Ever since man realized that the horse can be used for a variety of tasks – from farming to transportation and even waging war – he has tamed, groomed, and even bred this wild beast.
The horse might be born to run fast, but it wasn’t genetically designed to do so in a sustained manner. Like the uncovered human feet, theirs need to be covered to help them endure long travels.
What are Horseshoes?
Modern horseshoes, normally, are made of metal. They are specifically designed for protection of the horse’s hooves. Without horseshoes, their hooves are subject to wear and injury, especially during prolonged running.
Horseshoes are affixed to the ground side, also called the palmar surface, of the horse’s hooves. The hoof walls have no nerves like the human nail, but are much thicker and larger. To attach a horseshoe, it’s nailed through the hoof wall. There are some cases when the horseshoe is glued instead.
The person who fits the horseshoe is called a farrier. A farrier is trained to assess the hoof for potential lameness, fitting the proper shoes, and doing remedial tasks when required. In the U.K., only legally qualified and experienced people are allowed to fit horseshoes.
Where Did It All Begin?
Long before the first modern horseshoe came up, man has been taking care of the horse’s hooves. Throughout Asia, horsemen covered their horses’ hooves with boots made out of woven plants or leather hides.
These primitive horseshoes were often put on horses who had injured or sore feet. The boots protected against future injuries and allowed the feet to heal.
At the turn of the 1st century, the ancient Romans deemed the woven boots not enough for the paved roadways they had laid. Steeds had become a valuable tool of war during that time.
To improve protection, horses were outfitted with sandals which were inspired by those worn by Roman soldiers. A combination of metal and leather materials were used to cover the horses’ hooves and then fastened using leather straps.
The problem with the sandal became apparent when the horses were made to traverse wet lands and during the cold months when snow covered the land. The moisture and the cold temperatures made getting a foothold on the frozen surfaces extremely difficult. Thus, the metal horseshoe was born.
The Lucky Shoe
After trying various designs and remedies, the metal horseshoe was invented. The first iterations came up around the 6th and 7th centuries
The metal horseshoe became so popular that tales have been told involving it. There’s even a patron saint for farriers.
The inventor of the first ever nailed metal horseshoe is unknown, but this practice became mainstream around 1000 AD in Europe. The first horseshoes were made of bronze. They were lightweight and the outer rim was scalloped. It also took six nails to affix to the horse’s hooves.
Since metal was expensive, the scalloped design gradually disappeared, ending with a “U” shape, and became heavier and required six nails.
In England, coins and horseshoes were cast from iron, but the latter usually were more valued. Horseshoes were used as currency as payment for taxes during the 12th century, the time of the crusades.
It was also around this time when horseshoes because the symbol of good luck. During festive occasions, a silver horseshoe would be lightly affixed to a hoof before the parade. Whoever retrieved it, won a prize.
Horseshoes were also used like talismans to ward off bad luck and warding off the devil.
During the 13th century, horseshoe makers began forging them in large quantities and made them available ready-made. The shoes also became longer and wider for horses used in war, travel, and trade.
The practice of shoeing horses became a popular profession in France and Great Britain during the 16th century.
During the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the production of horseshoes became even more popular. Machines were invented to cast shoes for mass production. Having this machine proved advantageous for Northern forces in the 1850s during the Civil War.
The Modern Horseshoe
The horseshoes of today are made of lighter materials like aluminum. Rubber pads became the precursor to the modern hoof pads. There are even horseshoes made of plastic, which don’t need nailing.