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March 27, 2012: Less than Ideal

I recently proposed to write an article for the Icelandic Horse Quarterly, on the subject of foaling preparation, focusing on what we’re doing here in Alaska. Right away, I noted that our situation is less than ideal. Signy’s foal is due in mid-April, which might be in the middle of breakup.

The responses from the editorial board alluded to the idea. This is it: The setting is Iceland, it’s late spring or early summer. The mare that was due to foal does so at night, in the quietude of a lush pasture. Other Icelandic horses are around, but keep their distance. The farmer wakes up, and after drinking his morning coffee, goes out to check on the mare. He discovers the mare and foal somewhat close by and observes that foal is nursing. The mare is attentive to the foal, and is showing no signs of duress.


The afterbirth is close by – the farmer spreads it out, and determines that none of the placenta has been retained. This is a first prize mare, so the farmer isn’t going to take any chances. He calls the veterinarian who lives a quarter of a mile down the road, and has been anticipating the farmer’s call. Within minutes, he determines what the farm suspects, which the mare and foal are in great shape. Just in case, he gives the foal a tetanus booster vaccine.

The above is the ideal. I wish that it were so here. Instead we’re dealing with what some would say is less than ideal. Signy’s foal is due in mid-April, which could be smack dab in the middle of breakup. This would not normally be a cause for concern, except for the fact that this year, there has been an even higher than average snowmelt, so there might be slushy snow underfoot. Horse space is limited, so the mare won’t be foaling in a pasture. The other horses will be present, so Signy won’t be foaling in private. The veterinarian lives a ways away, so if something does go wrong, it may take upwards of an hour for him to get here.

Pete and I will be prepared as we can be. We’ve read up on the subject of foaling, and have made some important decisions. We’ll do a watch, maybe parking the truck near the pen, and sleeping in it. When it becomes apparent to us that it’s her time, we’ll show Signy the foaling area, an outside straw bed. We’ll also wrap her tail and wipe her down, in this way reducing the risk of infection. If Signy is appearing to have dystocia, that is a difficult birth, we’ll immediately call the veterinarian. If need be, we’ll reposition the foal. And if need be, we’ll remove the amniotic sac from the foal’s nose, so it can breathe.

Once the foal is born, we’ll wait until the embryonic cord has ruptured, and then dip the stump in iodine, in this way also reducing the risk of infection. We’ll next keep a close eye on the mare and foal, first making sure that it nurses, and secondly that it’s healthy and vigorous.

Some have already said that the above is an indication of too much intervention. In part this is because Signy has had four foals in the past, and knows what to do. I would agree, but add that she can’t reduce the risk of infection. Also, I feel that it’s important to be around should she need an assist.

This is an instance in which Pete and I are attempting to do our best by Signy and Junior. We also realize that this is an instance in which near anything could happen. For instance, Signy could very well foal on a Monday night, when Pete and I are at school. Should nature take its course, we’ll follow in her footsteps. But I will always contend that there’s nothing wrong with doing as Steve Covey suggests in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, and begin with a plan.

Next: 110. 3/28/12: The Refrigerware Suit