Horses and roads/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII.

LETTER OF ‘ABERLORNA’ IN ‘FARM JOURNAL’—LIEUT.-COL. HURDETT ON HOT SHOEING, GREASING, ‘STOPPING,’ AND PARING THE HOOP—COLD SHOEING—NORTH METROPOLITAN TRAMWAY HORSES ARE SHOD COLD WITH THE SEELEY SHOE—GRADUAL BREAKING IN OF HORSES TO GO UNSHOD—DIFFERENT CHARACTERISTICS OF COUNTRIES WHERE HORSES ARE BRED—ANCIENT WRITERS ON BARE STONE AND WOOD FOR STALLS—OSMER HAS KNOWN UNSHOD HORSES GO SOUND IN ENGLAND—‘OUR MOIST CLIMATE AND HARD ROADS’—MAYHEW AND DOUGLAS ON OPPOSERS OF PROGRESS.

The letter of ‘Aberlorna’[1] seems to render it advisable to introduce here some remarks, which were only intended to be made later on, as to the amount of work to be first given to a horse who has had the full shoe replaced either by a tip or by nothing at all, and also as to small precautions useful to take when making the change.

It is prudent to allow the shoes then on to wear themselves out, as this gives the frog, sole, and bars a chance of somewhat recovering from their last mutilation, which mutilation may have been greater or lesser; as, fortunately, now-a-days some of the smiths do not cut away as much horn as was previously the universal rule. On this account some horses are better prepared than others for the change. Some, again, have naturally stronger and better formed hoofs than others; and all these circumstances weigh. What work one horse would be able easily to perform might be quite too much for another. At any rate, to ride a horse, on the second day after putting on tips, twenty miles ‘over a road covered with new metal, in a simply abominable state,’ is, without doubt, a hazardous proceeding, and one courting a failure for the trial (not intentionally so, of course). Twenty miles at the present season over the road described is, in fact, a day’s work for any horse.

It is not easy, having regard to the various possible existing combinations of the aforesaid circumstances, to lay down any rule. Discretion and intelligence here come into play; it is astonishing what a wide difference there is between people in this respect. Some will carry things to the opposite extreme, and go poking about only a mile or two daily, for weeks, on the grass by the side of the road—or even in a field: something between the two is the correct thing—moderate distances, on hard smooth roads, for a few days.

In the case of ‘Aberlorna’ all we know is that his horse had ‘naturally rather flat and tender feet;’ and that, after this rough trip, ‘he 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.’ As this gentleman owns a number of horses, the question must be of considerable pecuniary importance to him; and if, by an indiscreet step, he had injured his horse, he would have been likely to become disgusted, and have desisted, and so have thrown away a chance of benefiting his whole stable; and, besides, the farrier would have turned the laugh, which he got up at the mere idea of such a thing, unpleasantly against him. It is to be hoped that he will do a little less at the next trial, and then he will not find his horse ‘going tender.’

A gentleman writes privately: ‘I once rode a hack for six weeks, in comparatively dry weather, with only tips, the heels being quite bare. The heels grew and expanded as you describe, and nothing could be pleasanter to horse and rider; but no sooner did a wet time set in than I was obliged to revert to the full shoe—at least, I thought so.’ (!) The naïveté herein apparent could hardly be surpassed. This gentleman received the highest education that England affords, and took his degree. No one can ‘spot’ him, so there is no breach of confidence in divulging the fact that he is a clergyman of the Church of England. Yet even a man of this calibre was not proof against a popular delusion.

To come back again on the question of shoeing ‘hot’ or ‘cold,’ which ‘Aberlorna’ has revived. It is well known that thereon veterinary surgeons differ. In these articles one veterinary surgeon has been cited who was intensely opposed to hot shoeing; as also an American ‘practical horse-shoer,’ the author of a work on ‘Scientific Horse-shoeing,’ professing forty years’ experience; and an American farmer who had felt obliged to shoe his own horses ‘for his own protection ’—three differently interested classes of men who were, as such, purposely quoted.

A prize essay does not necessarily carry everything before it merely because it is a prize essay. Such essays are sometimes written with a view only of obtaining a prize; and ‘coaches’ tell us that, in order to do so, they must coincide with the views of the examiners. It is not pretended, however, that the essay in question was engineered on this principle: it is much more likely that it was a thoroughly conscientious production; but doctors differ.

An independent, practical essay on the horse, written by Lieutenant-Colonel Burdett, is appearing, since January last, in the ‘Richmond and Twickenham Times.’ Here are some extracts from the gallant colonel’s writings: ‘One of the first considerations of an owner or driver of a horse should be the feet and legs of his horse; for, should anything be the matter with either, the animal should not be put to any description of work; for, if he is, he is sure to suffer, and in many cases most acutely.’… ‘The foot of the horse is a most complex and elaborate piece of machinery, and perfectly adapted to the work it is intended to perform; but our artificial assistance, so far from preserving, often cripples, and frequently totally ruins it.’… ‘The natural sole of a horse’s foot is almost impenetrable, and so hard and strong that it protects the inner or sensible sole from all harm. In many instances (though I am glad to say not so much in the present time as formerly) farriers were in the habit of paring away the natural sole, and making what they called “a clean foot,” and cut so thin that the thumb could almost leave an impression. Consequently, when the horse was required to go over a new made road, either gravel or macadam, he would naturally go “tender;” whereas if the sole had been left intact, and the loose, rough parts taken off with the drawing knife, the sole of the horse’s foot would have been protected.’ It is disagreeable, and will be thought presumptuous, for the writer to feel himself obliged to differ from the colonel, and to state that experience has taught him that even these loose, rough flakes, of either frog or sole, should never be touched: they are going through the natural process of exfoliation, and should be left to complete that process spontaneously, and without any help from the knife.

We must again cite this estimable writer: ‘The crust of the hoof is pared to a certain level, and then a hot shoe is placed upon it to burn away the hoof until the two surfaces correspond, thereby heating the outer (?) crust of the hoof and rendering it brittle, and liable to break away, when the nails are introduced for the purpose of holding on the shoe. There is another thing most injurious to the foot, and that is blacking the outside of the hoof. Generally speaking, grease and lampblack are used to give the hoof a smart and clean appearance. Instead of that, as soon as the horse is brought out, if broken straws from the stall are not adhering to it (generally the case), in less than ten minutes it is covered with dust, which adheres to it, and stops all chance of circulation of air, which is so necessary to the well-being of the foot. The hoof is naturally porous; and if coated with grease the circulation of air is stopped, and the foot naturally injured, and there is a great probability of engendering disease.’ These quotations are taken from the paper mentioned, in its issues of January 17 and 31, 1880.

Some months since a contemporary stated: ‘We hear that a new horseshoe has been adopted by the North Metropolitan Tramways Company since they commenced to keep their own horses. The stud of the company numbers over 2,000 animals; and, with the view of easing the laborious travelling of the horses over stony roads, the new patent horseshoe of Mr. A. Seeley, of the United States, has been tried. This shoe weighs 1¼lb., or less than half the usual weight’ (The Charlier three-quarter shoe weighs five ounces).’ It is fastened on when cold, and, being without “clips” or calks, the frog, or centre of the horse’s foot, is allowed to rest firmly on the ground. The cost of shoeing under the new system is about ninepence, instead of one shilling, a week per horse.’

The Seeley Company now refer in their prospectus to tramway and other companies in the chief towns in England as to their success in working horses with a cold-fitted shoe. It is not to be lost sight of that nearly a score of these companies employ each thousands of horses; and yet leading authorities have pronounced opinions utterly at variance with each other on the use of the shoe. But doctors always have differed. The statement that fifty cold-fitted shoes are lost to every hot one, certainly could not be substantiated; they stand at no disadvantage at all in this respect; the nails hold better in horn that has not been rendered brittle by scorching. The tramways have now been using them for nearly two years, and that looks as if they kept in their places pretty well. In Spain, where cold shoeing is universal, and forges very wide apart, shoes keep on until they wear out.

Cold fitting by no means entails any necessity for ‘fitting the foot to the shoe.’ The shoe, whilst hot, is forged to the correct size and shape of the foot. The paring of the crust to fit the flat surface of the cold iron takes longer than burning it down with a hot shoe, and the paring of the surface on the bottom is the only ‘fitting the foot to the shoe’ that has to be done when the latter is of the correct pattern. When it is not, hot and cold fitting stand just equal.

Another objection to the fancied advantage of gaining such very close apposition by burning in, is that the horse thus often gets shod too tightly, and every one knows that this is injurious to the animal; although it is not every one that is fully alive to the great amount of misery and disorder it entails.

‘Aberlorna’ says that, ‘he believes no ill effects ever result from hot shoeing, except when done by ignorant men, who should be anywhere but in a shoeing forge.’ In such a forge, ten miles from his own residence, there is a man so ignorant of the nature of a horse’s foot, that he laughed at the idea of his being able to go on the roads with only tips, and was, afterwards, ‘quite surprised that he had not broken down on the way home after he was shod.’

Cold shoeing is gradually gaining in favour with practical men in spite of prize essays which condemn it. There is one passage in the said extract that the writer is unable to comment upon, because he fails to see any meaning in the assertion that ‘two surfaces are caused to correspond, friction is set up between them, and their separation not so easy.’ There may, perhaps, be some argument concealed under this verbosity. We are told that ‘language was given to man to enable him to disguise his thoughts.’

The extract given from the essay is of a very ‘groovey’ character otherwise.

The Seeley shoe, of which mention has been made, is a plain, light, machine-made shoe, without calks or clips, seated or bevelled on the ground surface, as Professor Coleman was the first to advocate. The chief advantage it possesses is that of being made of iron so ductile that the shoe can be altered in shape whilst cold. It is, in fact, meant to be always applied cold; and this is the only difference there is between it and any ordinary light shoe made on professor Coleman’s principle. It is not a ‘patent’ shoe.

At the beginning of March, as ‘Will Watch’[2] says, farming operations are too backward to allow of reducing the work of farm horses sufficiently to do away at once with all iron on their feet; neither did the writer intend, for many reasons, to incite the owners of such hard-worked animals to make such an abrupt change. A gradual mode of proceeding will allow the horses to keep on at their work; and it will not cause so much apprehension to the owner nor so much opposition and eternal grumbling, or ‘kicking over the traces’ on the part of the carter, especially when he has such a handsome inducement held out to him, in case of success, as ‘half the saving in the blacksmith’s bill,’ which this gentleman so spiritedly offers him.

Unfortunately, as he remarks in his letter, farriers do not, as a rule, ‘care to know much about the Charlier shoe,’ and this has already been pointed out in these articles. Yet one gentleman has written that he has made of one ‘an ardent disciple,’ and that ‘he shoes beautifully’ on this system; also that he finds it to bring grist to his mill. In some places where farmers could carry out by union what has been before suggested, a man might be found who would be willing to go into the thing. However, where the difficulty about the Charlier system is insurmountable, there is another road out of the wood, which ‘Aberlorna’ appears to have already hit upon, although it was intended, in due course, to have been demonstrated.

On farms or other large establishments where numbers of horses are kept, and no spare ones, for the especial purpose of earning their living and that of their owners, an ordinary tip (the lunette of La Fosse), covering only the front half of the foot, may be used with good success. Any blacksmith can put this on, although ‘Aberlorna’ tells us that they laugh at the idea. This tip should be light, and narrow in the web, as the sole does not want to be covered, and a light tip will wear as long as is necessary before it wants renewal, for we must recollect that the feet grow faster with tips than with full shoes. The nails should also be light and fine, and only four of them used. There is no danger in driving them into the toe, as many farriers imagine. Mayhew is very explicit thereon; and if farriers only had a slight knowledge of a hoof they would be aware that the horn is thicker and stouter at the toe, and that it also grows faster there than elsewhere.

What we may call the heels of the tip (although they do not reach the heels of the horse) should be eased off on the ground surface in thickness, with the file, at their extremities, so that they may not press unduly at their points upon the crust. The heels of the horse must not have even the slightest paring taken off them; but the seat of the tip must be pared down in the usual manner, because if the toe should be raised at the same time that the heel is lowered, too much work would be given to the back sinews.

‘Impecuniosus,’ a thoroughly practical man, begs us to observe that all horses will ‘go short’ for a day or two the first time that they wear tips. This is because they feel strange on first having their heels let out of a vice.

It is well to go ‘slow and sure;’ therefore it would be advisable for a man to experiment upon one or two of his horses, say one with flat, weak, tender, shelly, brittle hoofs, and the other with what he considers as the stoutest in his stable. The possibility is that he would find at the end of a month that the weak-footed horse would apparently have derived the most benefit from the treatment, although theory might lead him to suppose that the contrary would be the case.

The tips should, of course, be applied cold. They can be made whilst hot to the exact shape and size. To facilitate and expedite this (and so to avoid lifting up the foot and cooling the iron two or three times), after the crust on the toe has been pared and rasped into proper form, the outline can be easily scratched with a fine, sharp nail, either on the floor, if it should be smooth enough, or else on a piece of board on which the horse is made to stand whilst one of his fore-feet is held up by a groom. When it is the outline of a hind foot that has to be traced, the fore foot on the same side should be held up, because the horse cannot so easily shift about the foot that is being traced if he is obliged to bear his weight on two legs on the same side to do so; not that there is much difficulty, or time required, in running a nail round the front half of a well-trimmed hoof, except with fidgety horses, and some horses are inclined to be fidgety in a forge, which is not much to be wondered at. These are minutiæ, but they are worth while being insisted upon by the owner in person. There is no necessity to inform a farrier that there is an intention of endeavouring to dispense with his services at some future date; if things go well he will discover that in time, and you will have spared his feelings for some weeks.

Should the horse or two thus experimented upon be found to do well, another couple or so could be put through the same treatment, and the first tried might leave off the tips on the hind feet on the second shoeing; on the third the front tips might be discarded. In this manner some people might be six months in getting through their whole stable, but they would never have any great amount of anxiety on their minds, especially as they can always revert, at any moment they please (as the clergyman cited did, although without the slightest cause, except ‘funk,’ for so doing), to the full shoe. No one is incited to hurry or flurry himself over it, but, on the contrary, every one is advised not to rush at things. By so doing he will lose little or no work of his animals, at the same time that all those who surround them will take the change in a kindlier manner.

There is one observation to be made, which attentive readers will have already thought out for themselves. Although the foot will have greatly benefited all round by the use of tips, the toe will not have received as much benefit as the other parts, both on account of want of attrition and from having been pierced by nails; still it will be found to have made an improvement through the freer circulation of blood, &c. The toe, as will be seen, has its fibres in a more slanting position than the remainder of the crust, and a leverage is brought to bear upon it every time the horse lifts his foot, which leverage the other parts have not to bear. Nature therefore has made it the thickest, strongest, and fastest growing of all.

On first discarding the tips the horn on the toe may be found to chip away until the nail holes grow out. This may in great measure be avoided by not driving the nails far and straight up into the horn. It is not necessary so to do to hold on a light tip. The points of the nails can generally be brought out low down, and when the iron is thrown aside, the edge of the hoof must be well rounded off with a rasp, which will do away with nearly all chipping. It is best always to keep the hoofs of unshod horses slightly rounded off on their edges. When this is done, once a week or so, no further trimming is necessary.

The shod horse has to dig his toes into the ground to start a load; but it will be found that as he gradually gets unshod he will also gradually lose this habit, because, as he goes on ‘feeling his feet,’ he will find out by instinct the natural way of using them, which is on the flat, and then the leverage and strain on the toe will be lessened, and the chipping away will thereby be also greatly reduced. These facts, although they may not be found mentioned in any one of those prize essays that are written in the ‘follow-my-leader style’ which ‘Impecuniosus’ so much deprecates, may be found useful for nervous men to know and keep in mind. Some people conjure up fancied difficulties. Fancy and theory have helped to bring our horses’ feet and legs to their present state, which the generality of people find to be a very unsatisfactory one.

There are countries possessing vast tracts of grasscovered plains, on which horses are extensively bred, which from their great abundance are there of low value. The steppes of Russia, the grass runs of Australia, the prairies of some of the Anglo-American States, the savannahs of Uruguay and of the Argentine Republic are instances of such. In the last-mentioned, ‘fine colts, from three to five years old, can be bought at from 1l. to 4l., and mares at from 4s. to 20s.’ These horses, which are unshod, are those upon whose backs the ‘Grauchos’ perform their well-known skilful feats of ‘lassoing,’ &c., when cattle-driving—the unshod horse being endowed with an activity and sureness of foot that renders him highly valuable for their purposes.

A gentleman writing in a contemporary, on the subject of cattle-driving, says: ‘In Australia, in wet weather, an unshod horse is both a pleasant and a safe mount. Many a roll over I have had after cattle on a shod horse, when the country was soft above and hard below ’—as some English race-courses and hunting countries often are—‘which would not have occurred with a barefooted animal.’

These almost immeasurable, soft, smooth plains, on which the horses perpetually stand, are not intersected by hard, rough, stony roads; neither are the horses, which are grass fed, worked continuously, although it is well known that they are often barbarously forced to cover long distances, when they are doubly exposed to become footsore from the facts of having to work at intervals only, and then over soft, smooth grass that does not afford what Mayhew calls ‘the needful attrition’ to keep the horn up to its work. Mr. Miles tells us—what we all ought to know, although even he was unable to grasp it fully—‘it is an invariable law of animal economy not to continue to unemployed structures the same measure of efficient reparation that is extended to parts constantly engaged in performing their allotted tasks.’ Herein is explained the reason why these horses do not acquire the hardness of hoof that horses elsewhere, and under different circumstances, with harder work, not only acquire but also maintain.

In the North, Central, and South American countries which have been formerly mentioned in these chapters, pastures and breeding grounds are not to be found in such large tracts, as in those that have just now been spoken of. Besides, such grounds being widely separated from each other, the consequence is that horses are scarcer and of far higher value. The geological character of these countries is also such that hard, rough, stony ground very largely predominates outside these breeding grounds; although in some parts, where the stone is small and loose, the roads become excessively heavy and trying during the rainy season. In some parts of these countries it rains every day in the year, and in other parts they get dry roads during six months, and wet ones during the other six. The horses have to travel over either, and over naked sheets of rock, as they in turn present themselves; and, as Mr. Douglas says, ‘without difficulty, and to the evident advantage of their hoofs, they never suffer from contracted feet, or from corns, sandcracks, &c.’ Yet their work is of the hardest. Many of them bring down from the interior, many hundreds of miles, two bales of cotton, which weigh with pack-saddle, &c., over 3 cwt., and in fording rivers have to carry the driver across also. This is the way in which all the commerce of the country is carried on. There is not a horseshoe or a nail to be obtained over the whole route, and on some roads at crop times nearly a thousand horses will pass daily, descending, and a similar quantity returning, inland, loaded with imports, sometimes of the same cotton that they brought down the year before, but which has been to Europe or the States to get manufactured.

In these countries the natives, when they ‘corral’ or ‘pen’ their horses, always look out for a hard site for the purpose. Where stabling exists it is paved with stone if obtainable, and where timber is more available this is used instead; where neither can be procured the stable is known far and wide as a bad one.

Xenophon, who wrote the most complete work on horsemanship of his day, makes no mention of horseshoes; while, on the other hand, he is particularly explicit as to the means to be taken to harden and toughen horses’ hoofs. He recommends specially for this purpose bare stone pavement, which, he says, ‘will cool, harden, and improve a horse’s feet merely by his standing upon it, while the same benefit will result to his hoofs as if he were made to travel on stony roads every day.’

Another writer, Vegetius, says: ‘The floor of the stable should not be made of soft wood, but of solid hard oak, which will make the horse’s feet as hard as rock.’

The untutored natives of the interior of the American countries in question, without having heard of either of these authorities or their writings, have found out for themselves that both of these floorings act in precisely the manner described; whilst we, acknowledging that it should be hard, have nailed the standing place of a horse on to his feet, and have made him carry it about with him. The theory was ingenious, but it was wanting in logic; and the practice is found to be expensive and unsatisfactory from the outset all through.

Osmer, writing more than a century ago, says: ‘In many parts of the world to this day, even on the most rocky ground, horses are accustomed to carry their riders unshod; and in this kingdom I have known several horses ridden for a considerable time unshod on the turnpike roads about London without any injury done to their feet. And I believe there are many horses that might travel their whole lifetime unshod, on any road, if they were rasped round and short at the toe; because all feet exposed to hard objects become thereby more obdurate if the sole be never pared.’ In shoeing à la Charlier the sole never is pared, and it is always in direct contact with the ground, without any shield whatever to protect it from even sharp stones.

The hackneyed objection to ‘our moist, variable climate, and hard roads,’ so continually opposed to the practice of leaving horses to go unshod (even by some of the advocates for shoeing à la Charlier), is a mere empirical assertion, not founded upon experience, but an effect of imagination and prejudice which has become willingly accepted, without a challenge, whilst it is really the reverse of fact.

Mayhew says: ‘Truly the stable mind must quit the scene of its present labours before it will submit to be enlightened. It is now so protected by a wall of selfishness, ignorance, and prejudice that it is open to no assault;’ and elsewhere: ‘Nature sends the horse into the world with ready-made and stout-made shoes.’ Mr. Douglas says of horse-shoers: ‘They think they can stand, as it were, with their backs against the door of the world, in order to prevent novelties which might interfere with their opinions from coming in. But the world’s walls are wondrous ones, and its side doors numerous; so, whilst these opposers of progress manage to keep the main gate closed, the truth contrives to scale the walls, or slide in by side doors.’

The writer is of opinion that these defenders of the main gate keep a sharp look out over both the side doors and the wall’s summit, and allow nothing to pass by either if they can help it. They contradict every statement that is likely to interfere with their gains. Prince Bismarck is credited with saying that ‘he never believed anything until it was officially contradicted.’

Those who derive, either directly or indirectly, gain from shoeing cannot be expected to help to make any breach in this wall, but, on the contrary, to defend it to their utmost every time any assault is attempted upon it.

  1. See Appendix A.
  2. See Appendix B.