Your family’s giddy over the birth of a baby horse. The elation subsides considerably when the mare rejects the foal. It doesn’t happen often, but when a mare avoids, attacks, or refuses to nurse a foal, there are steps owners may take to help bring both animals together.
The mare may have a perfectly good reason for rejecting the foal. It is possible that a hormonal imbalance may prevent the horse from exhibiting maternal instincts. Researchers in Jerusalem found that mares who reject foals may have significant drops in progesterone and other hormones up to three days after foaling. The ratio difference in estradiol to progesterone levels is not present in mares who don’t exhibit the behaviour. Estradiol is a form of estrogen, and progesterone is a pregnancy hormone.
Check the udder for sensitivity. If the mare experiences pain when the foal latches on, she may not allow a feeding. Some experts recommend massaging the udder frequently before the foaling. This gives the mare time to get used to pressure on the udder. The process is especially helpful for first-time mares.
A mare may also have feelings of anxiety and fear if this is its first foaling experience. It’s a horse’s nature to run from pain or fear. This behaviour helps a horse in the wild that tends to bite, rear, or kick to protect itself. Even domesticated horses still use these protection methods when experiencing a threat. This fight-or-flight response is also a response brought about by hormone secretion. Mare’s exhibiting these traits may merely avoid the foal altogether, creating a risky situation for the young animal that must have milk from the udder.
Planning may help resolve the rejection quickly. If the mare is attacking the foal, separating the two will protect the foal. Put the horse in a padded corner stall that allows the foal to feed, but protects it from a biting or kicking mare. Owners may also choose to harvest the first milk, nursing the foal until the horse is ready to feed the animal directly.
It’s good to note that foal rejection is a rare occurrence. Most foaling is akin to the birth of a child. Mare and foal begin bonding during the process of getting to know one another. However, in the event your mare rejects a foal, it may take a few days to help both animals to adjust.