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Occasionally, nature can surprise us all with its mysterious and bizarre structures that demand an explanation. This is the case with the foal slippers of newborn horses that make people wonder why they have them.
Foal slippers are rubbery finger-like projections that are attached to the hooves of newborn foals. Their purpose is to protect the mare from the foal’s hard hooves during birth. Their scientific name is eponychium, although they’re commonly also known as “fairy fingers” or “golden slippers”.
Below, we take a closer look at the role these creepy structures play in the lives of horses.
Foal Slippers Are Essential for Survival
The birthing process is a risky undertaking for pregnant mares in the wild.
While giving birth, mares are vulnerable to predators, and the smell of the placenta attracts many predators.
To maximize the chances of survival, newborn foals must be able to stand up and run shortly after birth. To do this, foals must have strong enough hooves that will support their weight.
However, a horse’s hooves are naturally hard and sharp as they are made of a resistant protein called keratin.
Foal slippers are therefore necessary for the foal to be born with fully formed hooves. They protect the mare’s uterus from damage during pregnancy and allow the foal to safely move through the birth canal.
What Are Foal Slippers Made Of?
Like the hoof, foal slippers are also made of keratin. Keratin is the fibrous structural protein that makes up most animals’ hair, skin, and claws.
However, unlike the hoof, foal slippers have a soft, rubbery texture, according to people who work around horses. They are essentially a protective layer that acts as a cushion between the foal’s hooves and the mare’s uterus.
Also read: Do Hairless Horses Exist?
Do Fairy Fnigers Fall Off?
As we have learned, foal slippers play an important role during pregnancy and birth. But what happens to them after the foal is born?
Foal slippers are deciduous structures, meaning they will fall off when no longer needed. This is a gradual process that usually takes 24 to 48 hours.
In fact, foal slippers begin to harden up almost immediately after the foal is born. As the foal starts walking, the slippers gradually wear down to reveal the hard hooves we are all familiar with.
Also read: 12 Interesting Facts About the Horse Skeleton
Do All Hoofed Animals Have Eponychium?
Other hoofed animals like cattle, sheep, and antelopes also have eponychium for the same reason as horses do. Since they are also prey animals, they need to have fully formed hooves at birth so they can run away at the first sign of danger.
Looks like horses are not alone wearing these weird and wonderful slippers of nature!
Learn more about foal slippers, and other fascinating things hooves can do below: