Horses and roads/Chapter 7
Recently, by means of photography, it has been demonstrated that in every gait beyond the walk the horse is, at every extension, bearing all his weight at a certain time on one leg only, and that he comes down with a shock on that one leg. What, therefore, expansion may amount to in an unshod horse at a gallop, or its tendency in a shod one, we have thus far been unable to discover. This expansion has long been admitted by most authorities, and they have studied how to allow for it. In fact this, and the prevention of slipping, have been the motives for many inventions. Most of them have proved failures in both directions; although some of them, after having been buried—like their authors—have been unearthed, pirated, and again presented to the public; but still no progress is made. The full shoe, even in its most perfect form, cannot allow expansion and contraction their natural scope; but, as on the front part of the hoof (or the toe) it has been proved that what little there may be is inappreciable, tips will not much interfere with it; that is to say, tips that do not cover more than the front half of the rim of the foot—for many farriers put on shoes that are only an inch short at the heels and with six nails in them, for turning horses out to grass, and call these tips, which they are not. A half-bred horse of 15½ hands will generally be shod with a piece of iron 14 inches in development when measured round its edge. Six inches would be the measure of a tip, and Mayhew gives an engraving in which a real tip is shown, and it is secured by only four nails.
Mayhew also says: ‘The late W. Percival, the respected author of “Hippo-pathology,” many years, ago informed the author that he had long ridden a young horse about town with no greater protection to its fore feet than tips could afford. He showed the hoofs of the animal to the writer, and more open or better examples of the healthy horse’s feet need not be desired.’ A gentleman who wrote in the ‘Field’ some ten years ago, under the nom de plume of ’Impecuniosus,’ cites Mayhew to the effect that ‘some horses will go sound in tips that cannot endure any further protection;’ and he remarks thereon: ‘The moral, so to speak, of this is, that it is the shoe, not the road, that hurts the horse; for if so weak and tender a foot as is described can go sound when all but unshod, why should not the strong sound one do the same? The obvious conclusion is that we require a strong sound foot to stand, not our work, but our shoe.’ He is, therefore, a strong advocate for the use of tips, adding that ‘A sportsman, well known some little time ago in the shires, shod all his horses with tips—hunters, hacks, and carriage horses; but, although it was seen that his stud went very well shod in this manner, no one followed his example, the world in general being staunch Conservatives, and diametrically opposed to any innovation in stable matters, whatever their opinion may be upon other subjects.’
Here is another extract from Mayhew: ‘When the contents of the foot are compressed by the superimposed weight of the animal, or when the hoof is resting upon the ground, the quarters yield to the downward pressure, and they accordingly expand. When the burden is removed by the hoof being raised, the quarters again fly back to their original situations; the sides, therefore, being in constant motion, are entirely unsuited for the purposes to which the smith compels them. No wonder the clenches are loosened, or the shoes come off, when the nails are driven into parts hardly ever at rest. This action is important to the circulation, for the contraction still allows the arterial blood free ingress, while the expansion permits the full return of the venous current.’
Although Mayhew was formerly demonstrator of anatomy at the Royal Veterinary College, and claims a high respect and admiration for nearly all his observations, the writer is obliged to refrain from continuing the present citation, as in what follows therein he differs diametrically from Mayhew, and he declines to follow servilely in the path even of those he most respects; but Mayhew himself could hardly object to his action in this respect when he says: ‘Veterinary surgeons display ignorance in nothing more than in being servile copyists.’ Not that the writer pretends to be a veterinary surgeon. He is only a practical man who has had a very wide and long experience amongst horses in many countries, and has been a very close observer of everything touching their feet and legs especially, and is now only offering the result of his so-gained experience for what it may be worth. Almost from the beginning of his connection with horses, he declined to consider the legs as a separate part from the body of the horse, and refused to believe that four sets of them were necessary to wear out one body, as, if such were the case, the horse would be an incomplete and niggardly gift made by Nature to man; and from the outset of his religious education, received at his mother’s knee, he has always been taught, and in his various wanderings he has never had reason to doubt, that Nature made everything complete, and nothing in vain. Hence he inferred that the horse’s body was never made stronger than his legs and feet, and that these, when understood, will be found to be ‘fearfully and wonderfully made,’ and in every respect harmonising with the rest of his structure, and equal to their task.
‘Impecuniosus’ says truly: ‘The prevalent idea of the groom and the blacksmith seems to be that they know better what the horse’s foot should be than the Creator of the animal does, for they are never satisfied until they have altered the natural foot into a form of their own, which they think the right one; and, though lameness usually attends their efforts, they ascribe it to every cause but the right one, and indeed resign themselves complacently to the presence of many diseases confessedly caused by their treatment—perhaps, because these diseases do not hurt their own sacred persons! It is really curious to observe all that has been written about the horse’s foot—the sort of follow-my-leader principle, which is more evident here than in writing on any other subject with which I am acquainted. Very, very seldom is an original idea to be found, and still more seldom an original idea that is not marred by some adherence to the old grooves to which preceding authors have confined themselves.’ ‘Impecuniosus’ writes well, and makes many good remarks, as we shall see further on; but the writer is also obliged to differ from him in some things, as he is, indeed, obliged to differ with all the authorities he quotes. As Baucher said, ‘Si je n’avais rien à dire de nouveau, je ne prendrais pas la peine d’écrire;’ and it is with the intention of offering some original remarks that he has undertaken the present arduous and responsible task, even in the face of the following words from ‘Impecuniosus:’ ‘Every innovation is not reform, and this remark applies specially to stable practice; but any real reform in shoeing is reform indeed, and the greatest respect and attention are due to it; but how few of these old discoveries, which are from time to time reinvented, are worth even the limited amount of attention which they command?’