As I before stated, the great mistake persons make as regards contracted feet, arises from their not attributing their existence to the right cause. To reason by analogy, we see a man walking apparently in great pain, arising from gout, or some other painful affection of the feet. We might be tempted to attribute this to the tightness of the shoe pressing on the foot: this may possibly be the case, if he has inadvertently put on a pair too tight for him; but the narrowness of the shoe is not the origin of the disease, nor has it brought it on; to show the validity of this remark, take off the tight shoes, he will of course walk with more ease; but substitute an easy pair of list slippers, he would still be a cripple. So it is with the horse: could we enlarge the crust of the foot till the internal part of it would be like a cricket-ball in a hat, the horse would still be lame. In one respect I admit my analogy of the gouty man in tight shoes fails to represent the horse with contracted feet: the shoe worn by the man might be perchance abundantly too small for the ailing foot, not being a part of it; but the crust of the horse's feet only follows the shrinking of the internal part, consequently we have no reason to suppose they press more on it than when the whole foot was in its original form. I should say, in either case the rational mode of proceeding would be to cure or palliate the gout in the man, do the same by whatever disease affects the internal part of the horse's foot; they will both then in time go comparatively sound, if not quite so.
To the same mistake as regards the origin of contracted feet may be attributed the various impotent contrivances for curing them. You would not now see Mr. Field or any other veterinary surgeon of eminence cutting nearly through the wall of the foot perpendicularly from the coronet to the base; yet this was a favourite old practice. These slashed took nearly twelve months to grow out; the horse was turned to grass great part of the time; his corn was stopped, and he got perfect rest. If at the end of the twelve months he came up sound or com paratively so, the farrier, for we will call him nothing else, rejoiced in his performance, and was thought, as Pat would say, "a great man entirely." The absolute rest for so long a period, possibly a dose or two of physic, and the cool moisture, to a great degree allaying the fevered ailment of the foot, produced the change the practitioner boasted of having effected. I am not prepared to say but that the cutting through the crust of the foot, rude and unnecessary as was the operation, might not aid the return of the foot to its natural size; for, if fever had contracted it and caused it to shrink, so a return, or partial return, to a healthy state would cause a disposition to expand; and this slashing practice enabled it to do so simply by weakening the crust-an effect to be produced by a far neater and more scientific process, namely, rasping the wall or crust till it manifests the required yielding property, so as not to militate against any efforts nature, aided by art, might make towards a reinstatement of the foot to its original health and size.
There are three symptoms by which we may judge of something wrong existing in the internal foot - the horse going lame, showing indication of pain, or outward appearance; and here let me observe there are diseases that may neither lame, subject the animal to pain, nor alter the outward appearance of the foot, and yet be going on. Of course in such case we are, and must be, in the dark; for it is quite clear that while no symptom of disease appears, no remedy would be applied; nor even when lameness, or manifestation of pain, challenge our attention, can we at all times come to a definitive conclusion as to the exact cause of the ailment. It is thus where the operation of neurotomy (or, in common term, nerving) has been performed; it stops all lameness from pain, or even the sensation of pain felt by the animal; but in very many cases the disease continues its insidious course, till a small blow from any obstacle on the road causes the horse to cast off his entire hoof, as we might a slipper. Thus it will be seen that, though the internal part of the foot withers and loses its vitality, it does not invariably follow that the crust diminishes in accord ance with it; thus a horse may have apparently a sound and healthy-looking foot, yet be the unfortunate owner of a very diseased one.
There are, however, two sure signs of disease existing, though it may not have arrived at such pitch as to cause alteration in the outward form of the foot. These are-alteration in gait, when not amounting to absolute lameness, and the horse resting first one leg, then the other, showing evident uneasiness. Now it perhaps may happen that the horse has, in stable language, "a favourite leg,"-that is, he is always favouring one by putting it forward, so as to take all weight of the body off it. Grooms, dealers, and many owners will tell you "It is a trick of his," or "a way he has;" and many persons, whether the owner or not, are quite satisfied that it is so. Let me advise my reader to believe no such thing: a sound horse stands firm and straight on his legs; those that do not are more or less lame ones, or, at all events, something is going on that will in time render them so. Again, horses are often seen, in the stable and out, holding perhaps, alternately, a foot completely off the ground; such horse is not only in pain, but in agony. True, the whip may force him to go, and if both legs or (far more probably) feet are afflicted alike, he may not apparently go lame,-that is, he will not go unequally like the horse lame only with one. But how does the poor animal go? Why, like a man shuffling along with a pair of slippers down at heel. In this way he may be made to do the work of a sound one, supposing his master to be devoid of every feeling of humanity that should influence the acts of man. A horse, when he has come to this state, is beyond cure, probably beyond the reach of palliation. Here is a proper subject for the operation of nerving; for though, as I have before stated, it does not stop the disease, it may enable the horse (being relieved from pain) to go on with his work probably for some years. For, if the complaint he labours under lames, from the pain it occasions only, it is quite clear if we relieve the pain we relieve the lameness, though not the disease. It is very true that in occult disease we must in some cases trust to chance when we nerve the horse, as to whether the disease is one only causing lameness from the pain it creates, or whether it is one that will eventually undermine the whole fabric of the foot, in which case, as I have stated, it is possible the horse may in progress of time lose his hoof. Even in such case, he will probably have worked as long without pain as the greatest inhumanity could have made him do with; and as losing the hoof is a possible circumstance, so it is a rare one, and should not deter us from having recourse to neurotomy, when less desperate remedies have failed, and we find the animal reduced to the state of agonising pain I have described; for there must be a limit to the exertion he is capable of under such suffering-a period that stops the services of the horse, and is a very inadequate punishment to any owner who could be guilty of the inhumanity of using an animal in such a state.