Popular Science Monthly/Volume 24/February 1884/Working Capacity of Unshod Horses
I SEND herewith a photograph of the near fore-foot of my unshod, white-hoofed, low-heeled chestnut horse "Tommy". This photograph was taken after I had driven the old horse (he may be twenty years old), in a phaeton, a hundred miles on hard roads in and around London. This does not include drives for exercise. It is impossible to say that the hoofs of this old horse (bought chiefly in order to test this question) are exceptionally good. The reverse is the case, as any of your readers, who may favor me with a call, shall see for themselves. That this animal, after having been for years "the victim of the farrier," should work, as he does, barefoot, is, I think, remarkable. As the old horse is nearly, if not quite, thorough-bred, he must have been shod (as is the vicious custom on the turf) very early; yet over all these evil influences, incidental to "the miserable coerced shod foot," the unshod foot has triumphed. Shod, my horse "brushed" and stumbled badly, but barefoot he does neither.
In Africa, a horse working in a post-cart does barefoot, over bad ground, twenty-four miles in two hours. In New Mexico, horses are ridden barefoot forty miles day after day, and perhaps twenty miles of this will be over a rough mountain-track. In Brazil, little horses (they seldom exceed fourteen hands) carry, slung across pack-saddles, barefoot (they have never been shod) some thirty-two stone! Thus loaded (or, rather, overloaded) they do twenty to thirty miles a day. Their journey may be some three hundred miles, and they load back the same. In England, even race-horses are shod! To gallop over a race-course, which no doubt may be hard at times, it is actually thought necessary to shoe a horse! Here, where weight is of the very utmost consequence, the heels of the English race-horse must be weighted with plates! The fact that Marden, when he ran barefoot in the Sandown Derby on June 2, 1882, beat, in the deciding heat, his two shod opponents by three lengths (though in his first race with them that day Marden, with his plates on, could only dead heat them), such a fact as this weighs little with the horsey Englishman, who will still be found to set his thoughts or opinions against facts! After all that can be said as far as argument goes, he will still be found to prefer mere assertion; it will still be the "I think this," and "I don't think the other," with him! But then is not the horsey (and for the most part untraveled) Englishman, as a rule, in the language of "Freelance" in "Horses and Roads," "energetically conservative"?
Any one who will read this book will thereby much increase his knowledge as to the real capability of the horse’s hoof. "Horses and Roads" was published in 1880, by Longman, Paternoster Row. I find quoted in it the saying, "An ounce at the heel tells more than a pound on the back." This explains Marden’s success when, by removal of "plates," his heels were lightened for the deciding heat.
But many of our countrymen connected with horses, deeming themselves practical men, are too apt to think that they have, as Mr. Ransom ("Freelance") says, "gone into everything," and they may consider their knowledge as to the real capability of the horse’s hoof complete. Now, is it complete? Is not shoeing horses very much a matter of routine with us? I will give two instances in order to prove this:
1. Some weeks ago I received a letter in which the writer said that he had been told by a veterinary surgeon that if a horse were worked barefoot his hoofs " would wear down to the quick in a few hours." Now, I saw the other day a horse which has been doing the work of his master, a doctor, barefoot, not for "a few hours," but for over five years! During this time the horse must have traveled, shoeless as he is, some thirteen thousand miles over the not too good roads of the east of London, and often with a heavy brougham behind him. The hoofs of this horse are the admiration of veterinary surgeons, and they show no sign of undue wear. This horse was unshod when eight years old.
2. I recently saw a pony seventeen or eighteen years old, never shod, except for a short time when in the breaker’s hands. This breaker shod the pony. This was done against the master’s wish and without his knowledge. The breaker was, I dare say, practical enough in other details of his calling, but, like the majority of his countrymen, he "had always seen horses shod, and he thought they always must be shod." The pony was sure-footed without shoes, but with them she nearly fell with her master as he rode her home from the breaker's. The shoes were taken off, and the pony did her work admirably without them for years. She has done plenty of work, for her owner tells me that he has frequently driven her, and also ridden her, over forty miles in the day. The saying, "One horse can wear out four sets of legs," does not, of course, apply to this pony. The application of this saying is to the shod horse, whose every step is made upon iron. As a writer has well said, "It is the shoe, not the road, that hurts the horse."
Now, we see that both veterinarian and breaker mistook the nail-lacerated, contracted, unused foot for the natural healthy foot. The former, raised off the ground with an iron ring called a shoe, and with the insensitive sole and frog pared away, is not (when the shoe is first pulled off) fit for contact with the ground. In such a case time must be given for the foot to recover before the unshod horse can be asked to work barefoot.
I have a cast of the off fore-foot of a mare belonging to Mr. Whitmore Baker. This cast was taken in December, 1882, after the mare had worked barefoot on stony, hilly Devon roads for two years. She was unshod in December, 1880, being then seven years old. This foot shows no signs of undue wear, and I shall be happy to show the cast to any one.—Land and Water.