Newborn horses and donkeys are born with an amazing ability to stand up and walk within just a few hours after birth. This is crucial to their survival and ability to avoid predators. To aid in this process, the newborn’s hooves have a special protective covering called "fairy slippers."
Fairy slippers, also known as deciduous hooves or foal slippers, are temporary hooves that newborn horses and donkeys, called foals, are born with. They are softer and more malleable than the permanent hooves that adult horses have and provide a cushioned layer of protection for the delicate structures of the hoof while the foal learns to stand and walk. The fairy slippers are shed and replaced by the permanent hooves.
This protective covering is made of the same material as the permanent hooves that the adults have. This material is called keratin and is a protein that is also found in hair and nails. However, they are softer and more malleable than the permanent hooves. They are also thinner and have a more curved shape to provide a cushioned layer of protection for the delicate structures of the hoof while the foal learns to stand and walk.
Fairy slippers help to protect the mother during pregnancy and birth and are an important adaptation for newborn horses and donkeys because they allow the foal to begin moving around soon after birth without causing damage to the sensitive tissues and bones inside the hoof. In addition to protecting the hoof, fairy slippers also provide better traction on slippery surfaces and help the foal maintain balance and stability as it learns to stand and walk.
During the first few days of a foal's life, the fairy slippers are loose and flimsy. This is a normal part of the shedding process, and the hooves will become stronger and more stable as the foal grows and develops. The hooves begin to harden almost immediately after birth and the foal will shed their fairy slippers within a couple days.