While an uncommon problem, rejection of a foal by its dam can seriously affect the health and well-being of the foal. It is labor intensive to those caring for the foal and, in the worst-case scenario, can result in injury and even death of the foal. A mare that has previously rejected a foal is also at risk of repeating that behavior again with the next foal.
Maternal instincts are thought to develop through a variety of different stimuli (physical and visual contact with the foal, nursing, etc.) as well as through hormone factors within the mare herself (oxytocin, progesterone, estrogen, for ex.). Two types of rejection include aggressive rejection and avoidance rejection. Avoidance rejection is usually much quicker and easier to resolve than aggressive rejection.
Reasons for foal rejection may be as straightforward as a young inexperienced mare or a bit more difficult to determine, like maternal pain due to the process of foaling itself or some underlying disease issue. At all times, the safety and health of the foal should be of primary concern.
In the case of foal rejection, strategies were identified and evaluated with respect to the success in re-establishing the mare-foal bond. Strategies included physical restraint, behavior modification, and drug therapy (sedatives, prostaglandins, progesterone, and domperidone, for ex.).
The use of one or all of the strategies will hopefully successfully induce proper maternal behavior and foal acceptance within 72 hours. If confronted with a case of foal rejection, start with simple methods of physical restraint, with or without sedatives/tranquilizers, and progress to the more involved techniques.
Scientific Article: White, MSE, Scoggins, CF “How to Manage Foal Rejection”. AAEP Proceedings, vol. 60, 2014, pp. 163-169