Monday, April 14, 2008

Foaling - Hand On or Hands Off

As you all know, it's foaling season and I've been watching mare foaling on Mare Stare again. It's a regular occurrence for me and I'm pretty used to the routine. I tend to watch in the chat room where there's active conversation about what's going on with the foalings. However, I also follow what's happening on the threads. There's a lot of information to be learned there. I actually have a couple of new things I've learned I'm still researching before I'm ready to post.

Last week on Q & A What Was That? a new thread was started that I thought might be worth discussing here. Excessive interference during and after foaling? might be a can of worms. Everyone has their own ideas about how horses should be dealt with and the right way for a mare to foal. There are certainly lots of things to be said for leaving a mare to herself or for doing whatever you can to make it easier on the mare.

I'm not one of those people who could just let nature take its course. I've seen the statistics on mares foaling in nature and they're not impressive. I'd like my mares and foals to have better chances than that so I monitor my mares closely. I'm really grateful for the webcam that has made that a much easier process.

Once labor is underway, I like to be close at hand. I only go in the stall if I need to to check the position of the foal. Then as long as the foal is in the correct position, I try to stall out of the mare's way. However, that can change depending on the circumstances.

If the mare lays too close to a wall, I will go in and get her to move. If the foaling seems to be taking longer than normal, I'll get a closer look to decide what to do. If the mare seems to be concerned, I'll stay with her to reassure her. I really try to take my cues from the mare and her condition.

Once the mare is born, there's the question about imprinting. If you are going to imprint a foal in any way it has to be done immediately after the birth. Lessons left for later are not nearly as effective. I know that from first hand experience.

I read all about imprinting before I ever had my first foal. I thought I knew enough to pick and choose what would work for me. Part of the choosing for me was not necessarily doing things right after birth and I pretty much thought I didn't need to be sitting on my foals.

I breed for horses with big attitudes. I've said this before and I'll say it again that big attitudes translate to presence in the ring. You can't teach a horse presence, they either have it or they don't. If you want to be breeding top quality show horses, presence must be one of the attributes you're breeding. For me, if I want to get the kind of prices I need to keep this Arabian breeding farm going, I need to be breeding top quality show horses and that means that big attitude.

I've been fortunate in my quest and been pretty successful achieving my goals. But the result of that is I had a couple of pretty opinionated colts that changed my ideas about sitting on foals as instructed in Imprinting by Robert Miller DVM. The first that comes to mind would be Scandalous Rhythm. He was the first colt that I knew early on that I should have gotten into his head right from day one.

By the time I knew I was in trouble, the colt was too big and his attitude was growing daily. I had already had a couple of colts with attitudes that were big, but I didn't have problems with those colts at all. However, both of those colts had been sat on by the vet the day they were born because they had to have medical intervention.

By the time I realized that I should have sat on Rhythm, it was too late. Te horse was too big for me to manage alone and my husband wouldn't help.My husband isn't a horse person and he couldn't get his mind around the need to be sitting on baby horses. I had to settle for getting help with Rhythm from Harvey Jacobs when he was two. Granted Harvey taught me how to manage Rhythm, but I still firmly believe had I sat on the horse at birth, I would never have needed Harvey's help and Rhythm wouldn't be as pushy as he is.

The same year that Rhythm was born, I had another colt with a huge attitude, Scandalous Change. Another big attitude but another horse that required medical intervention. The vet sat on him a half dozen times, holding him down trying to get a tube down his throat. The resulting colt was very sweet and easy to handle, just like Image had been. I did end up gelding Chance but not because he was difficult to handle. I gelded him because he was loud and he had a shrill voice. In hand he was a dream, in his stall he was a screamer anytime a horse even moved. I probably could have fixed the screaming if I'd taken the time but it was easier to geld him so I did.

The point is it was clear to me, just like it had been clear to Robert Miller DVM, that those foals that had medical interventions shortly after birth were much more malleable than other foals.The difference between the two colts that were sat on and Rhythm was like a chasm, yet all horses had huge attitudes. They all loved people and wanted to please but Rhythm also wanted to be the leader. Image and Chance wanted to be my best friend.

Because of these experiences, I now try to sit on all of my colts. I prefer to sit on the fillies as well but have to admit that I'm not as anal about it as I am those colts. I can get distracted and not sit on a filly and be totally comfortable that it'll be fine, but those colts, I try to keep them on the ground until they are comfortable waiting for me to let them up.

In addition, I like to dry my foals off and blanket them but I always make sure the mare has access to the foal first. If the mare is still down (which most of mine are) I pull the foal over to the mare's face so she can sniff the foal and like it if she wants. Then while the mare visits with the foal, I dry it off at the same time.

The reason I blanket foals is our stalls are pretty open. They can be cold not to mention our goofy weather is never conducive to foaling. Usually after foaling I have a shivering mare and a shivering foal, so I blanket the foal and fix the mare a nice hot bran mash to warm her up and keep her plumping working well.

But note, I never blanket a foal of a maiden mare without "scenting" the blanket by using the placenta. That's right, I rub the placenta on the foal blanket back at the top by the tail. It doesn't have to be a disgusting wet slimy patch, just brush it across lightly. Also be weary of keeping foal blankets too clean. Some mares will get confused and attack their own foals because they can't smell their own scent of them. (After a couple of days nursing the foal gets that scent from the mare's milk.)

I tend to assist my foals in standing. The reason for that is twofold. First, we tend to have pretty long legged foals which makes it harder for them to figure out how to use their legs and find their center of balance. Second, my stalls are 12 by 12 and that's not all that big for a long legged foal trying to figure out how to use those mile long legs. After experiencing foals bounding off walls, it's much easier to assist them. I stimulate the foal to rise by running my fingers down both sides of the spine. Then I grab that foal by the blanket right in the middle of the back, using it to stabilize the foal while it finds its center of gravity. Once they find that center, they're usually good to go on their own. Occasionally I have a foal that I have to help out two or three times before they finally get it down, but those instances have been dummy foals.

The last intervention for me is usually assisting a foal to nurse. Usually I just point them in the right direction. Sometimes it takes more intervention than that. I have had foals that I have had to get milk from the mare onto my finger to draw the foal to the right location. Sometimes I even have to let that foal suck on my thumb to even get it to follow at all. With a little practice I've actually become pretty good at pulling my thumb out right next to the mare's nipple so as the foal roots to find it again, it actually latches onto the mare.

So what do you think? Are you for hands on or do you think they should figure it out on their own?

The update on Dandy is has improved even more today. I had a nice ride where he started off just like the horse I know instead of pushy and uncomfortable. But he still has visible bloating. It's obviously much better but not gone. I'll keep you posted.

BTW, my cam is up but needs a bit of adjusting (not a simple task) I will begin posting status on the mare soon.

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  1. ok...I"m going to have to be ignorant here. I haven't been around foals since I was a girl on my parent's farm and that was before imprinting became a popular thing. What exactly happens with the "sitting"? Just wanting to understand the process a little bit better.

  2. I have never sat on a colt. Usually the mare has already had her foal and it is up and about but I am all for getting my hands on that baby as soon as possible and as much as it takes until they stop wanting to get away. I try to "engulf" them by leaning over them and wrapping my arms around them and rubbing everything I can reach. Once they are calm, I rub the head, ears, mouth, under their tail, between their legs(front and back) and their legs.

  3. rachette, when the foal first tries to get up, I sit next to it and lean across its body holding it down until it accepts me being in control. It teaches the foal to accept me as being in charge. Basically because it's started off its life this way, it just take it in stride and expects that's how its life should be. Of course it has to understand what I'm asking but it tries to follow my leadership.

    browneyed cowgirls, yes I do those things too. I did a post about those methods, I guess I probably should have linked to that as well.

  4. "I breed for horses with big attitudes. I've said this before and I'll say it again that big attitudes translate to presence in the ring."

    Amen. and Amen. The champions alway have attitude.

  5. MiKael-I just gotta comment on the breeding for big attitudes too.
    Of course with QH's a lot of people don't think about the "attitude" when breeding but I am addicted to horses with it. I will pass up 10 "nice" horses and pick the one that most people have a hard time with. I love it. You will never see a horse at the NFR that doesn't have that something that makes them extra special. Along with that charisma comes a host of sometimes less than desirable quirks. But I wouldn't have it any other way. I like people with some attitude too. Can't stand people with the personality of a stick, so why would I want a horse like that?
    So glad I am in good company with seeking that little something extra.

  6. What a fascinating post! I haven't been around foals since I was a child and didn't know so much about this, much less have an opinion. I wish I could be with you one night and watch you work with your mares and foals. (It is always at night, right?)

    Really good stuff! Thanks!

  7. That's interesting. I have always wanted to to breed my own foal (just once) from the point of selecting the sire and dam. I started the process three times and got thwarted three times thanks to the economy going bad and uterine cysts - a long convoluted story I will probably post some day. So, I've never bred, but have always wondered about those first few hours of birth and how important imprinting really is. Generally, I make choices on managing horses based on how it is done in the wild. However, we don't want to raise wild horses. Everything you said made sense to me.

  8. Interesting post, A lot of stuff I did not know about here!

  9. I never really thought too much about it before. I like to be there, but I don't interfere unless it looks like I'm needed. I think alot of people do interfere too much and others not enough. There's the 'happy line' and some people don't find it.

    Of course there are mares who like you to be right there with them too.

    As for imprinting, I try to do that, it all depends on how the mare acts. If she's too stressed, too freaked out by me grabbing at that foal, then I'll wait.

    Blanketing... I did try lol. He was a little houdini and I couldn't keep it on him for more than a few minutes.

    It all comes down to personal choice. While I don't agree with what alot of people do during/after foaling, I'm sure alot won't agree with my methods either.

  10. beth, you're right about that. It doesn't make any difference what breed or what discipline, the champions always have attitude.

    browneyed cowgirls, OK, I'm lost on NFR. I know it should ring a bell, but I'm clueless at the moment. Please enlighten me.

    I think those quirks can be avoided with proper imprinting and proper handling. Imprinting a foal and then letting it be pushy can really cause a wreck.

    I with you on the horse's with attitude. They have personal appeal to me as well. I seem to be drawn to them but I think they are drawn to me as well. I've never had a horse with a big attitude that I didn't connect with in some way.

    anne, you're right that most of them are at night. While you can't be here in person, I do have the live webcam so you can watch if you like.

    I have not foaled this mare out before so I don't know what to expect.

    nuzzling muzzles, you're so right. Our end goal is not wild horses. And for me, I want that conversion to domestication being as easy for the horse as possible. I've learned with experience, the sooner a foal learns what's expected of it, the easier and safer it is for both the handler and the horse.

    callie, thanks. This is the simplified version though. lol

    lady of chaos, you are so right, it all comes down to personal choice. We all have our own expectations and limitations too that affect our decisions.

    As for foal blankets, mine have a belly band and leg straps. That makes a big difference in keeping them on. Some of the designs I've seen wouldn't stay on any of mine either.

    Alhtough it's funny, it doesn't take the foals long to figure out the blankets are nice and warm and then they are happy to wear them. When its cold, I have horses who will remind me that they need a blanket. Legs wears a neck warmer when it's cold and he'll stand my his door and shake his head telling me I've forgotten something. Then he snorts at me when I go to put it on, clearly chastising me for forgetting. Which reminds me with the snow coming back I need to get that thing washed and back to the barn or I'll really be in trouble. lol

  11. Very interesting. The whole idea of sitting freaked me out but when you explained it, it doesn't sound like what I envisioned - more like a body hug that ends when the baby relaxes?

    That said, I also know that big horses that can't be controlled are in for a life of horror if they fall into the wrong hands, which they probably will.

    Looking forward to more about babies!

  12. A very interesting and informative post. None of my horses have ever had a foal (all geldings) and Dusty either. So I will have to plead ignorance on this one. I don't know enough about sitting on foals to have an opinion one way or the other. Glad Dandy is doing a little better.

  13. I am so going to miss not having babies this year, but I think that my number one priority has to be getting time on the ones I have to try to get them good homes. With me not breeding this year either I will be foaless next spring too :-(

    I have only seen three of my foals born (out of about 20), they are normally up by the time I find them, some still wet and wobbly and others nearly dry already. I have been lucky. So all I do is love all over the foal, put the baby blanket on if it needs it and clean up the stall and watch until I am sure that it has found the milk bar.

    I have had two agressive mares to deal with which has made that harder, the one mare was really bad but we sold her to a lady who wanted an older trail riding horse and she fit the bill.

    Glad Dandy is feeling better


  14. This was a great post, learned a good bit. I heard about "sitting" on a horse, but that makes sense why you do it.

    I too am not trying to be ignorant, but I wanted to ask how you breed attitude? I kind of got a bit from the post, but is it the way handling from birth?

  15. LOL-Sorry-NFR is the National Finals Rodeo.

  16. grey horse, I'm glad he's better too, I was really worried on Saturday. It didn't look good but he is improving each day. We might even make the horse show next week.

    lori, I have been fortunate and never had a agressive mare, well, not by the time she foaled anyway. I think had I not done all the work I did with Heiress, she might have been difficult to deal with.

    inkeq, attitude is genetic. If you breed a stallion who thinks he's the coolest thing on the face of the earth to a mare that thinks the same, you have a good chance of getting a foal with a big attitude as well. Beyond the mare and stallion, the farther back in the bloodlines you look, if the attitude is consistently there, you're in really good shape and can almost guarantee a horse that has it. The important part is to find horses with the big attitude and great minds as well. One without the other can be a problem.

    browneyed cowgirls, of course it is, I knew I would recognize it once you told me! lol Thanks!

    And of course, that big attitude would be important there. Those horses have to have great confidence to do their job in front of all those people and the desire to shine doing it. That's what big attitude is all about if you ask me.

  17. I'm all for imprinting. We did it when Siete was born, taking our time and being gentle and considerate of her and her mama. It really paid off because her right lower eyelid was turned under and the day after she was born, vet had to stitch it into the proper position. Then, I had to put ointment in her eye twice a day for two weeks. She was really good about it. Even now, if I blow in her nostril when she's upset, she calms right away. She trusts me. I love horses with attitude too, but I think they're bred and raised that way - a delicate balance of appreciating their spirit and asking for respect - which you do beautifully.

  18. Thank you for reminding me why I favor those self-assured, opinionated, 'BIG' attitude horses! I have endured all sorts of accusations about training as a result.
    A boarding facility where we were changed managers. The new manager had "black and white" views of what a trained horse should behave like and our little 'angel' could see through the new manager's over inflated ego and recognized her in-experience. Our mare took full advantage of the situation. About a month after their (new manager and Kisses) trips to daily turnout I was informed that she was PSYCHO! She reared and dislocated the manager's shoulder!
    I took charge and banned anyone but approved handlers from Kisses.
    The funny thing, some of those approved handlers were our young 4-H members!
    Here's a little side note: Kisses loves eager beginners and behaves for them she really dislikes folks who have an over-inflated egos and proves it.

  19. victoria, that's exactly why I believe so strongly in imprinting. If something happens to the horse, you have the tools in place to be able to help the horse without jeorpardy to it or human care givers.

    jeanette, yes, I think big attitude horses are special. And I've seen more than one of them like your mare that loved and cared for beginners but put those with inflated egos in their place. That's ok with me.

  20. I am a bit late to comment, but I am a believer in imprinting. I have not done it much but the more you handle any horse (in the right way) the better they will be. I have a three year old that had been injured as a colt and I had to clean cuts, give meds, and constantly mess with him. He now is the easiest horse I have ever broke out. Then I have his full brother who is a yearling, and I have not done anything with him and it's a total different story! I will have to try the "sitting" method with my next colt!! Thanks for a great post!!