Horses and roads/Chapter 18
Equal to the hunter in value is the lady’s horse. In the ‘Book of the Horse,’ we find it said of him: ‘He should be free from the slightest suspicion of unsoundness in feet and forelegs, or those tricks of stumbling which lead to falls.’ In an editorial article, the ‘Morning Advertiser’ has said: ‘There can be no doubt that to encase the foot of either man or beast in a hard, heavy, unyielding case or cincture is against every law of Nature. It is equally true that by so doing the delicacy of the foot is impaired, the sensitiveness injured, and, accordingly, the liability of the animal—let us say the horse—to stumble much increased.’ This being so, as it undeniably is, a lady’s horse should evidently be unshod. He would then possess further advantages as being lighter in hand—no trifling one—and all his gaits would become more elastic and airy, rendering him much easier to sit and ride, and give his rider a more graceful seat, while at the same time she would experience less fatigue, and be in greater safety.
Should these lines attract the notice of any fair reader, it is to be hoped that she may give their substance due consideration. Let her reflect that the present prevailing mode of shoeing is an unscientific and old-fashioned affair, and that it is now high time there should be a change of fashion, for ladies, at least. Let her consider that the hoof grows from above downwards; and thus, when the bottom part gets fair play, diseases and defects of the hoof will gradually disappear to a great extent, if not entirely. Any lady may improve her present favourite, both in comfort to him and in safety as well as comfort to herself, by having him shod all round with tips. The Charlier is much the best system, but where it cannot easily be put in practice, the common tip, made as narrow and thin as the Charlier, will be found very effective, and a very great improvement on the broad, heavy, ‘full’ shoe now in almost universal use.
Charlier did not invent the narrow, thin shoe or tip; he only made better use of such a piece of iron by imbedding it in the crust, on a level with the outer edge of the sole—and this was certainly an improvement. Mayhew says:—’All idea of the breadth of shoe affording the slightest protection should be at once abolished, because the broad web has been proved by the general employment of the picker rather to afford harbour to hurtful particles than to protect the sole from injury. The shoe should be made only just wide enough to afford bearing to the wall of the hoof, and to allow sufficient room for the nails to pierce the substance of the iron. … There can be no doubt as to the safety of tips. … Were tips more generally employed, this form of shoe would be more highly valued.’ So we see that Mayhew was only short of the idea of imbedding his narrow strip of iron, which idea occurred to M. Charlier shortly after Mayhew wrote.
It may not be out of place to repeat here that such a narrow, weak strip of iron is not found to answer when applied in the shape of a full-sized shoe, as it will then either twist or break; but in the short length required for a tip, it is found that it will do neither.
Impulsive or superficial thought may suggest the idea that such light tips may soon wear out. This is not the case, for Mr. Douglas found by practical experiment that light shoes wear the longest; and a little reflection would account for this.
The proper width of a tip for a lady’s horse would be from ⅜ in. to ½ in., and the thickness ¼ in. only. Light iron, as has been observed, only requires light nails, and few of them, to hold it on; and as the narrowness of the web of the tip would bring the nail-holes nearer to the edge of the hoof, the danger of pricking the sensitive parts would be almost entirely done away with; and thus there would be much less of mutilation of the hoof.
Perhaps, after a time, some ladies may find their horses improved through the wearing of tips, and then some of them might be found willing to do away with them on the hind feet of their horses; and, if this were found a success, something more might suggest itself to them. But those who employ tips, even should they get no farther, will find their advantage in a week or two. They must not expect that those diseases of the bones, cartilages, or tendons which have been brought about by shoeing, if they are firmly established, can be entirely cured by the change; but their progress may be arrested; and, what is equally consoling, they will find by the ‘going’ of their horses under them, that the absence of inconvenience and pain in their feet and legs makes them more ‘springy,’ and, consequently, safer and easier to ride. Let them notice also the difference in the weight they throw on the bit after a while.
A horse adapted to carry a lady safely and with ease would be well suited for an elderly gentleman, or a timid or inexperienced rider of the plain sex.
Park hacks, it has already been conceded by authority, ‘would go more safely without shoes than with them, because shoes accumulate the soil.’ Evidently, it must also be unpleasant to have a compound of tan and manure thrown in one’s teeth by horses in front. Unshod horses cannot pick it up or even scatter it knee-high.
Although it may be rather out of place here, we will remark en passant that ‘circus’ horses do not appear to labour under any very pressing necessity of being cursed with shoes, yet they are; and they continually favour spectators in the front seats with showers of filth that often finds a resting-place in the eye, and thus deprives its receiver of the enjoyment of the remainder of the ‘spectacle.’
But, anyhow, breeders of park hacks, seeing the concession made by authority in favour of these animals, would be going out of their road, and incurring extra risks, if they shod them even to break them. Let them break them unshod, and in the same state offer them for sale. They would thus pass their examination as to soundness without difficulty; and then if their buyers thought proper to shoe them their sin would be upon their own heads. By so doing, they would simply follow up the purchase of a valuable article by deliberate efforts to depreciate its intrinsic worth. Of course, there should be fair play over the transaction, and it should be understood that the horse had his feet inured to hard roads, and not have been broken-in upon grass. Horses broken-in upon grass do not acquire showy action. It would not, therefore, pay to shirk the thing; and this would be a safeguard for the buyer, in case he wanted the horse for immediate work; it would regulate the price. ‘A thing (of any kind) is worth what it will fetch,’ and so fancy prices are continually being paid for horses, especially ladies’ horses and park hacks.
Another class of horse that often commands a long price is the carriage-horse of the ‘upper ten.’ As a rule, the accusation that they get early worn out by hard work would hardly lie; yet at what a comparatively early age they become ‘screws,’ through the bearing-rein and their shoeing. Their work lies largely over stone paving, the evils of which, to shod horses, Mr. Fearnley and others so justly denounce. One purpose of the bearing-rein is avowedly to give lofty action, not graceful action, which, on the contrary, it prevents. Horses with their heads rigidly attached to their tails are continually tossing up their heads, in which no doubt they find a passing relief alternately for their various excruciating pains, which must extend from the tail to the teeth. The throwing up of the head necessarily tends to raise their fore feet higher, but not with regularity, as may be seen by observation. This abnormal high action causes so much the greater shock on the feet when they come down on the stone, and this brings their shod hoofs to grief. Mr. Douglas says:—‘The evil effects of concussion, of the firm, hard blows from the ground, striking through the iron up a horse’s leg that is being driven fast along the road, cannot be over-estimated. Such common results as splints, spavins, and ringbones, I have already referred to elsewhere, as well as to another and more fatal disease, known as foundered feet, due to the same cause—concussion. It is allowed that the cause of this disease proceeds from the violent exercise over hard roads, and that young horses are most liable to it: of course, all combined with heavy wide-webbed shoes, fastened on to mutilated feet.’
As a remedy or a prevention of concussion, Mr. Douglas proposed to let guttapercha into a dove-tailed groove on the face of the shoe. At the best, this would have been only a partial remedy, but the shoe never came into use. No innovations find easy acceptance; and why? Mayhew solves this conundrum, when he tells us that ‘it is in their own interests that farriers make no improvements!’
The crippled screws of which we are now speaking would always be wanting to rest one fore-foot and one hind one at one and the same time, and alternating them frequently, besides drooping their heads in despondency, when they were at a stand. Here comes in another purpose of the bearing-rein, which is that of ‘pulling them together,’ and thus hiding from the ignorant the infirmities and sufferings in their feet, by the application of counter-irritation. Thus they are supposed to make a better show when drawn up in Regent Street, or at Lancaster Grate, or, say, even at the door of Willis’s Rooms, when an anti-vivisection congress is sitting. If only for the sake of decency, we should show a little consistency. Let it be understood that we are not arguing either pro or con. on the question of vivisection of the lower animals; we have our own opinion on the subject, but we prefer to stand in the present instance upon neutral ground, and so talk to both sides. Those who are against it can find no excuse for docking the tails of horses, which custom cannot be considered other than vivisection; whilst those who argue that science can be advanced by investigating the interior organs of a guinea-pig, cannot argue that docking a horse’s tail proves anything more than that we are still little more than half-reclaimed savages, with a remnant of idolatry which obliges us to offer up as sacrifice the ends of our horses’ vertebral columns to that idol which we worship under the name of ‘fashion.’ The whole system is rotten.
To drive a horse that cuts himself is cruelty to animals, and at some future time it will be punished as such. To rasp away, and thus weaken, the inside of the shell of the foot, in a futile endeavour to avoid cutting, is also cruelty, and some day this practice will also be prohibited on that account. The prevailing idea of cruelty seems to be that blood must be flowing, or sores visible under the harness; but a sore that gets hit with the foot is quite as bad.
The operation of rasping away the hoof, to cure cutting, is as unscientific as it is unsuccessful. The idea that suggests it is one of those that ‘Impecuniosus’ says ‘has sprung from wrong roots altogether.’ He cured his horses of this misfortune by shoeing them with Charlier tips. The cause of cutting is the shoeing. It is not meant by this that it is the shoe or nails that cut—as anyone may see that. What is meant is that an unshod horse, or even one wearing tips, never hits his leg with the opposing foot; one reason for this being because he wears away his heels in their proper economical ratio and form, and thus gets a natural ‘tread.’ Nature never meant him to knock himself about so awkwardly at every step. Cutting is always accompanied by deterioration of action, and diminution of speed, and then all his defection is reckoned up together, and the unfortunate horse (instead of his master) is put down as a ‘rip,’ although he may perhaps be only a victim of routine.
The eye of ’fashion’ too often looks through that of its coachman when estimating action, and thus it has become callous, so to speak, and insensible to the elegance of the natural action of such a graceful animal. Mayhew says that ‘pride has no brains, and but a very limited amount of intellect.’ Let pride, or ‘fashion,’ just stoop to the use of tips, and then their coachmen would gradually come round. Coachmen are not all fools, any more than they are all sages, although they are all prejudiced; and few of them nowadays are as interested as their class formerly was in bolstering up trade interests. We find that they mostly acquire an affection for their horses—as they look upon them, and they should not be altogether discouraged from so doing—barring some unfortunate animal that is obliged to become a crib-biter, &c., but in favour of which they are generally willing to admit either pluck or something else. They cannot understand that he is being driven into such vices; they believe them to be inherent in the individual. This affection for, and interest in, their horses, which has been developing itself of late years in coachmen (not so much in stable-helpers), would soon reconcile them to any innovation which might be found beneficial to horses, however much they may be averse to them when first introduced to their notice or approval.
I am obliged to ‘N.,’ both for the interest he has taken in what I have written and for the case he mentions of impending lockjaw (which it would appear to have been) through ill-grown teeth. I have not met with a parallel case, but I once knew a cart-horse that cost £100 to die of lockjaw from getting ‘pricked’ in shoeing. The nail was withdrawn, but the veterinary surgeon stated that there had been a scale on the inside of it which had been forced off in the withdrawal ‘against the grain,’ and had made its way into the sensitive parts, to remain there.
To ‘J. F. K. S.’ I am equally indebted. He may rest assured that no fair trial has ever been given to the artillery horses at Woolwich, but it has been given to such horses at the Cape, and with the greatest success. They were found to go better, when unshod all round, over the roughest description of hilly roads, and for years together.
What has happened at Woolwich has been that shoes are removed from all horses before shipping them for a long voyage, both to hinder them from slipping about and prevent them from getting foundered, which it is well known to veterinary surgeons they are particularly liable to when at sea, if shod.
- See Appendix F.
- See Appendix G.