Horses and roads/Chapter 10
During the mutiny in India many of our cavalry horses went unshod, because they could not get shod, and they never went better in their lives.
In the ‘Morning Advertiser’ of July 18 last, the special military correspondent at the Cape gives an interesting account of a ride that he made with irregular cavalry on a raid. He says: ‘Few of the men have their horses shod in front; some do not shoe at all;’ and he remarks that, in his excursion, they had to go over ‘sheets of polished, wet, slippery stone in the torrent beds, making one wonder how our unshod horses could keep their feet.’ It is worthy of remark that this was only a few days before the battle of Ulundi, in which these horses took such an active part. In fact, they saw the whole war through; and, on August 9, we find the special war correspondent of the ‘Daily News’ reporting of these same animals that ‘the constant work they have had naturally keeps them devoid of superfluous flesh; but, for all this, they are as hard as nails, and good in the wind.’ All through the reports on the war, not a complaint was made as to these horses falling lame. Surely there must be something in this. Sheets of wet, slippery rock, and rolling stones in river beds, would be calculated to try the hoofs to the utmost; yet in the pursuit of the Zulus, when they fled at Ulundi, these ‘ponies’ (from 14½ hands downwards) were able, we are told, to follow miles further than the shod horses.
Military farriers are no better than others. In fact, it does not appear, even in the army, that any previous knowledge is thought necessary to make a man a farrier, any more than it is generally supposed necessary to get the consent of an eel to his being skinned alive. Mr. Douglas says: ‘With facts before me, is it a wonder that I should blame the bad shoeing smiths of the army for much, if not most, of the mischief; the once tailors, haberdashers, colliers, and clodhoppers, but now farriers, who first lame the horses until they are unable to walk, and then are cast and sold for a few pounds? In my own regiment, the 10th Hussars, just before it went out to India, out of fifteen farrier sergeants and shoeing smiths, there were only the farrier-major and two others that had been farriers before they joined the army. One of the remaining twelve had been bred a tailor, and, as a tailor, had worked for the regiment; a second had been a collier, a third a groom, and so on throughout the dozen. Hitherto tradition and routine have been permitted to guide farriers in their wondrous ways of horse-shoeing; consequently it is a question whether, in following the manners and customs of their forefathers, they are more to be blamed than the general public.’ By ‘the general public’ it is presumable that Mr. Douglas meant the generality of horse owners. The general public knows nothing about the shoeing of horses.
During this present winter, rate- and tax-payers have clamoured in the daily papers for sand, ashes, salt, &c., to be sown broadcast, at their own expense, on all the streets of London, and at an hour or two’s notice, in order to prevent the slipping of horses, and the destruction of life and property thereby occasioned. In times of frost and snow this sudden and extensive distribution can never be accomplished in time for all; in the case of snow it is almost useless, because it will not prevent snow from balling in the feet of shod horses—except they be shod Charlier fashion. The real remedy lies in the hands of the horse owners, and they could, if they chose, economise for themselves at the same time that they took a heavy charge from the shoulders of the rate- and tax-payers. The unshod horse will not slip upon either asphalte, wood, or granite pavements, or even on glare ice, because the natural healthy hoof is rough enough, and tough enough, to hold on a smooth surface, unless indeed you should ask the horse to keep back a heavy load, when going down hill, without a brake on the wheels. Even then he will do better than a shod horse. Here is an extract from the ‘Daily Telegraph’ of this year, January 28, in an article on the weather then being experienced: ‘As the frost had not given way, the wicked dew turned into glass as it fell in the hard roads, beaten and worn smooth by the slipping hoofs of the pitiable, but not much pitied, horses. Many severe falls were consequent on the slippery state of the carriage-ways and foot-paths; and traffic was much retarded in the busier thoroughfares of the City. Those of the West-end were, comparatively speaking, deserted; for nobody having horses of any value would willingly have had them out at such a time.’ One lady told the writer that she could not use her carriage ‘because her horses could not stand roughing, as their hoofs were too tender and delicate to bear the insertion of nails oftener than once a month.’ This lady only expressed what hundreds of others felt.
The patentees and advocates of the various systems of cogs, &c., will say that all this might be avoided if, at the approach of winter, people would have their horses shod with their variously recommended shoes; but even if they were to do so (and they do not, and will not), none of the systems are perfect. Cogs, big or small, get worn smooth in a very short time, and some of them fall out. In either case they are found not to answer; and they are not generally used, or likely to be used, whilst they only hold good for a day or so, and leave one ‘stuck’ when least expected. Even the Charlier shoe, although it will not pick up snow (the facility for doing which is increased by lifting the foot higher from the ground, when cogs and calks are used), is not perfect upon glassy streets. We have seen that Mr. Bowditch condemned the use of both toe and heel calks, as a general rule; yet when he rode his mare upon a frozen lake he turned down ‘a small toecalk.’ He had no calk behind because the heels were bare, and so there was no danger of slipping on their part; neither would there be any reason to fear that the bare toe would act otherwise.
The writer has seen a valuable light horse, nearly thoroughbred, have on a full set of shoes, in which eight nails, nearly three-sixteenths of an inch in thickness, were driven four in each quarter, and in a space of three inches for each four nails. What an immense amount of laceration and compression the delicate hollow fibres of the crust must have suffered by thus wedging them up within a fourth of their natural dimensions! Besides this, the hoof was carved out on the crust to receive three clips, one on the toe and one on each quarter. A calk, three-quarters of an inch high, was put on one heel of each hind shoe, and, on the other heel, a screw cog of equal height. On each front shoe a cog, also three-quarters of an inch high, was put upon each heel. This wretched victim to fashion was then regarded with the utmost satisfaction by the farriers and his groom; and all this heathenism was perpetrated in the forge of a veterinary surgeon. But, perhaps, he was shoeing to order.
It has been well said that ‘ladies are not bigger slaves to fashion than are modern horse owners.’
In a paper dedicated to agriculturists it has been maintained that horseshoes are an absolute necessity, but that ‘the difficulty in riding or driving through the London streets arises from the variety of pavements in use. From Westminster to the Bank, horses have to travel over macadam, asphalte, wood, and granite. The shoe adapted for traffic on one kind of pavement ill suits another.’ But is it so? Ask Mr. Smither. ‘If we had a uniform kind of pavement, a shoe for universal (?) use would be quickly invented. The ingenuity of man would devise horseshoes to travel over glass, were glass the only pavement in use.’ This is an insult to the common sense of its readers. It has been widely, and for a long time, proved that the naked foot of the horse is as much at home on one kind of hard road as on another, and can pass over all of them alternately without wearing out, or inconveniencing the horse, and that on none of them will he slip, or on wet grass either.
In Mexico, Yucatan, Honduras (both British and Spanish), Guatemala, San Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the United States of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil, horses, mules, and donkeys are worked over every description of hard roads, most of them exceedingly rough, carrying very heavy packs from the back country down to the seaboard, and in some cases making a journey of several hundreds of miles, and they load back again; yet they never wear out their hoofs. The writer speaks from experience; for it has been his lot to own and work hundreds of animals at a time in more than one of these countries; and if shoeing could have helped him in the slightest he would most certainly have resorted to it. No man could see four or five hundred animals incapacitated from work without seeking such a simple remedy; but it was never wanted, and many years of experience of this kind have naturally convinced him that horses work better, and can travel further, without shoes than with them.
Nor is this all. Unshod horses enjoy almost a total immunity from diseases of the feet and legs. Side-bones, sandcrack, seedy toe, ringbone, thrush, and quittor were never seen in the writer’s stables. Spavins, curbs, splints, and windgalls were very rare. Thrush is effectually cured by removing the shoe from any horse that suffers from it. Professor Coleman said that ‘the frog must have pressure, or become diseased;’ and Mr. Douglas says that ‘contraction prevents a supply of blood from reaching the sensitive frog that produces the insensible frog; and so, becoming useless for the purpose nature intended it, instead of coming to horn it oozes out a noxious-smelling fluid.’ The unshod horse has frog pressure; so, unless he should stand upon rotten litter, thrush he cannot get. Quittor is caused by pricking with a nail, or by the horse resting with the toe of one foot, and bearing with the heel of the shoe of that foot (especially should the shoe be calked) upon the coronet of the opposite one. Hence unshod horses can with difficulty get quittor, neither do they. An unshod horse ‘feels his feet,’ and knows what he is doing with them; so he scarcely knows what it is to overreach himself; and even if he does such a thing, no evil consequences are ever noticed, because the horn cannot inflict injury like iron. For sandcrack and seedy toe there are no names in the above-cited countries, and no one can bring the natives to understand that such diseases exist. If you suggest corns to them they laugh in your face, and no wonder.
Mr. Dalziel says: ‘Corns on the human foot are practically known to most people, being one of the unpleasant and unnecessary attendants on civilisation, for they came into fashion with boots and shoes. So with corns on the foot of the horse.’ Mayhew says: ‘Spavin, splint, or ringbone are no more the legitimate consequences of equine existence than noads and anchylosis are the natural inheritance of human beings.’ By illegitimate treatment ninety-nine hundredths of the diseases of the feet and legs are caused—shoeing being the most to blame.