Shoes Shoeing And The Foot

The foot, its diseases, and how to shoe it properly, is a subject much

discussed among horsemen. Nearly every farrier and blacksmith has a way

of his own for curing diseased feet, and shoeing. No matter how absurd

it may be, he will insist that it has merits superior to all others, and

it would be next to impossible to convince him of his error. Skillful

veterinarians now understand perfectly all the diseases peculiar to the

foot, and the means of effecting a cure. They understand, also, what

sort of shoe is needed for the feet of different animals. Latterly

number of shoes have been invented and patented, all professing to be

exactly what is wanted to relieve and cure diseased feet of all kinds.

One man has a shoe he calls concave, and says it will cure

contraction, corns, thrush, quarter-crack, toe-crack, &c., &c. But when

you come to examine it closely, you will find it nothing more than a

nicely dressed piece of iron, made almost in the shape of a half moon.

After a fair trial, however, it will be found of no more virtue in

curing diseases or relieving the animal than the ordinary shoe used by a

country smithy. Another inventive genius springs up and asserts that he

has discovered a shoe that will cure all sorts of diseased feet; and

brings at least a bushel basket full of letters from persons he declares

to be interested in the horse, confirming what he has said of the

virtues of his shoe. But a short trial of this wonderful shoe only goes

to show how little these persons understand the whole subject, and how

easy a matter it is to procure letters recommending what they have


Another has a specific method for shoeing, which is to cut away the

toe right in the center of the foot, cut away the bars on the inside of

the foot, cut and clean away all around on the inside of the hoof, then

to let the animal stand on a board floor, so that his feet would be in

the position a saucer would represent with one piece broken out at the

front and two at the back. This I consider the most inhuman method in

the art of shoeing. Turn this saucer upside down and see how little

pressure it would bear, and you will have some idea of the cruelty of

applying this specific method. Sometimes bar-shoes and other

contrivances are used, to keep the inside of the foot from coming down.

But why do this? Why not get at once a shoe adapted to the spreading of

the foot. Tyrell's shoe for this purpose is the best I have yet seen. We

have used it in the Government service for two years, and experience has

taught me that it has advantages that ought not to be overlooked. But

even this shoe may be used to disadvantage by ignorant hands. Indeed, in

the hands of a blacksmith who prefers his own way, some kinds of feet

may be just as badly injured by it as others are benefited. The United

States Army affords the largest field for gaining practical knowledge

concerning the diseases, especially of the feet, with which horses and

mules are afflicted. During the late war, when so little care was given

to animals in the field, when they were injured in every conceivable

manner, and by all sorts of accidents, the veterinary found a field for

study such as has never been opened before.

Experience has taught me, that common sense is one of the most essential

things in the treatment of a horse's foot. You must remember that

horses' feet differ as well as men's, and require different treatment,

especially in shoeing. You must shoe the foot according to its

peculiarity and demands, not according to any specific system of shoe.

Give the ground surface a level bearing, let the frog come to the

ground, and the weight of the mule rest on the frog as much as any other

part of the foot. If it project beyond the shoe, so much the better.

That is what it was made for, and to catch the weight on an elastic

principle. Never, under any circumstances, cut it away. Put two nails in

the shoe on each side, and both forward of the quarters, and one in the

toe, directly in front of the foot. Let those on the sides be an inch

apart, then you will be sure not to cut and tear the foot. Let the nails

and nail-holes be small, for they will then aid in saving the foot. It

will still further aid in saving it by letting the nails run well up

into the hoof, for that keeps the shoe steadier on the foot. The hoof is

just as thick to within an inch of the top, and is generally sounder,

and of a better substance, than it is at the bottom. Keep the first

reason for shoeing apparent in your mind always--that you only shoe your

mule because his feet will not stand the roads without it. And whenever

you can, shoe him with a shoe exactly the shape of his foot. Some

blacksmiths will insist on a shoe, and then cutting and shaping the foot

to it. The first or central surface of the hoof, made hard by the

animal's own peculiar way of traveling, indicates the manner in which he

should be shod. All the art in the world cannot improve this, for it is

the model prepared by nature. Let the shoes be as light as possible, and

without calks if it can be afforded, as the mule always travels unsteady

on them. The Goodenough shoe is far superior to the old calked shoe, and

will answer every purpose where holding is necessary. It is also good in

mountainous countries, and there is no danger of the animal calking

himself with it. I have carefully observed the different effect of

shoes, while with troops on the march. I accompanied the Seventh

Infantry, in 1858, in its march to Cedar Valley, in Utah, a distance of

fourteen hundred miles, and noticed that scarcely a man who wore

regulation shoes had a blister on his feet, while the civilians, who did

not, were continually falling out, and dropping to the rear, from the

effects of narrow and improper shoes and boots. The same is the case

with the animal. The foot must have something flat and broad to bear on.

The first care of those having charge of mules, should be to see that

their feet are kept in as near a natural state as possible. Then, if all

the laws of nature be observed, and strictly obeyed, the animal's feet

will last as long, and be as sound in his domestic state as he would be

in a state of nature.

The most ordinary observer will soon find that the outer portion or

covering of the mule's foot possesses very little animal life, and has

no sensibility, like the hair or covering of the body. Indeed, the foot

of the horse and mule is a dense block of horn, and must therefore be

influenced and governed by certain chemical laws, which control the

elements that come in contact with it. Hence it was that the feet of

these animals was made to bear on the hard ground, and to be wet

naturally every time the horse drank. Drought and heat will contract and

make hard and brittle the substance of which the feet is composed; while

on the other hand cooling and moisture will expand it, and render it

pliable and soft. Nature has provided everything necessary to preserve

and protect this foot, while the animal is in a natural state; but when

brought into domestic use, it requires the good sense of man, whose

servant he is, to artificially employ those means which nature has

provided, to keep it perfectly healthy.

When, then, the foot is in a healthy state, wet it at least twice a day;

and do not be content with merely throwing cold water on the outside,

for the foot takes in very little if any moisture through the wall. In

short, it absorbs moisture most through the frog and sole, particularly

in the region where the sole joins the wall. This, if covered by a tight

shoe, closes the medium, and prevents the proper supply. Horses that are

shod should be allowed to stand in moist places as much as possible. Use

clay or loam floors, especially if the horse has to stand much of his

time. Stone or brick is the next best, as the foot of the animal will

absorb moisture from either of these. Dry pine planks are the very

worst, because they attract moisture from the horse's foot. Where

animals have to stand idle much of the time, keep their feet well

stuffed with cow manure at night. That is the best and cheapest

preservative of the feet that you can use.

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