Horses and roads/Chapter 17
Next to the racer comes the hunter—if, indeed, he may not be considered before him, as a ‘general utility’ horse. Mr. Fearnley says of him:—‘There is nothing in the world a horse can do which we do not find the hunter capable of.’ This is a character calculated to get him a situation, and accordingly we find him drawing a cab years before the natural decay of his strength, fire, and emulation would unfit him from carrying his master into a good place at the finish. If he went unshod, instead of being at such an early age the mass of diseases he now is, he would, when aged, still be fit for slower work, a long way ahead of the cab-rank. In fact, he might in many instances remain a useful servant in his old stable until extreme old age.
‘Impecuniosus’ hunted in an economical manner. He describes five ‘screws’ that he had in his stables just ten years ago, which could hardly have cost collectively the price of one sound horse. They all had infirmities, which consisted in knuckling over and falling when trotted on hard roads, incipient side bones, brittle hoof, cutting, legs that were always swollen, chronic laminitis, corns, and inability to keep up a gallop through ploughed lands. He shod them on all fours with either short Charlier shoes or tips, and they were all either greatly benefited or else cured of these unsoundnesses. One of these horses he sold to a gentleman, who immediately had him full shod in the ordinary manner. The horse again became as unsound as ever. People read the Field and neighbours looked on at it all, but it taught no one any lesson. ‘Impecuniosus’ wrote in the sand for the ‘ruck;’ but not so, however, for the present writer, who had the thing quite as closely at heart as had that estimable gentleman himself, and followed him up (although then abroad) with the greatest interest, with the vain idea that he was going to bring about a reform. A decade has since passed away, and nothing has resulted from his efforts. It appears as if he was then ahead of the age—so, possibly, may his imitator be now; but ten years make a difference in enlightenment; and everything should march with the age. If the present appeal should still prove abortive, at all events the subject will have been kept upon the surface, and thus it will again be taken up by someone else in due time; and whenever this happens the intervals will be found to be shortened by the onward march of intellect and science, if not of common sense.
It has been well said in a work entitled ‘The Rights of an Animal:’ ’In the history of thought, that which is to-day’s laughing-stock becomes tomorrow’s doubt, the wisdom of the third day, and the child’s lesson of the fourth.’
To return to the hunter: his foot is constructed upon a principle which prevents it from picking up and retaining dirt; but shoeing does away with its architecture and mechanism. Unshod hunters would be free of the drawback of carrying about the weight of iron and dirt. When they put their feet down in ploughed land, expansion would cause them to make a big opening, and as, on withdrawal, the foot would become smaller by contraction, it would slip out without ‘sucking,’ whilst there would be nothing on the bottom of it that could pull out dirt with it, as the shoe does—always excepting the Charlier.
Youatt says: ‘An ounce or two in the weight of the shoe will tell sadly before the end of a hard day’s work;’ and an old proverb says: ‘An ounce on the heel tells more than a pound on the back.’ If people would reflect that this extra weight has to be swung at the end of a lever which is not of the first order, they would understand how ounces represent pounds. The leverages in the horse’s leg are largely of the second and third orders. Therefore, the shod hunter is more heavily handicapped than any other horse, except the steeplechaser. Add to this, the absence of disease and pain which must detract from weight-carrying power, and we should find the thirteen stone hunter of the present day well up to fifteen stone, and ready and eager for his feed when he got home, as his attention would not be distraught from the cravings of his stomach by agony in his feet and legs.
Then, again, we have been told that unshod horses, when used in cattle-driving, do not slip about on wet grass, and roll over as shod ones do. This fact alone is valuable, but we may note further that in certain weathers the feet of shod horses will clog even in grass; and when the clods fly out, with the force they do, the effects of leverage must become, upon reflection, more apparent to the educated. Further still, when we come to consider that horses have so often to take off on slippery grass (and land upon it also) at leaps, we may easily comprehend that refusals, baulks, and falls would be diminished. Then, again, in taking a drop-jump from a field, over a fence, into a road or lane. Mr. Miles says:—‘No horse experiences the full extent of the benefit of one-sided nailing with few nails like the hunter; it is a great boon to every horse, but to him it is a blessing of the highest order, and one in which his rider participates more largely than some persons appear to imagine. When a hunter is shod in the usual manner, with seven or eight nails, some are always, for the sake of security, placed in the inner quarter, which is the most expansive portion of the hoof(?). Let a horse with his feet so circumstanced be called upon to leap from a high bank into a hard road—and what happens? The weight of the horse and his rider is thrown with an impetus, which greatly increases that of both, upon the bones of the foot; these are jammed with immense violence into the hoof, both sides of which are so fettered that neither can yield to make room for them, and they consequently squeeze the exquisitely sensitive lining of the hoof between their own hard substance, the unyielding horn, and the shanks of one, two, or three nails, as the case may be, in a merciless manner.’
Mr. Miles had, as we have already seen, proved by clever experiments that expansion and contraction positively do exist to a very marked extent in the horse’s foot; and it is now universally recognised, in England, at least, that such is the case. To allow them scope, he inserted nails in the shoe on the outside only of the hoof, and used but few nails even at that. The shoe was found to remain on, and the foot to be benefited, and he thus made an improvement; but no one followed it up, although veterinary surgeons said he was right. How is this to be accounted for, any more than the failure of ‘Impecuniosus’ to make an impression? because people cannot be induced to care for, or think of, their horses any longer than whilst they are on their backs. Both of these gentlemen, although without being aware of it, were precursors of the non-shoeing system, as may be seen by their gradual, although only partial and tardy, reduction of iron, in the number of nails and the size, form, and weight of shoe. Iron was still their stumbling-block, as it will continue to be that of all who uphold its use. It cannot, in any shape, be used to full advantage.
In the ‘Daily Telegraph’ of last Christmas Day’s issue, we read as follows:—‘A strange innovation has just been introduced into fox-hunting records in Fifeshire. According to the “Sporting Grazette,” Colonel Anstruther-Thompson, finding that the winter promised to be a long and sharp one, made up his mind that neither frost nor snow should stop him from his favourite sport, and trained men and horses accordingly. A few days since the result was seen. With the thermometer at eight degrees below freezing-point, and the ground covered with snow, he and a number of his neighbours met, amongst them being one lady, their horses having previously had the soles of their feet covered with guttapercha. For a while, Balcorm wood was drawn without success, but presently a fox rushed out and a sharp run followed. The scent in the snow proved amazingly good; and despite all the circumstances, which until now in foxhunting have been regarded as disadvantageous, the going was of the very best. At length, however, the fox managed to escape, and, as the sun was by this time at rest, it was too late for further sport that day. But the experiment Colonel Thompson has thus successfully made has created such an impression in Scotland, that it is likely to be followed everywhere this season; so that the owners of hunters who trembled at the prospects of the early winter, may take heart, and, by the aid of guttapercha soles and a little training, yet chase the fox over snow-covered ground.’
In Colonel Anstruther-Thompson we have another unconscious precursor of the non-shoeing system; and this at a late date. The snow would have ‘balled’ in the hoofs of iron-shod horses, and the eight degrees of frost would have rendered the ground too hard for them to alight upon it after each leap. Guttapercha staved off these difficulties, but the naked hoof would have done better still if it had had a month’s judicious care previously bestowed upon it; and for many obvious reasons, one of which is that guttapercha applied over the whole sole would obstruct natural transpiration, and so cause an unhealthy state of the whole hoof, if its application were kept up continually.
All these ideas lead up to the main point, which is that the freer the hoof is from iron the better it does.
Should anyone doubt that transpiration is continually going on in the foot of a horse, let him put an unshod one to stand for five minutes on dry flagstones, and then he will see the imprint of each foot marked in damp upon them; or, as Mayhew puts it, let him hold a wineglass with its mouth reversed upon the sole, and then he will find that the inside of the glass becomes shortly covered with dew. This frightens the grooms into the belief that it is an unnatural phenomenon, because it cannot be seen in a shod horse. The current of air which the raising up of the foot by the shoe admits underneath the foot carries off the vapour, and so does not permit of its condensation upon a dry floor. This forbids the constant employment of guttapercha. All kinds of diseases of the foot and leg would be found to arise from it; hence that door is closed, except on an emergency, and for a very short time. The Charlier tip is better than this device.
The unshod hunter that is stabled on a bare floor, and that goes to cover and returns at night over hard roads, will have a perfect hoof and foot, and would fear nothing that he could ever encounter in the rest of his day’s work; and then, he could hunt another day a week.
Instructions are repeatedly being asked for as to how to make and apply the Charlier shoe. Mr. W.H. Stevens, M.R.C.V.S., of 9, Park Lane, W., sends, post free, for sixpence, a pamphlet, wherein the whole thing is elucidated. This pamphlet is well illustrated, and should make details clear to the most obtuse. If shoes are required, or the necessary drawing-knife (which is the only extra tool required), Mr. Stevens also supplies them, as will be seen on perusal of the pamphlet. Messrs. Arnold & Sons, 36, West Smithfield, also supply the knife. When ordering shoes, a tracing of one fore and one hind foot should be sent. It is not likely that ‘tips’ are kept, but the latest information gives the valuable and significant fact that the ‘full’ shoe is no longer made, but only a ‘short’ shoe (a three-quarter one, in fact) which stops a good bit short of the bars. This is worth knowing. Those who wish for ‘tips’ can easily get on after knowing this much, without any further hints on the subject.
There are farmers who breed hunters and who ride their young horses to hounds, as a matter either of business or of pleasure. If they would try them unshod, they might be agreeably surprised at the result. Setting aside their superior performance, they would find, when they came to sell them, that the veterinary surgeon would always pass them as free from all suspicion of brittle hoof, sandcrack, seedy toe, thrushes, corns, pumice-foot, cutting or brushing, or navicular disease. No unshod horse ever suffers from any of these diseases or defects, no matter how hard his work or over what ground. This much is allowed, as we have seen, by veterinary surgeons. But besides these certain advantages, there are others. For instance, spavins, splints, ring-bones, side-bones, wind-galls, ‘swollen’ legs and ‘filled’ legs (which are different), quittor, curbs, stringhalt, overreach, bad action, thickened tendons, and stumbling, are all to be found with singularly less frequency in the unshod horse than in the shod one. The same remark applies also to those occult infirmities and defects of which mention has already been made, many of which constitute unsoundness by law.