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Horses and roads/Chapter 8



One of the modern inventions, in the shape of shoes, has been that of M. Charlier; and ‘Impecuniosus,’ in his ardent desire to find something that would, or might, be any kind of improvement at all on what he looked upon as the prevalent and barbarous mode of shoeing, gave it a trial in a most enlightened and unprejudiced style, and approved of it. The shoe and the system do not appear generally known; and so it may be well, for those unacquainted with them, to describe both. Charlier started with the assumption that Nature had intended the horse to walk barefoot, and that the bottom of his foot was in every way fitted to stand all wear and tear, except the outer rim—that is, the wall or crust. He, therefore, made a shoe of very narrow iron, less than the width of the wall, which he let in, or imbedded, to the crust, without touching the sole, even on the edge; so that, in fact, the horse stood no higher after he was shod than he stood when barefooted. He urged that such a narrow piece of iron would not interfere with the natural expansion and contraction of the foot; and in this he at once went wrong, for malleable iron has no spring in it. Then, in spite of his theory, as he expressed it, he carried his shoe right round the foot into the bars, beyond where the crust ceases to be independent of them. He then got a very narrow, weak shoe, about a foot in circumference (if circumference can be applied to that which is not a complete circle); and, as he ought to have foreseen, the shoe then twisted or broke on violent exertion. Had he restricted himself to tips only, he would have had a great success from the beginning.

‘Impecuniosus’ says that another correspondent of the ‘Field,’ writing as ‘Kangaroo,’ very justly remarks upon ‘the impossibility of a horse becoming footsore in the frog, sole, or heel of his foot as a result of his travelling barefoot. It is the toe about half way round that suffers, and this is all that demands protection in the fore feet, whatever the work may be and upon whatever soil.’ Hence Charlier made a mess of it when he passed the dimensions of tips, or the mere protection of the front half of the crust. If he had stopped at that, his narrow iron would not, in such a short length, have either twisted or fractured, and he would have made an advancement in shoeing which he has failed to bring about.

In spite of ‘Kangaroo,’ a great majority of horsey men refuse, or decline, to believe that the sole, however liberal they may be in their views towards the frog and bars, is capable of bearing weight; whereas the real fact is that, unless it takes its share of the weight, it becomes unhealthy, and a cause of uneasiness to the horse. What observant and intelligent man, who is in the habit of visiting his stable, has failed to remark that, when a horse is going to dung, he takes a preliminary step forwards, and after having finished dropping, he backs both hind feet on to the top of it? What instinct leads him to do this? The groom will tell you that the horse is in search of something soft and cooling for his feet; but, unfortunately for his theory, it happens that, so far from being soft and cooling, the matter in question is solid and warm; for a horse suffering from diarrhœa will not draw ahead and then back, and of this any one may convince himself by waiting to see. Why, then, does he go through these manœuvres? Why, simply to get, what he is otherwise deprived of, sole pressure. Soft cowdung will not afford it to him; and he will knowingly squeeze it out by getting his feet, and his weight, on something more solid.

Again, who has not seen when a horse is at grass, that when he is not grazing he will repair to some favourite spot, which is generally stiff, neither hard nor very soft, on which to stand at rest? In dry weather he will even stale upon some place that he can find in the shade, in order to make the ground consistent to his taste and desire—that is to say, ‘stiff’—and there he will go when he is satisfied with feeding. And for what reason? Why, in search of sole pressure, which is a relief to him, but which he is generally deprived of. Can people read nothing besides print?

As further evidence upon this point, we will again hear ‘Impecuniosus’—not that he seems to have had the slightest idea that sole pressure had anything to do with bringing about the state of things he relates. He clamours for original ideas, free from ‘grooviness;’ and here is one for him, as far as the writer knows. As the open-minded, investigating man that he was (and is still, let us hope), he experimented upon all ‘new brooms,’ as he expresses himself. Among others, he tried elastic ‘cushions’ and ‘pads;’ and he says that they diminish concussion, and prevent stones being picked up by the shoe, and, in so far, are good; but that they cause the shoe to come off, by their elasticity. ‘I have personally made a fair trial of them; and this is the history thereof. Some years ago I had a remarkably brilliant hunter, who was also remarkably unsound. He had an inclination to pumice feet, and could hardly get along at all on the road. I shod him with these rubber cushions, or pads, which I may shortly describe as being a piece of india-rubber the shape of the foot surface, and the horse went better—in fact, went on the road as if he were on the soft. But I had to leave them off, because the shoes were always coming off. To be sure of their merits, I tried them on another horse; the result was just the same. I should say that the hoof grows very fast when shod with these cushions.’ Why did the hoof grow fast with them? Why, because they caused sole pressure continually; there was no possible ‘stopping’ with cowdung whilst they were worn.

The want of sole pressure, conjointly with the weakening of the crust, when its inner and outer layers (the sensitive and the insensitive) have become diseased through rough and barbarous treatment, and show a tendency to separate, often brings about pumice foot. Pressure on the unpared sole, in imitation of Nature, is the proper treatment to effect its cure. Imitation of Nature should be the universal law of shoeing. St. Bell says: ‘No one will venture to deny that, in the affair of shoeing, reason directs us to a close imitation of Nature.’ The closest imitation of Nature that has ever yet been arrived at is the Charlier tip—‘it gives great security for travelling over the most slippery roads, granite, or asphalte pavements; and, in frosty weather, no roughing is necessary.’ This is accounted for by the fact that by this system the whole of the bottom of the foot, excepting the groove made for the insertion of the shoe, is left entirely untouched by the knife; and the dense, tough horn which the unshod colt possesses is a ‘roughing’ with which Nature sends him into the world, and which no artificial means can compete with. Why, then, should farriers ignore such an obvious fact, and direct all their perseverance and inventive powers to controvert Nature’s designs? ‘Because he who is uneducated and unable to comprehend principles can neither profit by his own experience nor abandon the paths of prejudice and custom.’

Mayhew says: ‘It is amongst the firmest physiological truths that Nature is a strict economist, and never does anything without intention’ (every one of education ought to know this without having their attention called to it by Mayhew, or in these pages); ‘that every enlargement or every depression—however insignificant it may appear to human eyes—is a permanent provision for some appointed purpose, and has its allotted use in the animal system.’ How, then, can the ignorant farrier, or anyone else, by carving the hoof to his own fancied artistical shape, be doing otherwise than upsetting Nature’s fearful and wonderful designs? ‘Man has for ages laboured to disarrange parts thus admirably adjusted. When so employed, he has only followed the example of the savage who destroys the product he is incapable of understanding. No injury, no wrong, no cruelty can be conceived, which barbarity has not inflicted on the most generous of man’s many willing slaves.’

Another writer observes that ‘appealing to the better sentiments of the present age has been proved to be a waste of time; the better plan is to appeal to their pockets.’ Now, it is an acknowledged fact that the exercise of these cruelties costs every horse owner considerable sums yearly; and, according to Mr. Douglas, although the natural life of the horse is from thirty-five to forty years, three-fourths of them die under twelve years old, and, in the army, even sooner. Therefore, on an average, every one buys three horses where he might do with one if he were only humane to that one. This ought to be sufficient inducement to men to look to their horses’ feet, for it is through the feet that nearly all are thus early rendered useless, and through the feet to the legs. ‘One horse could wear out four pairs of feet,’ is an old proverb, and a true one, amongst horsemen; and Philip Astley justly wrote: ‘Certainly he that prevents disease does more than he that cures.’ Now diseases of the feet are very rarely cured at all; but, by the use of brake-power and a sensible system of stable treatment and shoeing they might nearly all be prevented. The Charlier shoe—defective in the beginning because it did not admit of natural expansion and contraction—was improved upon by an observant and reflective man at Melton, who reduced it to a three-quarter shoe; and this was a great stride to the good.

‘Impecuniosus,’ as he appears to have done with everything that gave any promise of being an improvement, tried it, and found that it really was one; but he says: ‘My friend, who gave me the pattern of this shoe, remarked that the opposition of the smiths at Melton to it must be seen to be appreciated, and that the same might be said of most of the grooms.’ This is the old, old tale. Later on he found that the three-quarter shoe had been with advantage reduced in length until it became simply a tip. Following his usual course, he adopted this improvement, and liked it better still. Nor is this to be wondered at, for expansion and contraction had now got very nearly their own way, frog pressure and sole pressure being similarly favoured, and each horse was left to find and use nearly his own individual natural ‘tread,’ with which the four inches of iron at the toe did not much interfere, and those that had before ‘cut’ or ‘brushed’ gave over doing so. Corns disappeared, as there was no pressure on them; and many of his horses, which had incipient side bones, were entirely cured of them. Of course, when once the cartilage is turned into bone, nothing can reconvert it into cartilage. He says: ‘Nothing makes the heels grow so fast as the wearing of tips; with them snow does not ball in the foot; with every other shoe it does so, more or less.’ This is very sensible and comprehensible; it arises from nearly copying Nature. Still the ‘crowd’ refused to believe that the horse’s sole could be safely brought down to direct and immediate contact with the ground, even when told by this gentleman that ‘one of the most eminent of our veterinary surgeons (Mr. Stanley, of Leamington) has stated it to be his conviction that horses shod à la Charlier will never have navicular disease.’ Neither could they get pumice foot, or other diseases, attendant on the present popular mode of shoeing. ‘Impecuniosus’ conferred a favour upon horse owners by communicating the favourable results of his experience; but conservatism, bigotry, shoeing smiths, and stable helpers were too much for him, and the Charlier shoe or tip never got into extensive use, although some people still constantly use it. The difficulty is that, in the country, scarcely any one can be found willing to put it on; but, in London, there are certain forges where it even finds warm approbation. Mr. Stevens, M.R.C.V.S., Park Lane, for one, is a strong advocate for it, and has a forge on his premises where he accommodates all comers with it. If owners in the country choose to have their own way, the country smiths would be obliged to succumb to pressure, although they would grumble and oppose the shoe to their utmost: they want no change, and they resist every innovation.

Messrs. John Smith er & Son, of No. 1, Upper East Smithfield, wrote, in the ‘Spectator’ of August 3, 1878: ‘Some weeks ago you noticed a controversy then going on about horseshoes. Your well known desire to help on the humane treatment of animals leads us to hope that you will give us space to state our experience. Some six or seven years ago we began having our horses shod for the fore feet on the Charlier principle, or a method akin to it. We had shoes made of about one-third the usual weight, of half the width, and of rather harder iron. In putting them on, the hoof was not cut or pared, with the exception of a small groove made in what we may call the edge of the hoof; into this the shoe was inserted. By this system the horse’s hoof is on the ground, as if he were unshod; but it is protected from breaking by the thin rim of iron at its edge. We found this shoe answer admirably; but the difficulty in getting it made and put on prevented us using it on more than a few horses until quite lately. We should like to state a few instances in which it has produced wonderfully good effects, but dare not trespass on your space. We have found no horses that it does not suit; and for young horses running on the London stones, for horses with tender feet, or corns, and to prevent slipping, it is of great service. We have lately been able to use it to a larger extent, and have now some forty horses, of all sizes, from the cob to those of seventeen or eighteen hands, at work on the London stones and country roads, shod in this way. These, sir, are facts which your readers can verify. From a business point of view it is also important: the use of these shoes would, in London alone, by preventing the laming and wearing out of horses, save many thousands of pounds every year.’

Here we find men evidently open minded, imbued with the idea that their brains might be at least as good as those of other people who pretend to dictate to them, and possessing the courage to persevere for half-a-dozen years, until they were able to establish generally in their stables, under difficulties, a system which their good sense, in the first place, and the experience they gradually gained, in the second, told them was highly economical for them and comfortable for their horses. It is not every farmer that owns forty horses; but in these days of co-operation nothing could be easier than for several farmers to agree among themselves to patronise jointly the first forge in each district, the owner of which would consent to meet their views. Let them, in fact, strike against the farriers, or make a lock-out. It only wants union among themselves, but they must first be converted from their own grooviness in respect to horse shoeing.

The Lincolnshire farmers were obliged, only in November last, to form a society for the suppression of the administration of poisonous drugs by their servants to their horses; one of them stating at the first meeting that, first and last, he had lost over thirty horses through this odious, but almost universal, practice. Perhaps these same gentlemen would excuse the suggestion that at their meetings shoeing might also be profitably discussed.

A remarkable discussion on shoeing, the heads of which may be appropriately introduced here, took place at the meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Agriculture in. 1878. Mr. Russell started by stating that the safest way was to let the hind feet be bare, and to shoe the fore feet with tips, or crescents of iron, that only cover the toe. Dr. Hunt, curiously enough for a medical man, went dead against this opinion, saying that ordinary shoeing did no harm whatever—it was the ‘pounding’ of the foot on the road which produced disease in the foot. He apparently only owned one horse at a time, as he says ‘my horse,’ and he was not able to make him last long, for he says that he was continually obliged to be replacing him, because every one of them got laminitis, or what is sometimes called either founder or else fever in the feet—all three terms being used to signify the same disease. When questioned as to how he had his horses shod, he stated, ‘I tell my blacksmiths, when they put a shoe on, to heat it red hot.’ This, by itself, would quite account for founder; and it appears strange that a medical man should have been in such a red-hot hurry to expound such views, unless it was that, as a medical man, he thought to carry influence. However, if this was what he counted upon, he was singularly in error; for Mr. Bowditch, a practical farmer, one of those irrepressible Yankees who will persist in thinking for themselves, rose and said that formerly he had had the same trouble as the doctor with his horses, but that he had found out for himself that the only way to avoid founder was ‘to shoe the horse properly, that is putting on as little iron as possible; let it cover the toe of the foot, and let the frog come down so that it will take the jar of the foot.’ When asked, ‘Do you have your shoes put on red hot, as the doctor does?’ he answered that he made his blacksmith ‘put the shoe on only as hot as he could hold it in his hand;’ this is virtually a cold shoe. He did not believe in calks, or paring the horn, but he let in his tips à la Charlier; and, finding that he could not get farriers to shoe as he wanted, he started his own forge, on his own farm, as he says ‘for his own protection.’ He goes on to say: ‘When the mare I drive came to me she had a frog the size of my little finger; now it fills up almost the whole of her foot. Nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths of all the trouble in horses’ feet come from shoeing: in fact, practically all. Even in the case of heavy draught horses, put on as little iron as you can get on: never a heel or a toe calk. I have some heavy horses, and they go with seven or eight ounces on their feet. The whole secret is, if you have a horse whose feet have been abused for a series of years, all that is required is a little piece of iron at the toe. I am afraid I drive very hard down hill. I am in the habit of driving cripples; my friends have a good deal to say about the corpses that I drive; but I take care of their feet, and they manage to do good work. I make my best time in driving down hill. I have no fear of hard roads, and no fear of pavements, if a horse’s foot is kept in proper condition. Last winter I rode my saddle mare (and, of course, my neck is more to me than anything else I own) on glare ice, with a small bit of iron’—inlaid, as before explained—‘four inches long, curled around her toe, and with a very small toe calk. I galloped out on the ice where the men were cutting the ice, and I had no fear of her slipping, although the horse that was marking the ice, that had calks on, two inches thick, did slip. There is hardly a person who owns a horse, who, if you put him four inches of iron on the toe, would think he could go more than half a mile from home without the horse breaking down.’ Yet so thoroughly was Mr. Bowditch convinced of the value of tips let into the hoof, that he had found it worth while to establish his own forge for preparing them on his own farm. He says that other people will not patronise his forge, because he will not allow shoeing to be done in it on any principle but his own: and so his forge does not bring him in the revenue it otherwise would. He refuses to become a party to propagating mistaken ideas. People come to him, seeing his success, with lame horses; and when he has cured them, he says they go back to their old farrier. Both Mr. Russell and Mr. Bowditch appear to have been convinced, in the first instance, that routine was leading them astray; and, like sensible men, they saw that the only way to escape from it was to throw aside entirely all professional opinion on the matter, and have their own way (as did the Messrs. Smither, here in London), Mr. Bowditch going so far as to start a forge of his own, over which he could be, and was, entirely master. He says, comically enough, that it was not a commercial success, because his neighbours only patronised him when they were in difficulties, out of which he alone could get them, and then they went their way; but he seems to have overlooked the economical facts that, although in this way his horse-shoeing cost him more by the year than formerly, he had less to pay to the veterinary surgeon, that he got more work out of his horses, and that they lived longer, or were likely to live longer (as he had only then had two years’ experience). If this be taken into account, his forge was, however indirectly, a great commercial success. If he had not found it to answer, so shrewd a man would not have carried it on, nor would he have ventured to speak on the subject in so independent and authoritative a manner on such a special occasion.

We are sadly in want of a man or two more in England like Messrs. Russell, Bowditch, and the Messrs. Smither, and as outspoken. They need not risk the setting up of their own forge, each man individually. They have only to co-operate, and either arrange that one of them in every district should start one, making an agreement with a certain number of neighbours that they should have all their shoeing done there, or else, by union, bring pressure on the shoeing smiths. A young man, just starting, or having just started, in business would be, perhaps, the best to choose, as he could not point to the universal satisfaction he had hitherto given (although horse owners are quite easily satisfied as long as the shoes will only stick on until they are worn out); and, after a couple of shoeings on the same horses, he might discover for himself that a new era was open to him by lending himself to the introduction of an improvement, and that he could thus secure very good and regular custom. There is no secret—or even special tools—required to forge or manufacture a Charlier shoe, but quite the contrary. One man can make it without help, whereas it requires two men to forge the ordinary shoe; and it only requires one special tool for putting it on, viz. Fleming’s drawing knife, with movable guide for cutting the groove in the crust, price 7s. 6d.