Baby horse hooves don’t look like adult horse hooves. Instead of hooves, it looks like the foal has a slipper with a pointed toe. But these “foal slippers” as they’re called serve an evolutionary purpose and don’t last long. They protect the mare’s reproductive tract. Once the foal is born, it starts rapidly growing, including its hooves, and begins developing the hoof we are familiar with today.
Horses are delicate creatures, especially their internal systems. Equestrians understand that and provide the best possible care. Mother nature also helped horses as much as she could. Baby horse hooves are soft slippers in the womb, and they are born with what is known as foal slippers. Golden slippers and fairy fingers are other names. The word slipper gives you a better idea of their composition. They are soft and as delicate as the mare’s reproductive system, thus minimizing the damage that could occur during birth.
Composition of Baby Horse Hooves
The foal slippers have a golden appearance, which is where one of the nicknames comes from. A soft layer similar to rubber covers them. It’s called the gelatinous perioplic membrane, or eponychium. Air exposure at birth dries out the rubber layer. The triangular shape of baby horse hooves also changes as the capsule dries out and the foal stands and walks on the hooves, altering their shape.
The hoof wall in baby horse hooves is thinner than that of adult horses, but researchers have shown that it quickly grows and thickens. This allows the baby horse to travel with its mother, as it would need to do in the wild. Baby horses travel on their toes for the first few weeks of life, then, gradually bear more weight on the rest of their hoof.
It’s important to have a veterinarian and farrier check new foals in the first few weeks of their lives, and the hooves are one of the things they will check. These experts can ascertain whether any deviations are occurring that need to be corrected. Conformational defaults can be caused by the baby horse’s hooves and some can be fixed by regular care. Foals should continue to have farrier care every two to four weeks, depending on their needs. One of the key purposes is to round the toe and help the hooves grow correctly.
A farrier and university student in England are conducting research that shows that foal hooves grow twice as fast as adult horses. Their research used a sample of Thoroughbreds and found that foals grow their hooves out fully in about 145 days compared to the 270 days to a full year in adult horses.
Farriers trimmed the foals’ hooves every three weeks and measured growth using the foal hoof crease. This is the visible ring that shows how much hoof the foal had when it was born and how much it has grown since then.
This rapid growth can cause problems for the foals though, just like the growing pains kids sometimes experience. However, even though the rapid hoof growth can cause problems for baby horses, it’s also the best time to take any corrective actions. Horse owners should work with their farrier on that regular hoof trimming for baby horses and any corrective actions needed.
The 411 About Baby Horse Hooves
There are a few things we need to know about baby horse hooves. First, nature is cool, and it does an impressive job of adapting, evolving, and caring for itself. Baby horse hooves are just one example of how the species protects itself and has evolved for the safety of the mare and foal.
Second, if you have a foal (or plan to have one in the future), it’s important to understand how sensitive baby horse hooves are in the first few days and make sure the foal gets everything it needs. Those early days and weeks create the foundation (literally) that the foal will stand upon for the rest of its life. The saying “no hoof, no horse,” is true from the foal slippers to the adult hoof.
Sources: Cowgirl Magazine, Equus Magazine, Hoof Care for Foals, The Horse, and Utah State University Extension.