Considerations before covering
Most people think that their horse is ”the worlds greatest”, and therefore want to have a foal after it. A cute, little foal is just adorable jumping around in the fields together with mum. What is not so often considered is that you should never breed on horses without a complete pedigree. The stallion has also got to be approved by the Norwegian Horse Centre, to be legalized as a breeding stallion. We hope, as the Norwegian Shire Horse Community focuses on it, that people that want to breed this fantastic horse also focus on quality and good exterior. This will raise the Norwegian level of Shire horses. By close considerations, judges will outrange the horses that are not good enough for breeding, according to the standard. And this is a very important topic that we need to accept if we should consider our self as serious breeders, all though we are at the opposite meaning.
Another thing to be aware of about breeding Shire horses is that is in not always uncomplicated. The foal is very large at birth, more the size of a full grown pony, something that can cause complications for the mare. (Remember to keep halters size pony/cob ready, as the foal size soon will be too small.) It is therefore important to be present during the birth if anything should happen. You can contact the veterinarian a couple of days ahead of the birth, to make him aware that you might need help if problems should come up. Other tings of more practical character you must do before foaling is to clean and disinfect the birth box with suitable products. Foals often lick on everything, and are therefore more vulnerable for bacterias and infections. Some even suggest renewing the whole bedding a couple of days before the birth, but most important is that only the mother use that box. This is to be sure that no bacterias from other horses can infect the foal. Sawdust can also cause respiratorial problems, and a better solution will be a straw mattress. It is also recommended to place obstacles in the corners to keep the mare from lie down in the corners during the birth, and possibly harming the new born foal. The obstacles are removed after the birth.
The birth is near when the mare belly sinks down and the milk is being produced in the udder. In the last 24 hours the mare will get wax buttons on the udders, and you can sometimes see the milk is dripping. The pulse increases and the mare start to wander restless around in the birth box whilst breathing faster. You can often see her lieing down and rise up several times before the water breaks. Many mares also begin to sweat a lot, but not necessarily. No births are alike, and some is faster or slower than others. But the most important thing to look for after the water is gone and you see the white membrane that covers the foal, is to make sure that the legs lies correctly (both two front legs are pointing downwards with the foals nose in between). It may happen that the foal lies wrong, with the seat first or just one foot out, and you immediately have to call the veterinarian! From the water breaks to the foal is out, it should not take more than 1 hour, but usually horses gives birth surprisingly fast.
When the foal is out, make sure that the mouth and nose is free from mucus and that it can breathe properly. You might also help the foal finding a comfortable position to lie with the legs straightened out, but that is usually not necessary. Be aware that the placenta comes out in one whole peace. If you are insecure about this, you can place it on the floor and drag it out in full size and study if you can find any missing parts. Call the veterinarian if not all has come out within 24 hours.
Both the mare and the foal will be awfully tired after the birth, and it is pretty normal that they want to sleep a lot. (Remember: be quiet!) Still it is necessary that the foal drinks the first raw-milk to gain vitamins and important substances from the mother. If the foal has not drunk within 2 hours after the birth, you have to milk the mare and spray it in the foals `mouth. (A good tip is to buy this equipment ahead of the birth) It can take some time before the foal finds the udder, and it can therefore be a help if you rub some milk around the whole udder, to make it easier to find. The udder must of course have been cleaned ahead of the birth! When the foal has drunk some milk and the placenta has come out, you can finally relax. The next thing you have to concentrate about is if the foal gets rid of the first feces. This is colored black and is rests of cells and amniotic fluids from inside the mother. When the feces has come out (within 1-2 days) it is a sign of well functioning intestines.
Diseases amongst foals
At the beginning the feces is pretty soft and yellow at color. Pay close attention if it turns into diarrhea! This might lead rather fast into dehydration, hypoglycemia and sometimes also death. If you discover that the foal has diarrhea and has a temperature different from normal (higher or lower), contact the veterinarian immediately!!! This might be the first signs of sepsis, and normally appears within the first days after the birth. Other signs:
Swollen joints and limping
There are also several other diseases or sufferings that can affect the foal during or after birth, such as navel hernia, Neonatal Maladjustments Syndrome and umbilical corditt. The best will be to read lots of books and every literature you can find. If you only listen to good advices and tips you will very soon be confused, when some say this and some say that. The best is therefore to get first hand knowledge to be able to use the advices for the best, in case something should come up.
Since the shire foals grow so fast in a short amount of time, it is a good tip with imprint training the first days after birth. It is the first days that are important because this is the time the foal learns what is dangerous and what is not. And therefore it is clever to make the foal learn how to lift the hooves and to be touched all over the body, including in the mouth and genitalias (for future examinations by the veterinarian). Training the foal to accept noisy machines, plastic and other problems that might come up in the future during a horse`s life, is quite clever. Blankets, tacks and ropes that waves in the wind will then be situations the horse later will remember as a familiar situation as something good and safe. Cars, tractors and other vehicles can be made “unscary” by placing the foal and mother in a small paddock besides a trafficated road for a couple of hours. Trailer training and leading by a rope is other tings a big shire foal needs to learn. Just be sure to train in short periods of time to avoid the foal to feel overwhelmed and react with anxiety in stead. Make sure not to present too much at a time and make sure that the foal gets plenty of time to digest the new impressions. Be also aware of mares that are overprotecting their foals. The imprint training will then also be good training for her as well, without her to feel like it is a dangerous situation when people handle her foal.
Imprint training is meant to build up the foals` confidence, not make a lot of stress presenting a lot of new situations for it. Always introduce it to new things in calm and well knowned surroundings, and let the mother smell on it as well, really to convince the foal that it is harmless. Use your imagination to predict situations a horse might experience during a long life, and where it is important for it to behave calm. It is NOT a nice feeling if a full grown Shire horse panics over a plastic bag in the road, and runs without any control! Besides that it is a scary situation the horse can cause a lot of damage both to it self and the surroundings, since they are not always aware of their big size and huge strength. Luckily, the Shire horse usually lives up to their nickname as “the gentle giant”, and is rarely anxious and nervous. But a little imprint training might prepare the foal a bit better for the life as a full grown horse, and create a good fundament for further training. There are a lot of books available, and you need to take to best tips and principles of the best books and theoretics, to find out what you think feels normal.