Hope this is also interesting for you


  4. I'd like to address Jacqui's comment about prolapse in foaling. The situation she is talking about with a rectal prolapse certainly can be a complication of foaling. It, however, is not caused by a person pulling a foal against a mare's contractions which is the situation I was trying to warn against in this post.

  5. Does anyone know what the probablity of a mare having subsequent red bag deliveries is after the first one? This question is based upon the assumption that after the first red bag delivery the mare has been completely removed from any form of fescue for the entire gestation period.

  6. Since exposure to fungus infected fescue is not the only cause for the thickened placenta which causes the red bag delivery, just removing a mare from exposure to fescue would not necessarily remove all risk of reoccurrence of a red bag delivery.

    While I've not seen anything about studies of the repeat incidence of this, I have read that mares who presented a red bag delivery without any known source can be monitored for abnormalities in the placenta by ultrasound in subsiquent pregnancies.