To attract a mate, the female horse, or mare, urinates, raising her tail and revealing her vulva. An interested male horse, or stallion, approaching with a high head and tail and ears drooped backwards, will nicker, nip and nudge her, as well as sniff her urine to determine her sexual maturity.
This innate behaviour stimulates the mares secretion and the stallions erection. If both the mare and stallion are satisfied with each other, he will mount her and copulation will occur. Often they will periodically repeat courtship and breeding while the mare continues to secrete oestrogen.
Mare and Foal
The mother horse, or mare, carries her foal for 11 months. Most mares give birth in the spring to a single baby (foal), sometimes twins. Mares produce milk for their young and will feed them for several months. Within 1 – 2 hours of birth a foal is able to stand up and walk.
When foals are born their legs are almost the same length as they are when they are fully grown – their legs are so long they find it difficult to reach down to the grass to eat.
Foaling normally takes place at night or early in the morning and is generally over in 15 minutes. Once the foal comes out, the mare will chew on the membranes/placenta to prevent the foal from suffocating and lick the newborn foal to help blood circulation. In fifteen minutes, the foal will attempt to stand and get milk from its mother. A foal should stand and nurse within the first hour of life. Foals can focus with their eyes almost as soon as they are born. The foal/filly is born with no teeth. They cut their first teeth within a week. As it gets older, the horse grows teeth. By the time the foal/filly is six to nine months, the young horse has all of its milk teeth.
At five to six years of age, the horse replaces its milk teeth with its permanent teeth. You can tell how old a horse is by its teeth. When it becomes older it becomes even easier to tell because of the ‘Galvayne Groove’ on the corner of the incisor of the upper jaw. Horses are fully grown by 3 – 4 years of age.
Caring for the Foal
Domestic mares require specific care and nutrition to ensure that they and their foals are healthy. Mares are given Rhino shots (vaccinations against Rhinopneumonitis virus which can cause abortions) in months 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 of their gestation periods. Mares are often fed more than other horses because their bodies require extra nutrition to form and nurse a foal.
A special foaling stall or shed that is large and clutter free provides the mare with a safe place to give birth. While most horse births happen without complications, many owners have foaling kits prepared in case of a birthing emergency. After birth, a foals navel is dipped in iodine to prevent infection and the newborn is monitored to ensure that it stands and nurses without difficulty.