Much has been written on shoeing horses, but it is seldom that any two authorities agree. The mechanic who does the shoeing has his notions; usually, they are nothing but notions, since he has no knowledge what ever of the anatomy of the foot, and little or no expe rience in the varied uses to which horses are put. The veterinarian is called on only when the feet have become abnormal or diseased. The owner of the horse, be he farmer, tradesman or a horse fancier, often knows even less as to when and how a horse should be shod than the blacksmith. These unfortunate conditions result in producing a multitude of opinions, - some founded on wide observation and hence of value, a few on facts; but, in the main, the opinions are simply notions founded on a single observation, or, at best, but few.
Under the circumstances, what can be said which will assist the young farmer? We hesitate to write anything about the shoeing of horses; but we feel loath to leave the young men at the mercy of the untrained, country blacksmith, or to the loud opinions of some city mechanic who, because he has shod the horses of the Honorable Mr. Smithkins, imagines that he has nothing more to learn.
The feet of the horse being a prime factor when value and usefulness are considered, it will be well if this factor be taken into account when the sire and dam are selected and mated; for like produces like, under like conditions. Good-footed parents tend to produce good-footed offspring. Horses with poor feet should never be used as progenitors of their species. Supposing that the colt is born right, that he is of good inheritance, still his feet should receive attention, especially in the spring of the year. Not infrequently he is kept in the stable for half of the year, if so, the feet wear away but little; if he stands on manure from which ammonia is escaping, the growth of the hoofs is stimulated, the harder parts of the foot are softened, and the softer portion (the frog) develops an abnormal growth, which not infrequently leads to a diseased foot. Even if the colt is allowed to stand on manure from which ammonia is not escaping, the hoofs are still likely to make too much growth.
To avoid many, if not all of the ills produced by stable confinement, paddocks or large yards should be provided where the colts may spend a large part of each day. True, the hair will grow longer than it would if they were confined in warm stables but this will not be so serious a matter as to have the hoofs grow long, soft and out of shape. But, in any case, the feet of colts should receive attention and be pared off whenever the growth much exceeds the wear. This attention is especially necessary in the spring of the year, just before they are turned to pasture.
If, then, the horse has good inheritance and has had proper attention during colthood, he should come to his life work with sound, normal-shaped, hard feet. From this on, use and breed should both be considered. The draft-horse with his large, comparatively flat foot, and the roadster, which sometimes has narrow heels, should have quite different foot treatment as to cutting away the surplus growth and as to the weight and shape of the shoe. When the comparatively low heel of the draft-horse and the comparatively high heel of the roadster are not too pronounced, both are well adapted to the work which these two classes of horses are usually called upon to perform. Climate, soil and use combined have resulted in producing, as a rule, the foot best adapted to all the conditions under which the breeds and varieties were formed. When it becomes necessary to place a breed under conditions differing from those in which the breed grew up, care should be taken to select those specimens which have varied, however slightly, toward the forms which will be best adapted to the changed conditions. Then climate, soil and use will soon accentuate the variations, and the breed will quickly become adapted to its changed conditions, instead of breaking down under them. To the heavy draft-horse, his large feet are to him what wide tires are to the freight wagon, when used on rough pavements or on soft ground. So, reasonably large feet and reasonably low heels are well suited to a heavy draft-horse. The great weight of the draft-horse makes it necessary to shoe him so as to bind and sustain the quarters of the foot and protect the frog as well. Hence, the shoes of the draft-horse should be rather wide of web and thick of substance. A shoe with a wide web at the heel will protect the frog of the foot, and a thick shoe will prevent the foot from spreading when called on to sustain heavy weights. If the web of the shoe be drawn in slightly at the heel, and if the shoe extends well back, the frog is usually safe from abrasions. It is only in rare cases that a sound foot is so wide and weak at the heel as to require a bar-shoe.
The foot of the light horse, particularly the roadster, is quite different from that of the draft-horse. Here the tendency is often toward contracted heels. Care should be taken to drive fast steppers with high heels slowly when going down hill. Even good shoeing cannot overcome the effects of injudicious driving. If shoes are allowed to remain on the front feet too long, a single day's hard and careless driving on paved roads or over a hilly country may lay the foundation for contracted feet or "jammed" shoulders, or both. After one of these injudicious drives, the horse comes out of the stable with less suppleness and less freedom of stride than before. If the abuse is continued, the stiffness of the shoulders and the tenderness of the feet increase rapidly; and then appropriate shoeing may somewhat alleviate the pain, but it will not cure the unsoundness. Manifestly, prevention is better than palliation.
The heels of horses designed for fast work are usually naturally bound together firmly and closely; a necessity if the horse is to be driven rapidly on hard roads. However, the heels of the front feet may be so high as to result in severe heel concussion, and so narrow as to restrict the elastic play of the frog, which normally greatly modifies and alleviates the concussion of the foot when the horse is in rapid motion. If this elastic cushion becomes hard and somewhat unresponsive, it will not be long before the other members of the foot will suffer. If the trouble is not alleviated quickly, the heel contracts and the non-sensitive envelope of the foot becomes too small for the internal sensitive portions. Horses with high, narrow heels should be shod frequently, and a liberal portion of the hoof should be pared away.