Inside the Foaling Barn: A Five-Day Diary

Considering foaling season is in full swing, and the fact our editorial intern Kelsey Riley is delivering babies at a Central Kentucky Thoroughbred farm several nights a week in addition to her day job, I thought it only natural to ask her to write a guest blog about her experiences.

Some must-knows about Kelsey are that she’s funny, she bakes delicious cookies and cupcakes, she’s a great writer, and she’s from a town near Toronto, Canada, so she also has a really great accent. So without further delay, here are some of Kelsey’s behind-the-scenes diary entries from the foaling barn:


In my four years working in broodmare barns, I’ve learned a thing or two about mare and foal care and equine reproduction. But, more specifically to this blog post, I’ve also learned a lot about the behavior and psyche of the foaling attendant.

The most important thing to know about this job is that, for those who are serious, it is not a job but rather a lifestyle. You may get to leave the barn at 5 p.m., but you may have to come back at 2 a.m. Horses don’t take holidays or long weekends, and that includes Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. That is why to do this job and to do it well, it must be your true love.

As an on-call foaling attendant, there are a few habits I have picked up, and many of these are unanimous among my colleagues. When there are mares ready to pop, you are often afraid to go grocery shopping, for fear of having to abandon your cart in the middle of the store when your cell rings. This leads to quick, simple meals that you eat as fast as you can in case you don’t get to finish.

The same principle applies to showers. They are taken quickly, with the phone within hearing range. Before going to bed, you will lay your foaling clothes out on the floor, or if paranoia is at a high, you will wear your foaling clothes to bed (more on this topic later). And all of this before you even get the call. The following is my personal diary of five days on call for foaling at a major Kentucky Thoroughbred farm. Enjoy.

Tuesday, Feb. 23:

6:00 pm: Called out for a much-welcome early evening foaling. Perhaps this would mean we could get a good night’s sleep. We arrived at the foaling barn to find the mare in question restless and pawing the straw. About 20 minutes later, she was cooled down and happily munching her dinner with the foal still in the oven. Dejected, we picked up some take away and returned home to reassume our all-night vigil.

Wednesday, Feb. 24:

4:30 am: I’ve found that when it comes to foaling season, deep sleep is a thing of the past. So I was already partially awake when I was roused from my bed for the first call of the morning. Like a firefighter waiting to be called to the scene of an emergency, the foaling attendant will have their clothes strategically set out alongside their bed so as to be able to climb into them in the most time efficient manner (that is if they haven’t worn them to bed, the ultimate efficient practice). We arrived at the barn at 4:45 to the sound of the mare breaking water. Already donned in matching blue coveralls, the three foaling attendants added surgical sleeves doubled with latex gloves to our wardrobe. To an outsider, our appearance may have suggested that we were about to embark on a frightening escapade, but for the foaling attendant it’s all in the nature of the job. This foaling proved to be very non-frightening, and less than 10 minutes later a gangly bay colt was on the ground.

6:25 am: Just as we were wrapping up our duties with this new arrival, we were met with the pleasant sight of another restless mom-to-be. After taking a few minutes to carefully scope out the stall, the bay mare eventually found her comfort zone to deliver a strapping filly. By the time 7 a.m. arrived, I had helped towel-dry the newborn and introduce her to her mother, and was on my way to my day job.

3:30 pm: I arrive home from work, take a shower, and settle down on the couch with my phone at my side, waiting for the next call.

Thursday, Feb. 25:

5:00 am: I awake with a start, apparently to nothing. The mares have decided to give us a night off.

Friday, Feb. 26:

9:00 pm: Anyone who has ever slept knows the obnoxious feeling of being jerked awake just as you’re at the crossroads between consciousness and blissful dreaming. This is just what happened Friday night, less than 20 minutes after I had taken to bed early in anticipation of a busy night in the barn (I may have forgotten to mention that when dealing with heavily pregnant mares, a night life beyond the barn is a luxury of the past). So, as per routine, I slid into my foaling clothes and headed out the door.

This outing would prove to be our first close double of the week. After assisting with the successful delivery of another gangly bay colt, we looked in on the new mother’s neighbor just in time to get gloved up and into the next stall. The barn mate had broken water. And…    

9:45 pm: Our second filly of the week was on the ground: a small-statured chestnut with a white face and stockings.

10:30 pm: Return home, return to bed.

11:51 pm: Oops, scratch that. Back to the barn we go. As per usual we arrived just as our next mother was prepared to push; However, this one decided to make things a little unusual with her decision to give birth while standing. A minor curveball for five foaling attendants who had to strategically arrange themselves to extract and catch the new arrival (not really easy considering these foals can weigh upwards of 150 pounds and are at this time rather wet and slippery). Yours truly was elected to catch the hindquarters of the foal, and with that the last great wave of fluids that came with him. In an effort to keep this blog “clean," let’s just say I was forced to leave behind my entire outer layer of clothing, and the rest is yours to imagine.

Saturday, Feb. 27:

5:00 am: Wake up, time for another day’s work. Upon arriving at the barn, I check on the previous night’s three arrivals, then head off to record vet work for the morning. The combination of busy stallion books and the desire for early foals equals a hair-raising few months called breeding season. The only way to stifle the insanity is to send the mares to the shed at their exact optimum time for conception, and as a result, each mare is checked on an almost daily basis when her breeding time is near.

4:30 pm: We arrive home from work, scarf down whatever food is in sight, and hit the couch to start the first of our rented movies. Yes, plural. With two restless mares at the barn, we’re sensing another long night is ahead.

8:10 pm: Hearing the phone ring while you’re still awake is always appreciated. Unfortunately, the mare decided to play her own version of hide and seek with the night watchman, and we arrived seconds too late for this foaling. Taking a stroll down the barn, however, I realized it wouldn’t be long before we got a second chance.

8:45 pm: After quickly wheeling our box of foaling supplies to the other end of the barn, we gloved up once again to deliver our final foal of the week: a healthy, happy bay filly.

Here we are, five days and seven foals later. While being on call for foaling can be stressful and tiring, this is far overridden by the rewards involved. There is no feeling like watching the foal transform from a wet, helpless heap in the straw to a leggy, wobbling creature charging around the stall, nursing and bonding with its mother. Within a few days it will find its rebellious side, and we may have more than we can handle. In this job, you learn to appreciate the little things that make a life come together: the foals first breath, his first successful steps, his first meal, and a healthy mare all contribute to a great victory in a business where devastation can come on just as quick as good fortune. Each successful foaling resulting in a healthy mare and foal is a resounding win, and as I watch our latest little filly friend explore the boundaries of the stall, I can’t help but wonder what she may become someday. And with that thought in mind, I begin to look forward to my next week on call. 

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