The adoption of horse-shoeing marks an advanced stage of civilization in a country. Good roads are essential to social and commercial development, and good roads necessitate horse - shoeing. Until artificial roads are made and generally adopted, the horse's hoof is able to withstand the wear of tolerably long journeys. Between the time of no shoes and the era of shoes fixed by nails a long period of slow evolution intervened. In the days of Xenophon horses were not shod either for civil or military purposes. The armies of Alexander suffered from the effects of wear upon the feet of their horses, and we are told that cavalry was left behind, owing to the damaged state of the horses' hoofs. A form of sandal woven of grass is the earliest protection for the horse's foot recorded, and it was not constantly used, but only employed on horses that were too lame to travel without some temporary cover for the worn or broken hoof. Probably the next stage in hoof-protection would be the use of leather, as less cumbersome than the sandals made from vegetable fibre. Then we pass to the use of metal plates to strengthen the sandals, and next to metal plates attached by leather thongs.
Metal shoes for continuous wear, fixed by nails, came gradually into use in Europe between the fifth and ninth centuries. As skilled workmen would be required to make and fix them, it may be concluded that at first only horses employed for military or court purposes would be generally shod. Then the horses used for traffic in towns would be shod, and as hard roads extended, so would the art of shoeing spread along them for the protection of the feet of horses used for carrying goods or passengers.
There is no account of the art in this country prior to the Conquest, when William of Normandy gave to Simon St. Liz, one of his followers, the town of Northampton and the hundred of Falkley, then valued at £40 per annum, to provide shoes for his horses. In Brook's Catalogue of Errors, page 65, it is stated that " he appointed Henry de Ferrers to be superintendent of the shoeing smiths; and his descendants the Earls of Ferrers bore six horse - shoes on the quarterings of their arms. At Oakham, in Rutlandshire, the seat of the family, a singular custom long prevailed. If any baron of the realm passed through the place, he was to forfeit one of his horse's shoes unless he chose to redeem it by a fine. The forfeited shoe, or one made in its place, was fixed upon the castle gates, inscribed with his name. In consequence of this custom the gates became in time covered with numerous shoes, some of them of unusual size, and others gilt, etc."
From its introduction by the Conqueror, to the time of Elizabeth, we have little recorded account of the shoeing art, but that it was not neglected we may be certain, as one of the old City of London Guilds - the Worshipful Company of Farriers - was founded as early as 1360.
The first work in the English language which contains any detailed account of shoeing is that of Blundeville, published in 1609. In this work, illustrations are given of shoes for general and special purposes, and for sound and unsound feet. These shoes (fig. 623) are very similar in outline to those now used, but are heavy and clumsy, and wanting in some of the little details which are necessary to make them most useful and comfortable. The horse-shoe of Queen Elizabeth's time was merely a bar of iron about twice as wide as it was thick, turned to the outline of the hoof, and supplied with nail-holes punched through its substance. In 1674 the Worshipful Company of Farriers obtained from Charles II a Charter of Incorporation which gave them controlling powers over all farriers within the city of London and for seven miles around. One of the reasons for granting the charter was that " horses were seriously injured by the operations of persons unskilled in the art". In this reign farriers not only shod but doctored the horse, and were the recognized attendants on sick and injured animals.
In the eighteenth century further progress had been made, and more than one useful treatise was published. Two of the most practical writers were Osmer and Clark, who had noticed the injury done to flat feet by the uneven bearings of a flat shoe. They consequently bevelled off a portion of the foot surface of the shoe, so that only its outer portion came in contact with the hoof. Just before the close of the century a French veterinarian arrived in England and founded the Royal Veterinary College. Charles Vial de Sainbel only lived a short while after establishing the college, but during that time he reintroduced a shoe flat on the foot surface and concave towards the ground. The successor of Sainbel at the Veterinary College was a surgeon named Coleman, who took great interest in the horse's foot and shoeing. He published two volumes - one on the anatomy of the foot, with coloured plates, and one on the principles of shoeing. About the same time a sporting gentleman, Strickland Freeman, issued a book on horse-shoeing. It is difficult to say whether his or Coleman's illustrations were the more artistic and correct. Both were excellent, but it must be confessed that the principles of farriery laid down by Freeman were better than those of his scientific rival.
Fig. 623. - Divers Shapes of Shoes.
a, A shoe for a perfect horse. B, Hinder shoe for same, c, For a Hat-foot or pomised horse. D, For a false quarter, shoe with the inside turned outward to show the shoulderings. E, Fore-shoe for interfering. F, Hind-shoe for interfering. G, Lunet for weak heels. H, The planch for weak heels. I, A shoe with a vice. J, A joint shoe to widen and straighten at pleasure. K, A shoe with a welt or border. L, A shoe with rings to make a horse lift his feet.
Between 1800 and 1830 the subject of horse-shoeing found many exponents. Bracy Clark, Goodwin, Moorcroft, and Cherry kept up a continuous discussion, which doubtless did much to improve the art, but which introduced some very unfortunate theories, followed by evil practices. Flat shoes and "seated" shoes were offered as panaceas for all kinds of feet. Narrow shoes were pitted against wide shoes, short against long. Frog pressure and short shoes were tried and discarded. Soles were pared thin, and frogs trimmed to favour elasticity. Shoes were made with hinges to allow expansion, and heated quarrels took place as to the position and direction which nails and nail-holes should take. Each authority pledged himself to some special form of shoe or method of applying it as the only one suitable for all feet. Few, if any, seemed to grasp the fact that horses' feet differed widely in form and substance, and that the best general principles depended largely for success upon the careful performance of every detail.
From 1830 to 1860 not much was written about horse-shoeing. Farriers followed their own line, and rather looked askance at theories and principles. The actual manual work was remarkably well done in the large towns, but too much attention was given to the production of the shoe, whilst the preparation of the foot was neglected save for the neat and smart appearance shown by the whole operation. The hoof was pared and rasped as though it were an inanimate block, with the result that it was more fitted for a table ornament than a basis of support for a horse travelling over rough roads. To the late Mr. Joseph Gamgee belongs the chief credit of the more sensible methods adopted to-day. From 1860 to 1870 he never ceased to write and teach that a horse-shoe was wanted to protect a hoof from wear, that the hoof should be left as strong as possible compatible with its proper proportions, and that the fitting of a shoe to the foot should be exact, whilst every foot should be treated according to its own special requirements. He was ably seconded in his endeavours by Dr. G. Fleming and other veterinarians, with the result that correct principles are now quite understood and fairly widely adopted. During the last decade a new departure has been made in some counties. The technical education committees have recognized the importance of horse-shoeing as a craft, and an endeavour is being made to improve the art by lectures and by practical demonstrations with a travelling forge and an efficient instructor. Now that apprenticeship has fallen into desuetude, this practical instruction is the only way in which many districts can offer facilities for young workmen to see the best work and to have it explained to them.
Few owners of horses appreciate the importance of the best shoeing, which can only be done with time and care. Low-priced work means low-priced labour, and the hurry necessary to obtain a living by it quite prevents men from giving the attention to details which is essential to good shoeing, even when knowledge of principles and manual skill exist. The aim of this article is to afford owners of horses such information as will enable them to know good from bad shoeing, or at any rate to impress them with the fact that the art is an important and difficult one, worth much more attention than it obtains.