What do you do if your mare doesn’t connect well with her baby? This acupressure approach promotes a healthy mare-foal bond.
The bond between mare and foal may seem the most natural thing in the world, and normally it is. But there are rare instances when a dam rejects her foal. When dam and foal bonding does not occur as readily as it’s supposed to, we need to deal with it quickly to prevent injury to the foal. This can make for a tricky situation, and one that requires preplanning to be on the safe side.
As part of a pregnant mare management program, many caretakers and grooms are turning to acupressure to begin the process of calming the mare as well as supporting her balance and sense of well being. Equine acupressure is safe and non-invasive, and people can offer sessions to their horses themselves. It’s a natural and convenient way to support a mare prior to the birth of her foal because you can include acupressure sessions with your grooming routine.
It’s important to know what is normal for dam-foal bonding so you don’t interrupt the natural process. Immediately after the foal is born, the dam may walk a short distance away and lie down to rest briefly – this doesn’t mean she is avoiding her newborn. Just after delivery, the dam usually vigorously licks, nuzzles, and even uses her teeth to scrape off fluids covering her foal. Human contact or help with this activity isn’t typically suggested, and may interfere in the bonding process.
During the first hours after the foal’s birth, the mare often protects him from other horses and people. It is wise to stay a safe distance away. She often walks around the foal carefully so as not to step on him. When the foal stands, the dam sniffs him and they touch noses. After this introduction, she directs the foal to her teats for him to nurse.
A foal’s eyesight is not good for the first few days, and it’s tempting to want to help him when he’s searching for the teat, but don’t. This is all part of the bonding that must occur between dam and foal. If the dam is fussy, try using a halter to calm her. Even if she needs restraint initially, she may be fine and settle into motherhood after the first few nursing periods.
Once the foal has nursed and taken a little rest, he may move around and try out his gangly legs. It can be humorous to watch the little guy prancing around his mother; it looks like an awkward dance, but shows the promise of a graceful animal.
Newborns automatically stay close to their dams during the first few days.The dam often steps away from the foal when he is trying to nurse. Don’t be alarmed; the mare is probably teaching the foal to follow her. Additionally, the mare is usually the one determining how long and how frequently the foal is allowed to nurse.
The dam may give signs of aggression such as ear-pinning, head butting, a soft bite, or kicking as the foal gets older and perhaps more aggressive about nursing. This is all within the normal range of behaviors and humans need not intervene unless, of course, it becomes pronounced and dangerous.
These behaviors indicate the beginning of a good, normal dam-foal relationship that will continue until the foal is ready to be weaned. It is an important time for the foal to receive the nourishment and antibodies he needs, as well as learning the ways of horses.
It’s critical to be aware of signs that the dam is not bonding with her foal. At this point, human intervention is necessary for the foal’s survival. Rejection is most common among first-time mothers. There seem to be some specific tendencies associated with inadequate bonding between dam and foal.
At first, a mare may resist nursing for a number of reasons. It might be painful for her. The mare should be checked for retained placenta, udder encouragement, or another condition. Consult a veterinarian to determine the issue. If all is well, the mare may need restraint until she is accustomed to the sensation of nursing. There are stall configurations designed to restrain the mare and allow the foal to nurse without being hurt.
An unhealthy, weak mare might not want anything to do with her foal and simply ignore him. In this situation, the foal won’t receive the nourishment and attention he needs and human intervention is necessary. Once the mare regains her health, she may be able to resume bonding with her foal. Before handling the foal too much, allow him to call to his mother and indicate his distress to see if this will motivate her to respond to him.
First-time mothers can show signs of being afraid of their foals. They may try to get away from their foals and seem confused by them. While protecting such a foal, take steps to slowly introduce the dam to her offspring. Use of calming behavioral and acupressure techniques have shown to be helpful.
The most extreme form of inadequate bonding is when the dam violently attacks her foal. It’s imperative to immediately remove the foal. Equine behaviorists can sometimes help the pair safely re-establish bonding.
Acupressure for broodmares Stimulating specific acupressure points or “acupoints” along the dam’s body will allow her to experience a general sense of well being, and support her immune system during pregnancy. By offering your mare the Dam-Foal Bonding Acupressure Session (see accompanying chart) every four to five days, you will be giving her the best opportunity to enjoy her foal. A healthy dam-foal bonding process fosters the growth of a stunning, well-mannered and athletic horse.
Nancy Zidonis and Amy Snow are the authors of: Equine Acupressure: A Working Manual, Acu-Dog: A Guide to Canine Acupressure, The Well- Connected Dog: A Guide to Canine Acupressure, and, Acu-Cat: A Guide to Feline Acupressure. They founded Tallgrass offering books, manuals, DVDs, and meridian charts. Tallgrass also provides hands-on and online training courses worldwide including a 330-hour Practitioner Certification Program. Tallgrass is an approved school for the Dept. of Higher Education through the State of Colorado and an approved provider of NCBTMB CE’s. To contact them: phone: 888-841-7211; web: animalacupressure.com; email: Tallgrass@animalacupressure.com.