Mythbuster Monday: Foals are Born with Slippers

On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Are foals born with slippers on their hooves?

It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Are foals born with slippers on their hooves? What is used to cover the foals hooves to protect the mare during labor? How long do the slippers last after birth? Read further to find out!

Myth:  Foals are born with slippers on their hooves

Myth or Fact: Fact

When a foal is making its way through the birth canal into this world, its hooves are covered with soft tissue. The tissue is rubbery and finger-like. This phenomenon has the scientific name of eponychium, but is commonly called foal slippers, fairy slippers or golden slippers.

In her article, Henrietta Szathmary states that foal slippers protect the mare from a foal’s hard hooves during birth. Horse’s hooves are typically hard and sharp, which can cause damage during the birthing process. Foal slippers are there during pregnancy and birth, allowing the foal to safely move through the birth canal.

Like the hooves, foal slippers are also made of keratin. However, they are a soft, rubbery texture. Almost immediately after birth the foal slippers begin to harden. Once the foal starts walking these slippers wear down between 24 to 48 hours and the hard hooves are completely revealed.

Another brief article by Smart Foal discusses how a foal’s hooves are covered in a rubbery layer, which they refer to as a capsule. The capsule covers the foal’s hooves to aid in protecting the mare as the foal makes its way through the birthing canal. This article states that if you do not snap a picture or take a peek within the minute the hooves make contact with air, you will miss the foal slippers. They state that the foal slippers begin to dry out and wear away the minute they make contact with air.

Stable Express discusses foal slippers in a more scientific manner. Their article points out that the eponychium is the covering on the hooves that protects the mare while the foal is in the womb. It forms a soft pad over the hooves allowing for a smooth birth without injury to the mother but once it meets air it begins to dry out.

Savvy Horsewoman states in her article that this neat phenomenon looks like something out of a science fiction movie — however, it is a normal occurrence. Nature gives foals four soft, spongy slippers to prevent injury to the mother and within 24-48 hours of birth, these slippers completely disappear. Some individuals describe the phenomenon as feathers or tentacles on the feet.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

After diving into the research, foals do have a covering on their hooves that hardens when it hits air which is known as foal slippers. This phenomenon aids in protecting the mare during the birthing process. Once the foal is born the slippers quickly begin to disappear as they turn into a hard surface.

Do you have an equine myth you’d like us to tackle? If so, send it our way! Email your suggestions to [email protected]. Put Mythbuster Monday in your subject line.