Horses and roads/Chapter 19
A class of horse that is extensively kept is le cheval à deux fins, the one that is ridden on one day, and driven, perhaps, the next, and so on. This horse could but gain in both his capacities by going unshod, and it would be an error on the part of his owner to argue within himself that it might answer under saddle, but would not do for harness work, or vice versâ. People are strangely given to shirk innovations by laying hold of every excuse they can put their hands upon.
Omnibus, van, tramway, cab, and such-like horses, busily employed in cities, will perhaps be the last (although not the least requiring) to receive full benefit of a change in the order of things; but get it some day they must, as they have obtained relief from the bearing-rein, for which they are indebted to the energetic agitation of Mr. Flower. A careful inspection of their legs and feet would convince anyone endowed with perception that the present system of shoeing is simply ruining them. As we have seen, there is, at least, one intelligent firm who have stuck to the Charlier system for more than seven years, and have made their success with it public through the Press. To all appearance they might almost as well have remained silent on the subject. Who is there that can boast of having put their enterprise and experience to profit? Echo answers. Who? May we be allowed to ask, whence arises such indifference on a question of millions annually? If submitted to Lord Dundreary, he would probably say: ‘It is one of those things no fellow can understand;’ and this is the only solution the writer can propose as a corollary to that of ‘Impecuniosus,’ which is, ‘because everyone does it, I suppose;’ and to that of ‘Santa Fe,’ who says: ‘Fortunately our ancestors did not shoe their dogs and cats, or, in all probability, most of us would do so in the present day.’ The enterprising London firm in question liberally offered their horses for inspection, and no one went to see them! One gentleman said: ‘I have got along for the last thirty-five years, and I shall not change now.’ He had something of either the Mede or Persian about him, and there are too many like him. We may say, en passant, that his horses were about as badly shod as any that can be found nowadays, and were, every one of them, unsound from this very cause; but he did not want to know any better.
A propos of horses, we will look at the lightly-built and lightly-limbed mules, with hoofs scarcely bigger than those of donkeys—those that rum on some tramways. Light as they are, they are strong and powerful; and the only advantage which could ever be expected from them lay in the lightness of their frame, legs, and feet, which would give them a pull over heavy horses, if we may assume that they would not batter their feet and legs to pieces on the hard stone pavement—since they run upon nothing else. For a mule requires more feed than a horse, taking him hands for hands, and equal mileage, load, and speed; and this the tramway companies will find out ere long, if they keep satisfactory records of each and all.
These mules have no weight or load to keep back. They cannot have any, as it is done for them by a brake on the car, which is powerful enough to stop the whole concern, mules and all, in the traject of a few feet; neither have they any weight to carry, beyond that of the collar, traces, and bridle; there is not even a pole to the cars, so they have nothing to do but to pull. Yet they are shod, especially behind, in an outrageous manner, with shoes that are extra long, and are, besides, calked! What ghost of a reason is there for calks on animals thus employed? Calks are only a clumsy, ignorant, and utterly unsuccessful substitution for a brake on the wheels. The tramcars have the brake, and even if they had not, calks will not help an animal to pull up upon pavement. They may do so upon country roads, but only with prejudice to the animal's limbs.
Hear Mr. Fearnley upon this subject; and lay what he says to heart:—‘There could be no better service rendered to the horse universe than the passing of an Act of Parliament rendering it a misdemeanour for any one shoeing a horse to reduce the thickness of his soles or frog’—he omits to state the evils of cutting out the bars—‘or to put under his heels or quarters iron exceeding a defined thickness, except under the certificate of a qualified veterinary surgeon, who should, after examining the horse, explain the need for the same. Horses, like every other property, are national property, and a man owning them mediately has no more right to deface them than he has to deface the coin of the realm, which he also owns only mediately. ’What is mine is my own‘ is still the creed, not only of the vulgar, but of those who ought, at least, to know the rudiments of political economy.’
The writer thinks with Mr. Fearnley, that the question should be one for the Government; but then there is that awful red tape, which, slight as it is to look at, holds progress in bonds. So there is no hope from that quarter for the present. It is only two years ago that Mr. Fearnley expressed himself thus, and it is possible that no member of either the late or the present Government, even if they read his book, bestowed any attention upon it, although there is, perhaps, not a single member of either that has not been at loss and inconvenience through a horse being badly shod. That makes no difference to them. They have their political squabbles to keep up over aliens, and we and our horses may go to the crows, because they fail to see the importance of an immense national economy. Luckily, we may do without their interference if we like, and show them ‘how it is done.’
But we must not get away from those mules just yet. Without knowing positively, we cannot be far from the mark if we suppose that stables which contain hundreds of them must be daily visited by a veterinary surgeon; and, if such be the case, why should he not have direction over the farriers? If he had such, we should soon see the calk, as well as a big piece of superfluous length of iron, cut off from each side of the heel. Here is another opportunity for asking ‘What ghost of a reason there is’ for leaving iron to protrude behind the heels? What is it meant to protect—the tails? The mules have them close shaven; so they are not in reach of anything below the hocks. What purpose, then, is it meant to serve? One result of the practice is to make their heels come to the ground sooner than they were intended to do, and so give them a false ‘tread,’ thus using them up early, by making their legs perform unnatural functions which lead to fatigue and diseases. What is to hinder them from wearing tips, to begin with? The heavy shoeing, and the generally indefensible manner in which they are now shod, cause these hapless, light-limbed, and small-footed creatures, when at their trot, to swing their feet backwards and then upwards, in a manner that is most ridiculous to a person accustomed to mules; but their Cockney half-brothers, who have been hitherto unacquainted with them, seem to consider this as correct action. This forced and unnatural amount of play upon the articulations can but cause serious injury, especially to the tendons and synovially lubricated surfaces generally. In fact, it is undue wear and tear all round, even on the muscles, which carry us up to the heart, and on the nerves, which carry us up to the brain.
What chance, then, have these poor animals of showing what they may be worth? They are only an experiment as yet, and are all young; and, through a very unfair treatment, it will be presently discovered that they have not answered expectations. This will not be the fault of the mules, but their misfortune. They are already a partial failure, as may be seen from the fact that in many cases three of them are employed on a two-horse car, and two of them on a one-horse car; but a good deal of this is to be accounted for from the fact that people of the gobe-mouche fraternity fancy that a mule consumes less provender than a horse. It is true that a mule can, upon an emergency and for a short time, make a shift upon shorter and lower quality rations than a horse can; but, take him all the year round, he not only cannot do so, but requires more than the horse. On this account mules are useful in foreign countries where privations may be expected on journeys; but, put them to regular work and regular feed, and then the writer has always found them, during a very extensive experience, to require more sustenance than a horse doing the same work. People get statistics (not always correct) that a mule consumes so many pounds of barley and chopped straw per diem, and then they substitute (on paper) the same weight of oats, putting nothing down for hay for fodder and straw for litter, neither of which Spanish mules get in their own country, and forgetting that barley goes further than oats in the shape of nutrition; and thus they arrive at a false conclusion.
A mule, when doing the same work as a horse of his power, over stages with accommodation, must eat more than the horse to be able to do it; it is, therefore, doubtful whether he can ever compete with the horse in England. Abroad, he is undoubtedly useful in many parts, because he can stretch a point where a horse sometimes could not, through his being able to subsist for a few days on what would not maintain the horse; although, of course, he has to make up for it afterwards, which he will not forget to do. In the Spanish army, the mules get the ration-and-a-half of a horse’s barley. There are many more horses than mules in this service in Spain. We shall see presently how mules pay on tramways in England; but in the meantime it is certain that the companies are throwing away their best chance, which was that of finding out whether through being lighter in their feet, legs, and superstructure, they could stand battering about on pavements. To investigate this, they have shod them worse, in proportion to their build, than they have shod their horses.
So much for companies, societies, and all corporate bodies; clear-headed individuals have to be depended upon for putting the thing to the test. Board meetings are amongst the slowest and most obtuse of all institutions; they always demand precedents, and when they receive them, they shake their heads, and do as they meant to do. However, some of them have rushed into mules, and it would look as if they now had to rush about for more stable accommodation, more helpers, and more farriers. The farriers will be striking against them soon for more wages and less work—everything is worth what it will fetch in the market; and they are creating a demand for farriers by multiplying the number of their animals—but is this making things good for trade? The farriers probably think it is, but then they are interested parties; how about the shareholders? This is not only a question of humanity, which we will put first (for the sake of form for such people), but also of largely vested interests. We will ask again, what is the reason for such extensive shoeing? We have seen that the mules have no load to keep back; does it help them to pull, or prevent them from slipping when so doing? Let anyone take the trouble to go and look at them. If he should happen to be a shareholder, all the better, and he will be persuaded that their hardest task is to gain a foothold for a start. They run only on flat ground, or ground with scarcely appreciable ascents; but see how they strain every muscle, and how they make the sparks fly out of the stones. Of course, the larger the surface of slippery iron opposed to the smooth stones, the more they slip. It is only through encountering resistance in the joints between the paving-stones that they are able to start at all. As the mules have discovered this, they knowingly start on the tips of their toes, in order to let them catch these irregularities: they have found out that by putting their feet down flat they slip over them. The full use of the frog is what they are in want of. They would not start on their toes if this were put at their disposition; but no shoe can give it, except the Charlier tip.
Mr. Fearnley says:—‘People will watch a horse drawing a heavy load up a hill, violently digging his toes into the ground, or backing a load down a hill, digging his heels into the ground, and then go home and invent a shoe!’
What oceans of misdirected ingenuity have been wasted over this bugbear—an article that is entirely unnecessary. It is true that Mr. Fearnley does not go quite so far as to say this—he has no experience in working unshod horses; but he does say that the simplest and smallest of all, the Charlier, ‘is at once the most scientific, as it is the most common-sense, shoe.’ He is about as late an authority on the subject as can be found; but all advice in this direction seems to be cast to the winds. People rely more on the knowledge of their stable-helpers and farriers, and ask their opinion on the subject, which is, of course, that they know more about it than all the professors yet born, and they know that all parts of a horse’s foot must be kept off the ground, ‘or else why does he limp when he loses a shoe?’ This settles the thing at once with the master, and he shuts up, instead of giving the thing fair consideration and investigation, and talking it over with other owners to obtain an interchange of ideas. People do not like to do this, because, as Bracy Clark said: ‘No man likes to make inquiries about horses, for that would imply a want of knowledge.’ This nail got another blow on the head lately from ‘Caractacus,’ when he said in the ‘Farm Journal’: ‘Unfortunately it forms too prominent a feature of the average Englishman’s vanity to affect to know much more about the horse than he really does.’ As a general rule, that is what is the matter with them; but in the affair of treatment of the foot they tacitly acknowledge that stable-helpers and farriers understand it better than themselves, and so they leave these two lumps of ignorance to make arrangements between them over such a small affair, heedless of the not time-honoured maxim, ‘No foot, no horse.’ Thus, these worthies have become authorities on shoeing, to the prejudice of professors who were almost at their wit’s end to grapple with the question.
Mayhew says: ‘No shoe can give that which is dependent upon motion’—expansion is motion. ‘There are many more pieces of iron curved, hollowed, raised, and indented than I have cared to enumerate. All, however, have failed to restore health to the hoof. Some, by enforcing a change of position, may, for a time, appear to mitigate the evil; but none can, in the long-run, cure the disorder under which the hoof evidently suffers. Anointing the hoofs, or using various stoppings, are equally fruitless.’ You cannot get the present race of stablemen to believe a single word of this; therefore their present sway must be wrested from them.