I have previously mentioned that comparing domestic animals to similar wild animals can be helpful when studying veterinary medicine. This week, my equine anatomy class has been studying the limbs of horses. Yesterday, we were palpating bony landmarks on a live horse in order to visualize where we may someday be inserting needles for joint injections and nerve blocks. While we were inspecting our very patient horse, one of my classmates noticed that the horse did not have horseshoes on. Since not all of us are lifelong equestrians, someone was surprised to not see horseshoes on this animal. For me, I am used to it. Many horses that live outdoors in rural Maine have never been shoed in their lives. I proposed the following question to a classmate at a later time: why don’t zebras wear horseshoes?
There are other fascinating ideas to think of regarding zebras and horses. For example, I frequently think about fly spray. In my experience, many domestic horses are sprayed with anti-fly concoctions that aim to prevent flies landing on them and biting them. This is particularly crucial in the “bug-heavy” months, mainly spring and summer in the northeast US. But why don’t zebras need any help? How are they not being devoured by flies and becoming emaciated? And trust me, there are lots of flies in the areas of Africa that zebras inhabit. I have lived side-by-side with wild Burchell’s zebras in the Okavango Delta, and I can remember swatting away bugs constantly throughout the day. So, what is their adaptation? Some people believe that the zebra’s coat color confuses the fly’s unique visual system about the best landing area on the animal, as well as creating a heat current that confuses the fly’s temperature senses.
The physics are a bit out of my area of expertise, but the concepts are so cool. Comparing domestic animals and wild animals is not only fun, but it can help us, as veterinarians figure out ways to best help both parties.