The foot may be but slightly affected, in which case a spirited horse will not limp when driven. It is not an uncommon thing for horsemen to dispose of their horses before the unsoundness can be detected by the inexperienced purchaser. However, even if the animal be but slightly affected, if it be left entirely quiet for a little time, it usually thrusts out one front foot ahead of the other, thus relieving the foot of some of its normal weight. If both feet are affected, the horse may ease first one and then the other.
In this work-a-day world, it matters little to the commoner whether a horse trots a mile in three minutes, or three minutes and forty and one-half seconds, but the character of the feet does matter. In addition to good inherited feet, see to it that the horse is not ignorantly driven, and that his feet receive appropriate attention in the stable. Having seen to all this, we may approach the blacksmith shop with a clear conscience.
The feet of most horses kept for fast work are not pared away enough. The heels are left so high as to prevent the frog from coming into contact with the ground. If the frog does not perform its legitimate purpose of modifying concussion, then it soon becomes hard and inelastic. However much it may be necessary to reduce the horny portion, the buttress should seldom or never be used on the frog of the foot. Never cut away the rough and apparently dead exterior of a sound foot, for this is as necessary as the semi-sensitive parts which are not and should not be exposed. So, the first instruction to the blacksmith should be, Do not use the buttress on the frog. He may lower the hard enveloping outer crust of the foot sufficiently to allow the frog to come into contact with the ground where the dirt is soft enough to allow the shoe, or the greater part of it, to sink into the ground. Or the rim of the foot may be cut away until the frog just escapes full contact with the smooth pavement, after the plates or the light shoes have been put on. If the frog is slightly higher than the face of the shoe, the inequalities in the pavement are enough to bring the frog in contact with the earth sufficiently to keep it in a healthy condition.
The long strides of the roadster result in the heel of the foot striking the ground much in the advance of the toe. It can readily be seen why the heels of roadsters tend to become feverish, and ultimately contracted. By paring down the heel as much as practicable without endangering the frog, some of the severe heel concussion may be avoided. The student should observe carefully how the fore feet of various classes of horses and of individual horses come in contact with the road, as it will help to determine how the feet should be pared and shod. The shoes of the horse of quick movement should be rather light and not so thick or broad of web as those of draft-horses. The narrow web exposes the frog to wear more than the wide one does. Some contact of the frog with the earth is desirable and really necessary. If the shoe be somewhat thin, especially near the toe-calk, it will permit the heel to expand slightly. Sometimes it is well to cut it in two in the middle, and make two half plates of it. This method of shoeing gives the greatest possible opportunity for expansion of the heel. Sometimes the ends of the shoe, after it is set, are slightly expanded by the use of a strong pair of tongs; but this practice is not to be recommended. It is seldom that the sound foot is benefited by the use of the bar-shoe. When the feet are abnormal, diseased or injured, do not trust your own or the blacksmith's opinion, but consult a veterinarian. In fact, all veterinarians should have facilities for shoeing horses that have imperfect or diseased feet.
A third instruction should be, Fit the shoe to the foot and not the foot to the shoe. Use the lightest nails that will hold the shoe in place a reasonable length of time. Some horses should be shod semi-monthly; others need not have their shoes removed more than once every twenty or thirty days. The character of the foot and the work performed should determine the length of time a shoe should be worn. And, lastly, give strict injunctions not to rasp or polish or beautify the outside of the hoof. Nature has provided not only a most beautiful outer coating for the hoof, but one that is nearly impervious to moisture. Destroy this by the use of the rasp, and the hoof becomes, first, too wet, then too dry and hard, and finally unhealthy. The natural oily protective covering of the foot is far superior to any concoction of tar, lampblack and linseed oil, - even though it be perfumed and mixed according to some well-guarded formula. True, the clinches of the nails should be smoothed off lightly; otherwise, the outside of the hoof should not be rasped or filed, unless it is abnormal. If the foot is normal, it is not well to shorten the toe and then attempt to give form to the foot by using a rasp. Some one has said that the Lord put all the water in milk that it would bear. Nature's modes of action, undisturbed, produce a good-shaped foot; don't try to improve it. If the foot is good to start with, has been watched and cared for during its growth, has been judiciously used and properly protected by iron or steel, still some attention should be given it, because the horse, when standing in the stable, is placed in unnatural conditions; if standing on a hard floor, his fore feet, especially, become dry and unelastic. Suggestions have already been given as to caring for the legs. When this is being done, the feet should be examined that the condition of the shoes may be known, and, if extraneous dirt adheres to the sole of the foot, it should be removed. Let it be supposed that the horse has been put to severe road-work for several days, and that this is followed by little or no driving for an equal period, and that the horse is left to stand on a dry plank floor; these conditions, especially in dry weather in mid-summer or in cold weather in winter, result in causing the feet to become over-dry, and, in fact, slightly contracted, while the horse is losing something of his suppleness. In a majority of cases, horses which are used only occasionally do not get regular exercise. Hence something should be done to modify the undesirable conditions. The floor of the stall should be kept slightly damp; sawdust may be spread at the front end of the stall, or, better still, use a moderate amount of clay slightly dampened, but not so damp as to soil the horse; or, best of all, provide box-stalls for horses which have intermittent work and which alternate between severe work and idleness. (See Chapter XXI (Stables, Sanitation And Paddocks).) There are several ways of preventing the front feet from becoming dry and hard when, of necessity, the horse is left to stand on a hard floor for periods of time varying from a few days to a few weeks. We hesitate to recommend packing the front feet with moistened linseed meal, because the tendency too often is to leave the packing in the foot too long, and not to cleanse the foot thoroughly when it is removed. Oil-meal is a highly nitrogenous product, and hence becomes offensive and even dangerous to the foot if the packing is not removed and the foot thoroughly cleansed often. The oil-meal packing is most excellent when properly used; the careless man would better use clay for packing. If the feet of horses used severely on hard roads are examined daily, and simple treatment given when necessary, one will soon discover if the foot has a tendency to become feverish and unsound, and then may call in a veterinarian in time for him to be of some use in saving the feet of a valuable horse. If the foot is neglected until it becomes badly diseased, even the expert cannot usually restore it to soundness. All that can be expected of him is to palliate the trouble.