Though parturition is generally and apparently an easy and prompt act in the mare, yet it is not always so; on the contrary, in some instances it is extremely complicated and difficult, and many of these cases have a rapidly fatal termination. Hence the great need for careful observation of the mare at this time, for when the foal presents itself in the genital passage in an unfavourable position or abnormal attitude, unless the attendant have skill and experience it will fare badly with the mare, unless the assistance of an expert can be speedily procured, as she - unlike the cow - unless soon delivered, quickly becomes greatly excited and restless, and even furious. All veterinary surgeons who have had to deal with cases of difficult birth in mares are well aware of the herculean and dangerous task that often lies before them, when they are called upon to attend such cases, owing to the excitement, uneasiness, and only too frequently mad plunging of the animal, which is all the greater as parturition is protracted.
For this and other reasons it is imperative, if the foal is not born very soon after straining commences, that an examination should be made, and if the cause of obstruction cannot be discovered or speedily removed, then the veterinary surgeon ought to be called upon to render assistance with as little loss of time as possible, as every minute's delay increases the gravity of the case.
If the attendant possesses sufficient knowledge of veterinary obstetrics to enable him to deal with a comparatively simple case of difficult parturition when skilled assistance is not immediately available, then, of course, he will first make an examination in order to inform himself of the cause of obstruction to delivery. Should he find the foal in a favourable position, with the fore-legs presenting and the head forward or resting upon them, with sufficient room for the young creature to pass through the canal, then prudence may induce him to wait a little, as the labour pains may not be strong enough to produce its expulsion. If, however, the position of the foal is not favourable to speedy birth it must be rectified, or if the labour pains are feeble, even when the position is good, and especially if some time has elapsed, then in both cases, steady and firm but not violent traction may succeed in effecting delivery. It should be noted that some old mares have a large pendulous abdomen, which is a hindrance to foaling, as the young creature is so much below the level of the passage through which it has to pass to reach the outer world, that the abdominal muscles - which are those chiefly concerned in the expulsion of the foal - cannot raise it high enough. In such a case it is most advantageous to elevate the abdomen by means of a sack passed beneath it, and lifted up by strong men at each end.
Fig. 546. - Neck Presented, Fore-legs directed backwards.
When the foal itself is the cause of obstruction, this may be due to the position of the limbs, body, or head. The fore-limbs are perhaps most often at fault, and one or both are involved, the difficulty being generally caused by their being doubled back at the knees (fig. 546). A similar flexion of the hind-limbs at the hocks may occur and be a cause of difficult parturition. The head, instead of being placed nose forwards and between the fore-limbs, may be bent downwards towards the foal's chest (fig. 546), or it and the neck may be thrown upwards and backwards, or towards the side of the foal's body. Instead of the head and fore-limbs coming first, it may be the hind-limbs, or these may be retained and only the tail and buttocks presented (figs. 551, 552), while the body itself, instead of the back being towards the mare's back, may be reversed, the young creature lying more or less on its back with the legs upwards.
Fig. 547. - Head and all Four Legs presented.
Besides all these and other malpositions or malpresentations here represented, there is the difficulty sometimes - though not very often in the case of mares - occasioned by the presence of twins, as well as the occurrence of monstrosities, and serious deformities or morbid conditions in the foal. Deformity or diseases in the mare causing narrowing of the genital passage may also be a cause of hindrance to birth.
In cases of difficult parturition in the mare, much skill, adroitness, patience, and resource, as well as physical strength and agility, are re-quired in dealing with the very numerous and diverse obstacles that have to be encountered and overcome if the lives of the foal and mother, or either, are to be saved. More especially are judgment and manual tact required in making an examination. This demands not only a thorough knowledge of the internal anatomy of the mare's generative organs, healthy and pathological, but also an acquaintance by touch with all the surface and different regions of the foal's body and limbs. Without this knowledge and tactile facility it may be impossible to understand the hindrance to birth, and to render assistance by adopting proper measures or resorting to effective manoeuvres. So that the amateur or unskilled operator is likely to do more harm than good, and may even unawares convert what to an expert would prove a comparatively simple case, into a most difficult if not altogether hopeless one.