Horses and roads/Chapter 5



An old saying amongst horsemen is, ‘No foot, no horse;’ and another, ‘Whoever hath care of a horse’s feet hath care of his whole body.’ From time immemorial it has been recognised that the foot of the horse is the part of him which calls for the utmost care and attention; yet it is actually the one that at the present day receives the least attention, and is subjected to the worst malpractices. To whom is the care of it confided? Why, to the stableman and farrier—two of the most ignorant blockheads, as a class, that could be picked out. Lord Pembroke wrote, more than a century ago, of the first-named: ‘It is incredible what tricking knaves most stable people are, and what daring attempts they will make to gain an ascendant over their masters, in order to have their own foolish projects complied with. In shoeing, for example, I have more than once known that for the sake of establishing their own ridiculous and pernicious system, when their masters have differed from them, they have on purpose lamed horses, and imputed the fault to the shoes, after having in vain tried, by every sort of invention and lies, to discredit the use of them.’

Mr. Lupton, M.R.C.V.S., only three years since approved the opinion that ‘the master who makes the welfare of his steed subservient to the idle prejudices of his groom, is fitly punished in the lengthened period of his animal’s compulsory idleness, appropriately finished by the payment of a long bill to the veterinary surgeon.’ And, of farriers, he says: ‘Farriers ought to go through a course of instruction previously to being allowed to operate upon structures, the anatomy, physiology, and economic uses of which they have never studied, and, consequently, never understood.’ When people have been having this kind of thing continually impressed upon them for such a length of time, it seems strange that they have not long since taken the management of the part of the horse that requires the greatest supervision and intelligence out of the hands of two such ignorant sets of people.

‘One horse can wear out four pairs of feet.’ That is because the feet are ill treated. Mr. John Bright has discovered, through thirty-four years’ experience, and a loss of 3OOl. in the shape of printing, that ‘farmers do not buy books!’ One would hardly have thought that. We know that they not only buy papers, but that they are also extensive contributors to them.

What percentage of horse owners accompany their horses to the forge and see them shod? and, what is of great importance, see their feet when the shoes are removed? They would be astonished, for instance, to find amongst many horses that, when the toe had been pared and rasped, they would be able to discover that the outer layer of the wall or crust did not make one body with the inner layer, as it should do if the foot were healthy, but is separated from it by dry fibre. This is the way in which seedy toe begins; and the joint causes of it are, standing on dirty litter, the use of hoof ointments, stopping with cowdung, &c., burning the seat of the shoe with a hot shoe, slipping down hill, &c.

If the owner makes a remark thereon to the farrier, he will be told that ‘many good horses are naturally like that; but it does not hurt them if they are well shod.’ Let them look at the feet of a colt, or of a brood mare, that has been running unshod at grass, and see whether they can find anything like it. They certainly cannot; for no unshod horse was ever known to have such a thing, any more than corns (from which unshod horses are also entirely free). Remarking on this separation of the outer and inner horn of the wall, Mayhew says: ‘Pathology has indirectly recognised the intention of their function, by acknowledging that condition to be a state of disease, wherein the two kinds of horn are separated. Such a division is known as seedy toe, and as false quarter; and the foot is recognised as weakened when such a want of union is discovered. But in the forge, the application of such facts is by most smiths utterly ignored.’ We may add that to most owners its existence is utterly unknown in the beginning, as, when the shoe is on, its first appearance is not to be detected, for of course the iron covers and hides it. It can only be discovered by paring or rasping the bottom of the hoof, when the shoe is off, at the toe or quarter; the toe is where it is most frequently to be found.

Over nearly all country forges it is stated that ‘shoeing is done here upon improved principles.’ Now, these so-called ‘improvements’ consist of mistaken theories which were conceived many years ago. They were then considered to be improvements by their authors, and were most likely only received as such because there was a great deal of show about cutting, carving, and paring the under surface of the horse’s foot. This was impressive for the vulgar and ignorant, because there was some mystery attached to it; so it became very popular amongst them, and it remains so, to a certain extent, up to the present time, although all modern professional authorities have exerted themselves to explain the immense evils attendant on everything pertaining to the system. The owner, therefore, who should make up his mind to see his horses shod, must not allow himself to be impressed with the idea that the smith is an adept operator, endowed with a knowledge of anatomy and physiology; for he is always giving striking proofs that he knows nothing of either. He can see the outside of the foot; but he has not the slightest idea of what corresponds internally to the parts he so mercilessly destroys. There are very few smiths who could tell, off-hand, for instance, how many bones are entirely imbedded in the hoof, and how many only partially imbedded; so they are working in the dark.

Modern authorities tell us that no part of the hoof should, on any account, be cut or pared, except the seat of the shoe—that is to say, the wall or crust only, without touching the sole, frog, or bars; as all of these were placed there by Nature for special purposes, and she has so ordered matters that these parts cannot possibly overgrow themselves. Yet smiths will not let them alone, unless a man goes to look after them, and has sufficient strength of mind to resist their entreaties to be allowed to take off ‘just a little bit, here and there,’ in order to make what they call ‘a clean foot.’ Never mind appearances on the bottom of a horse’s foot, especially as this kind of neatness is taking his legs from under him. Don’t listen to their arguments on any account; have your own way, and see that only the seat of the shoe is pared down on the crust.

Any amount of authorities could be cited here in support of this advice; so many, in fact, that it is uncalled for to quote any of them. The shoer will next cast round in search of a shoe, or even four of them, that will come near fitting the horse. Sometimes he finds that he has to alter the shape to bring it to the hoof; but, if it comes within a little of that much, he proceeds to rasp and pare the hoof, to make it fit the shoe, just as if the hoof were a mere block of horn, instead of every part of it being composed of an outside, or so-called, insensitive covering to an inside corresponding one, which is usually denominated sensitive, because it is more sensitive than the outside one. If he should find that the shoe best suited to his fancy should be too long, he proceeds to shorten it by turning up more calk at the heel.

Now, calks are a great abomination, be they ever so slight. They were conceived by ignorant, unreflecting people, in order to act as brakes; which brakes, we have seen, should be applied to the wheels of the cart, instead of to the horse's foot. Nature has determined the right ‘tread’ for a horse; calkins, by raising the heel, interfere seriously with her designs. All the interior parts of the horse’s foot are shaped in harmony with the exterior; the coffin bone is wedge-shaped, and, when the foot is tilted up behind, it is forced into the wedge-shaped interior concavity of the toe. This is one of the causes of seedy toe, sandcrack, and laminitis, commonly called ‘fever in the feet.’ Mr. Douglas happily calls to mind that raising the heels also shortens the stride.

Is it customary to put calkins on the shoes of race horses? From an illustration of the ‘plates’ they wear, given by Mayhew in his ‘Illustrated Horse Management,’ it appears that they do not run in calkins = stride counts; and trainers have found out thus much, however short they may still be in their researches as to the right way of shoeing. Race horses still slip (witness the Derby of 1879) both backwards and forwards, and trainers have not yet arrived at the acme of treatment of the horse’s foot. They will not like to be told so, but il n'y a que la verité qui offense in instances of this kind. Lord Pembroke hated calks, and he lays it down as a rule that ‘from the race horse to the cart horse the same system of shoeing, and description of shoes, should be observed; the size, weight, and thickness only of them should differ.’

Nature intended the horse to serve for both draught and saddle, and she designed for him a wonderful foot, equally fitted for both purposes. Man in his perversity is dissatisfied with it, and is vain enough to think that he can alter it to advantage. And to what classes of men has the regulation of such supposed improvements been abandoned, but to the most ignorant? To return to the forge: when the farrier has satisfied himself that he has cut away everything he can possibly get at, without drawing blood—although often on the sole he goes so far as to produce ‘dewdrops ’ of that, which may be seen oozing through the pores he has cut deeply into—and that he has obtained something near a fit by altering both the shape of the shoe and the hoof, he will then again put the shoe in the fire and give a blow up to make it red hot; and, in that red hot state, he will apply it to the foot, in order to burn a seat for it. In so doing it must be evident to every man who will reflect, that he sets all the natural secretions of the bottom of the crust into a boiling state, and boiling means simply their entire decomposition; so, therefore, he actually kills the foundation on which a horse is built, and it is only the dead part that he has to cut away again (as regards the crust or wall) on the next occasion that he operates upon him. This burning-in business is, therefore, another cause of seedy-toe, false quarter, and sandcrack.

The opinion of Mr. Douglas is well worth reporting here. He says: ‘The fitting of the shoe can always be done better, in my opinion, when the iron is cold, than when hot. Heating the shoe is the quicker way, but it is also the most barbarous one. The mischief done at times, by this custom, was exemplified in the case of Mr. Bevan’s trotting-horse Hue and Cry, which lost both its fore-feet through the shoes having been fitted red hot; and many animals, both before and since, have suffered like misfortunes from the same cause.’

In Spain it is the custom to shoe cold, and not one ‘herrador’ in a hundred has a forge or a pair of bellows on his premises. They even manufacture the shoes without the aid of fire; but it is true that Spanish iron, being primarily manufactured with wood charcoal, is particularly pure, soft, and ductile. The Spanish ’herrador’ or shoeing-smith only—for he does nothing else in the shape of iron forging—does not use the drawing knife (although, of course, the veterinary surgeon does), and he never touches or pares anything but the wall, which he pares down with the butteris; and he would on no account put a calk on a shoe unless as an orthopcedic resource, and even then only when ordered by a V. S. The natural consequence is that Spanish horses are freer from foot diseases and lameness than are ours in England; and so unaccustomed are Spanish farriers to find foot lameness (as, amongst other things, they shoe short behind, and so let the horse tread on his own heels, thus preventing corns), that they generally suspect, and test for, lameness in the shoulder, when a lame horse is brought to them, before referring to his feet; unless, of course, it is palpable or visible to their experienced eye, from the outset, that the lameness is really in the foot. Most English farriers always suspect the foot first, and even then they cannot always pitch upon the foot on which the horse goes lame: they have even been known to operate first upon the three sound feet in succession, and then to take the lame one!

Amongst the evils of paring away the horn, there is one that appears to have passed unnoticed, or uncommented upon, by the authorities who so strenuously endeavour to point out the evils of shoeing upon the so-called ‘improved principles.’ Yet it is not one of the least. In trimming away the frog on its sides, the farrier scores deeply with the point of his drawing knife into the sole, and this, added to the paring to which he subjects the sole all over, must necessarily and obviously further weaken the arch of the foot. The letting down of the arch in this way contributes to navicular disease, for between the arms of the V the navicular bone is superposed. But what does a farrier either know or care about that? Must not improved principles be the best, or else why should they be called so? To all your objections he will only remark to your servant, behind your back, that you are only fit to carry food to a bear; and in this the servant will give him reason, and they will go and have a pint together, and laugh at you over drinking it. They are a hard lot to deal with, and that might be one of the reasons that so many owners ‘give it up.’ When the shoeing of a horse is left entirely in the hands of this brace of worthies, he is generally found to come home ‘going tender.’ And small wonder! Therefore, many people send their horses to be shod a day or two before sending them on a journey, with a prescience of this ordinary state of things; although the horses are really still going tender then, but only themselves are aware of it.

If a horse wears away his shoe more in one place than in another, the farrier is sure to thicken the next shoe he puts on in that particular place; or, if he considers himself a real artist, and has the time or is not shoeing by contract (contract-shoeing is an additional curse for the horse), he will weld in a piece of steel to prevent the wear on that particular part. If the horse wears calks, he is almost certain to wear down the toe and one calk. This, of course, is only the perverseness of the horse, if you choose to listen to the groom and farrier. They cannot perceive or conceive that the horse is driven or forced, by the natural play and action of the muscles and tendons of the legs, to put down his foot in a natural manner in search of a natural ‘tread;’ and so they continue to oppose his innate desire, until they bring about sprain, and ultimately contraction, of sinews. This is the reason that so many horses are to be seen walking on their toes (in London, cab horses may any day be seen which have to trot upon them), and the back sinews are often divided by veterinary surgeons to enable the horse to go on working at all. If the twist should be on one side it will bring about side-bone (or ossification of the cartilages of the foot), or splints, or something else where undue and unnatural strain or friction is thrown: especially is it the cause of ‘cutting.’ No unshod horse was ever known to ‘cut’ or ‘brush;’ but the shaping of the foot to the shoe is often the cause of this defect. The only alleviation for it, when once produced, is to study the ‘tread’ of which the horse is in search in order to free himself from it (it is not likely that he is seeking to make things worse for himself), and then humour his instinct, instead of thwarting it, or looking upon it as perversity on his part, and opposing his exertions to get free from it. The ingenuity which some people are capable of displaying, when they have fully made up their minds to oppose nature, is wonderful. They always break down, but, like true Britons, they are always ready to come to the charge again; it is only deferred for them until the next meeting. It is a shocking abuse of pluck, all the same.

Who is there amongst human beings that does not prefer to wear an old pair of boots to a new pair—and why? Because the old pair has accommodated itself, by wear, to the ‘tread’ of the owner. The heel of a man’s foot is round on every side; yet his boot-maker will persist in making the heels of his boots with square edges; the consequence being that they wear more in one part than another. As all men have not the same natural tread, some will wear out the inside of the heel at the same time with the outside of the toe; whilst others will do exactly the contrary, or else wear them away in a different form from either. The time when they require mending is the time when they begin to feel comfortable; and the human shoemaker, like the equine one, proceeds to reinforce the parts that wear the quickest. The American Indian knows better than this. He fashions the exterior of the heel of the moccasin, as near as he can get it, to the shape of his own heel; and those who have worn moccasins for any length of time (as the writer has), positively ‘go lame’ when they have to put on a pair of civilised chaussures.