Horses and roads/Appendices
(LETTER OF ABERLORNA.)
I have read with great interest the letters of ‘Free Lance’ upon the subject of horse-shoeing. Seeing he so strongly advised using tips in place of entire shoes, I resolved to try them, and, accordingly, rode down to the smith’s shop (ten miles off) to get them put on, and see he did it properly. When I arrived I told him what I wished; he laughed, and said they never would do on the roads, but would put them on if I wished, and so put on they were. I rode home again, ten miles, over a road covered with new metal in a simply abominable state, and he arrived all safe. Two days after I rode down again to convince the smith there was something in the system, and he was quite surprised the horse had not broken down on the way home after he was shod. I must say, however, he certainly went tender, but this appears to be wearing away in a great degree, and it is surprising how hard and firm the soles of his feet have got. He has naturally rather flat and tender feet. I am so far convinced that this is the correct way of shoeing horses that, if all goes well, I shall have all the rest done the same way. ‘Free Lance’ objects very strongly to applying a hot shoe, and I will just give one or two extracts from a prize essay by George Armitage, M.R.C.V.S.
‘As a result of cold shoeing—i.e. fitting the shoes cold, which means rather fitting the foot to the shoe, much inconvenience is engendered. No man can alter cold shoes. If they are applied the foot must be altered, and that is accomplished by tearing it away. When the shoe is heated, it can be caused to “bed” itself to the foot, and no injury is found to result when due care is exercised. Good feet are never injured by it, and bad feet might frequently be benefited by its adoption, as the shoe always remains on more securely. Two surfaces are caused to correspond, friction is set up between them, and their separation not so easy. When, on the contrary, those surfaces do not bear any relation to each other, they are easily separated, as all inequalities act as so many levers against their position. In practice, the number of lost shoes under the cold method of fitting exceeds those executed while hot more than fifty times, and that number can be supported by all who have gone into the matter carefully.’ ‘If a little calm investigation were made, it would become evident that the objection to the use of hot shoes in fitting is only injurious to weak and tender feet when carried too far—the foot fitted to the shoe, in other words.’
The above extracts appear to me very sensible, and I believe no ill effects ever result from hot shoeing, except when done by ignorant men, who should be anywhere but in a shoeing-forge.
Sir,—I have read with the greatest interest the letters of ‘Free Lance’ on Horse Management, and am inclined, from my own observations in other countries where horses and mules are not shod, to try the experiment, and have no doubt many of my brother farmers would like to do the same; but will ‘Free Lance,’ or other equally good authority, tell us how to make a right beginning?
My horses have, of course, all undergone the ‘burning on’ and ‘laceration’ consequent on this barbarous custom, and farming operations are too backward to admit of the apparently necessary ‘rest’ being given to allow the injuries to the hoof to ‘grow out’ and harden.
Our local farrier does not, and probably would not care to, know much about the ‘Charlier’ shoe, and could throw every impediment in the way of a gradual change being successful.
All my horses have been bred on the farm, and, with the exception of the sire and another, are young and fresh; they are in perfect health; neither they nor their predecessors, during the last quarter of a century, having ever taken a drop of ‘medicine,’ or ‘horse balls,’ save the leaden ones to cure them of ‘crippled’ old age.
My carter thinks it might ‘do’ on the land, but shows a disposition to kick over the traces if the experiment is tried on the road. However, I am prepared to face ignorant prejudice by anointing the outraged feelings of my man by giving him half the saving in the blacksmith’s bill, which success will entail, to carry out the instructions necessary to perfect the change.
Sir,—I was rather amused with the letter of ‘Free Lance’ on Saturday. No doubt I did give my poor nag rather a severe trial at first, but I believe it has set a good many people thinking, which is a good thing, and it has not injured the horse. I thought myself the trial was too severe, and determined to be more cautious next time. On Friday last I took another to be shod on the same principle. This horse has first-rate feet, but has had shoes put on reaching nearly to his heels, allowing the frog to come well to the ground, and I shall shorten them each time he goes to the smith until they are of the required size. I will not say any more about hot shoeing; this will become unnecessary if all people use tips, which any person ought, I think, to be able to put on with very little practice and thus save the time and trouble of having to send their horses away to be shod.
I have ridden horses hundreds of miles in South America which never had a shoe on. Their feet grew fast, and often I had to cut the toes, which was done with some difficulty with a chisel and mallet by placing the foot on a block of wood. I do not remember seeing any lame horses except in the towns, and those were generally, if not always, I observed, shod. The roads were, for the most part, sand, full of rough stones, and in some places causewayed for miles. Anyhow, they were pretty rough going. People in this country seem to have no idea what a horse’s foot is; they have always seen horses shod, and think they always must be shod, and never will alter the method if they are let alone. As to the farriers, it is useless talking to them. Take your horses to them, and make them follow out your directions through thick and thin ; it is the only way.
Sir,—In answer to ’Free Lance,’ my reply is that I used a chisel and mallet in preference to a knife, because with the latter it would have been a laborious job, owing to the extreme toughness of the horn. I never saw an ordinary horse’s hoof in this country so hard, because I suppose they are all shod. I regret I never compared the hoof of a shod horse with that of an unshod one in South America, as it would have been interesting to note what difference there was in the toughness.
Regarding the causeways, these were as rough as could be—stones of all descriptions and sizes laid up endways, as one sees in this country, but very roughly done and full of hollows, &c. I often wondered at the work these little horses went through, living almost entirely on grass and a little molasses mixed with their water, which they would refuse to drink without. These horses journey 400 miles or so with heavy bags of cotton and sugar slung on their backs to the coast, and make the return journey home laden as heavily with salt codfish and other provisions; yet how rare it is to see them either lame or footsore!
I am not quite sure that in this climate of ours a horse’s foot will become as hard, owing to the damp; but this I hope soon to find out to my satisfaction. All I have to say now is, let any one who has taken the trouble to read all this discussion give the system advocated by ’Free Lance’ a fair trial; don’t be too hard at first, but work on gradually, and don’t be disheartened the first two months or so, while the horse’s feet are hardening.
Having lived for a considerable portion of my life in the Argentine Republic, allow me to say a few words about the shoeing of horses. In the camp, as the country is termed there, horses are never shod, but town horses are. As you are aware, there are no stones on the plains of the Argentine Republic. The soil is a rich black mould of a considerable depth. Horses, if their hoofs have not been accustomed by degrees to paved streets, will naturally go tender at first; therefore, the owners immediately clap shoes on them. It would be as absurd to expect a horse not reared in a stony country to go sound when first brought on to pavement, as it would to be surprised at a person who has never gone barefoot feeling uncomfortable when walking over gravel without shoes or stockings. Yet it only needs practice, and Nature will soon put a hard covering on the sole of the foot.
We could tell in an instant if a horse had come from the Sierras of Cordova or other stony mountain ranges. The hoofs are smaller than those of a Pampas horse; in fact, more mule-shaped and worn down by the hard ground, and not by artificial means; the horn is, moreover, very dense and free from cracks. Depend upon it Nature will adapt herself to circumstances. Horses bred in Canadas or low swampy grounds have broad, flat feet. The dampness of the soil keeps the horn soft, and the weight of the horse expands it. Besides, there is nothing hard to wear down the hoof—all the better for the horse as long as he has to go on wet, soft ground; the extensive surface of his foot gives him more support; but these kinds of hoofs need a good deal of dressing. We generally used a chisel and mallet, making the horse stand on a hard bit of ground, and cutting the hoof, sometimes only at the toe, but more frequently at the sides also. In the northern provinces the natives often cut them square at the toe. Our favourite horses generally got a finishing touch with rasp and draw knife. The hind feet seldom required much doing to them. In dry weather the hoofs get very hard, and the mallet must be used with considerable force. White hoofs are much softer than black ones. With a moderately tame horse there is very little trouble connected with keeping his feet in good order. The rasp and draw knife are all that is needed, and hard ground will keep them in good shape without much labour expended on them. Although I have not tried the experiment in this country, I have little doubt of its success. Keep a young horse’s feet trim, and use him in the fields at first, and then by degrees on the hard road, and his hoofs will soon suit themselves to the nature of the ground. Fortunately our ancestors did not shoe their dogs and cats, or, in all probability, most of us would do so in the present day.
Of course the veterinaries and smiths will, in self-defence, predict utter ruination to the feet of unshod horses, and 80 per cent of horse owners will refuse to give up shoeing because it was never done in the old days, and they cannot be bothered with trying anything new. A.’s lease is nearly out, and it is not worth while making a change; B. is just entering a new farm, and does not wish to risk his horses being laid off work by lameness; C. thinks he may be taken up and fined for cruelty to animals; D. thinks there may be some truth in it, but he will wait till some one else tries it; and E. says his horses do their work well enough as they are, and so on.
I think tips will be necessary for draught horses, for some time, at any rate, especially in a hilly country, where so much weight is thrown on the toes in going up hill.
I may not remain long enough in England to try Nature v. The Blacksmith, but I wish every success to those who have pluck enough to give the non-shoeing system a fair trial.
The Teeth affecting other Organs.
Sir,—In reference to ‘Free Lance’s’ excellent articles on horses, particularly as to the teeth of that animal affecting its other members, the following case is, perhaps, worthy of his knowledge. Twenty-six years ago, a valuable horse, the property of Blantyre Mill Co., became rigid in all its members, and showed symptoms of lockjaw. The veterinary surgeon ordered it to be shot. At this point Dr. Miller, of Hamilton, appeared on the scene, and disbelieving lockjaw to be the case, ordered its mouth to be examined, particularly as to overgrown beaks, which was instantly done, and after the needed relief was given the horse became well, as if by magic.
Unshod Artillery Horses.
Sir,—When defending the arguments of ‘Free Lance’ upon the ‘Bare Foot’ system, I was met with the reply that a fair trial had been given to the system some time ago upon the artillery horses at Woolwich, and that it proved an entire failure, so that they were obliged to return to the old system of shoeing.
This I cannot believe, but my present information will not warrant me in contradicting it. I should, therefore, be glad if any of your readers could inform me whether such a trial was made, and how it was conducted.
J. F. K. S.
Unshod Artillery Horses.
Sir,—I am able to contradict the statement ‘that a fair trial had been given to the system some time ago, upon the Artillery horses at Woolwich, and that it proved an entire failure, so that they were obliged to return to the old system of shoeing,’ and to inform J. F. K. S. that the Royal Artillery have never tried their horses in England without shoes.
R. C. R., Major-General.
Sir,—I cannot thank ‘Free Lance’ too much for his ‘tip,’ and I strongly advise every one who owns a horse to follow the advice he has given. I have done so sooner, perhaps, than most others, because some years ago, in South America, I had the benefit of seeing and using unshod horses, and therefore knew what a horse’s foot could do. If people could only be got to know the amount of trouble and expense which they would dispense with by following out this system, they would be surprised. But no, my ancestors nailed lumps of metal on to their horses’ feet, and were never pleased with the result, and therefore I do likewise.
The farriers must not be consulted on the subject at all: turn a deaf ear to all they say. One gravely informed my groom that he thought the frog would wear through! and this after he had seen the horse running ten weeks on his own soles. My concluding advice is, follow out exactly what ‘Free Lance’ says about getting the foot ready, and persevere steadily, and you will find, like me, that perfect success will follow. Never again will I shoe a horse on the old plan, and am just rather doubtful if I put anything on some.
Sir,—Allow me to thank ‘Free Lance’ for laying before us the absurdities of the present system of horse-shoeing; and for, at the same time, giving us his excellent remedy by not shoeing at all, or to use only a ‘tip.’ I have the management of thirty draught horses, whose work is entirely on stone paved roads. They run about eighteen miles a day, and at the rate of six miles an hour, including stoppages. So that you can imagine what a severe shaking their legs and feet would get with an ordinary shoe (which weighs about thirty-two ounces) attached to each foot. The horses would continually brush and cut the fetlock with the shoe of the opposite foot, and very soon go over at the knees; and how was I to prevent it? Rest would often check it, as regards cutting and brushing the fetlock, for a day or two; but I have to study economy, and cannot, in consequence, keep a sufficient number of horses to rest them every third or fourth day. They have to be satisfied with one day’s rest per week. Some of your readers may say, why do I drive them so fast? Well, because it is a kind of business which will not allow of driving slowly.
On visiting a railway book-stall, I saw on the front page of the ‘Farm Journal,’ ‘Horses—Their Management and Mismangement.’ I naturally wanted to know if I was numbered with those who mismanaged, and, on reading the paper, I very soon found out that I must consider myself as one of such. I also found that ‘Free Lance’ was writing from practical experience when he recommended that the horse should be driven barefoot, or with only a short piece of iron ‘curled round the toe,’ therefore I lost no time in sending sixpence to Mr. Stevens for his pamphlet advocating the use of the Charlier shoe—a shoe which I had not heard of before to my knowledge.
After reading the pamphlet, and seeing that a horse could go with the frog on the ground, I at once sent 7s. 6d. for Flemings’ improved drawing-knife, with guide, the only special tool required, and as soon as it arrived I began shoeing my horses on the Charlier principle by letting a narrow piece of iron into the outside crust and allowing the frog, sole, bars, and heels to come well to the ground.
I began very cautiously (although my horses’ feet had never been cut away, by way of trimming) for fear of a failure, and a laugh from my farrier and others. I ventured on a shorter shoe than the Charlier. My first measured, before turning, ten inches. It had six nail holes. This was for a horse l5½ hands. I put them on one of my old ‘screws,’ and I am pleased to say that he ran his eighteen miles splendidly and without any signs of lameness. I allowed him to run, with his usual rest, until he had gone a distance of 228 miles, as a trial. This was done without wearing the frog through to the quick, as my farrier was so much afraid of. The hoof was now in splendid condition. I then gave orders for all my horses to be shod on this principle, beginning with my best to prevent further unnecessary injury.
With each successive horse I have shortened the iron. Now I begin shoeing with four inches of iron let well into the toe. I have not had one case of lameness from tender feet, and every horse so shod has been able to do his ordinary work without any extra rest. I find that the shorter the iron the better it answers. I buy the ½-inch round iron and flatten it to ⅜ by ½ inch; cut off four inches, which weighs four ounces, let it well into the toe, and nail on with No. 6 counter-sunk nails. This I find wears quite as long, after the first shoeing, as the ordinary shoe did. My drivers are continually having their attention called, by ‘good meaning persons,’ to the fact that ‘the ’oss’ as lost ‘is shoe.’ They have got so used to it that they merely answer, ‘And a good job too.’ The frog does not become hard, as the crust, sole, and bars do. It feels like a firm piece of indiarubber, and answers its purpose well by preventing concussion to the whole limbs, an office which it is debarred from fulfilling when the foot is shod in the old-fashioned style. My farrier asked me if he should use up the old-fashioned shoes which he had on hand, as it was a pity to keep them. I said it would be a sin to use them.
As will be seen in the commencement of this letter, horses when running on stone paved roads slip very much when shod on the old-fashioned system. Now, sir, if the only advantage to be gained by using ‘tips’ would be to prevent horses from slipping, I would use them in preference to the old shoe. But as ‘Free Lance’ has so ably pointed out, this is only one of the many advantages. Horses shod with tips can pull a much heavier load, and with less exertion than a horse with a full shoe. This I have repeatedly proved. They trot carelessly along without fear of a fall. I have several horses with chat hideous and incurable blemish—capped elbow—which is brought about, so veterinaries say, by the heel of the full shoe; this cannot happen when using tips; cutting and brushing also cease with the use of ‘tips.’
Sir,—I wish to say a few words to your readers in favour of the theory propounded by ‘Free Lance’—a theory, by-the way, never heard of in this part of this very verdant isle—that horses not only could walk, but run and work, without shoes.
Having read the letters of ‘Free Lance,’ and thinking there might be some truth in the plan, I determined, when I got as far as the 14th chapter, that I would make a trial. Accordingly, I took the shoes off a three-year-old colt in daily farm work.
My farrier prophesied that I would not only ruin the feet, but the horse; but the horse is now, at the end of eight weeks, in the full enjoyment of all his faculties, and has four good, sound feet, although I have driven him daily from four to fourteen miles (Irish measure) regularly.
I would have done as ‘Free Lance’ advised, and put on three-quarter shoes, and come gradually to the bare foot, only I could not get a farrier either able or willing to put them on. This I believe to be the right plan, but in a backward country place it is hard to get the work rightly done.
In the hope that many will be tempted to try as I have done, I am, &c.,
Sir,—Since I wrote my last letter, I have taken the shoes off a pony that I use for driving, churning, &c. I begin to work very gradually, not more than two miles (Irish) for the first few days, increasing the length of the journey as the foot gets hard. I think this plan a very good one where the horse owner has not much work pressing, as is the case with most Irish farmers at this time of year.
Perhaps in the next generation people will begin to see that 'Nature beats Art.’
Three gentlemen, as will be seen, have given their experience of doing away with the ordinary full shoe—one of them has used an ordinary tip, and another the Charlier tip, and both of these without losing any work from their horses: whilst the third has at once done away with all iron, with only the precaution of not overworking his horses from the outset. They have all succeeded, and are satisfied that they have conferred a great benefit upon their horses.