Foal Slippers – What are They?

What Are Foal Slippers? Their Purpose & What They’re Made Of

Nature can be complex and wonderful, with tons of crazy details that leave us in awe. One such detail is the foal slippers that you would find on a newborn horse. Have you ever heard of foal slippers? Well, if you have seen a newborn horse, you have probably seen foal slippers before, even if you did not realize that is what they were called! 

Foal slippers are the name for these rubbery projections that resemble fingers and are attached to the hooves of newborn foals. They exist primarily to protect the mare from the hard hooves of the baby horse during the birthing process. Scientifically, they are known as eponychium. Sometimes, people also call them golden fingers or just simply, fingers.

Below, we will go over some of the details of foal slippers– including the components and ingredients of these interesting body parts. If you have seen foal slippers in person, you have likely wondered about them– luckily, you will be able to learn all that you need to know in this article!

Foal Slippers Are Essential for Survival

First things first, why are foal slippers so important, and why have they endured through the years and evolutions? It is no exaggeration to say that foal slippers are key to a horse’s survival, and even to the survival of the species. This is because the birthing process is very dangerous, especially for mares who are out giving birth in the wild, rather than in the safety of a barn.

Mares are vulnerable during the process of giving birth. They can be attacked and even killed by predators while they are weak and preoccupied. The smell of placenta often draws these predators to birthing mares. However, the dangers are not only limited to dangers from predators or an attack! They can also be hurt by the hard hooves of their own foals as they leave the birthing canal. This is why foal slippers are important, as they can help to protect the mare’s body.

Foal slippers help to maximize a foal’s survival in the wild, too. It is crucial that foals are able to stand and run not long after birth– which means that they need strong hooves that are able to support their weight.

What Are Foal Slippers Made Of?

Foal slippers are made from keratin, just like a horse’s hooves. This is a fibrous, structural protein that makes up most animals’ skin, hair, and nails– we humans have keratin, too! Keratin is very sharp and hard, so they can be damaging to the uterus and birth canal of a mare. Foal slippers are also crucial to making sure that the foal is born with fully formed hooves.

Foal slippers are made of keratin, just like a horse’s hooves, but interestingly, they do not have the same texture or consistency. Instead of being hard, solid, or sharp, foal slippers are soft, with a rubbery texture. This can also be guessed by looking at them– they appear to be soft and gelatinous. Basically, they are a soft protective layer– a cushion, if you will– that developed in order to protect the mare’s uterus from the baby horse’s hooves.

Do Foal Slippers Fall Off?

Now that you know what foal slippers are, you may be wondering how they are removed, or how long they stay on a foal’s hooves. After all, if you have been around any young horses, you know that foal slippers do not remain on forever. At some point, they disappear and a horse’s actual hooves are out– the question is, when do the foal slippers disappear, and how? What happens to them after the birth of a foal?

Foal slippers are known as deciduous structures. What is a deciduous structure, you may ask? Essentially, this means that the foal slippers will fall off the hooves as soon as the foal does not need them any longer. This does not happen all at once. Rather, it is a gradual process that takes between 24 and 48 hours to be complete. 

After a horse is born, the foal slippers on their hooves start to harden up almost immediately. Once the foal begins walking, the foal slippers will begin to gradually wear down and reveal the hard hooves that lie underneath. 

Do All Hoofed Animals Have Eponychium?

Now that you know about foal slippers, or the scientific term, eponychium, you may wonder if this is something that all animals with hooves are born with! After all, it certainly does make sense, doesn’t it? Well, wonder no more! For the same reason that horses have eponychium, other hooved animals have adapted to have it, too. 

Cattle, sheep, and antelopes are all examples of the animals that can be born with eponychium on their hooves. Because they are all prey animals, these species of animals need to be born with eponychium, or foal slippers, so that they have fully formed hooves that can take them away from any sort of danger in the wild! These dangers can include natural predators, as well as poachers that may target certain rare species. 

Do Humans Have Eponychium?

No, humans do not have hooves, but we do have hair and fingernails that are made up of keratin. This may lead you to wonder if we ourselves have some form of eponychium on our bodies as well! Technically, yes, we do, but it is really nothing in comparison to foal slippers. When it comes to human anatomy, eponychium is a thickened layer of skin at the base of the fingernail or toenail. It may also be referred to as either the medial or proximal nail fold. 

This is not the same as your cuticle– the eponychium is made up of living skin cells, while the cuticle is made of dead skin cells. This part of your body functions to protect the area between your skin and fingernail or toenail from bacteria– unlike the function of the eponychium for horses!