Ever wondered why the horseshoe was invented?
Well the answer to put it briefly is due to the rise of modern civilisation. This brought the horse away from their natural high desert type environments and into the hands of Northern Europeans where the environment is moist with cold winters and plenty of lush grasses. By the early to mid-middle ages 300 – 700 A.D increasing numbers of European horses found themselves living in close confinement being stabled. This was a by-product of the new feudalism era. The horse was being used for communications, transport, battle and as a valuable commodity. The horse had to be kept close at hand. However this meant that hooves were being subjected to the animals own wastes day in and day out, movement was restricted and their diet was vastly changed. As a result hooves began to deteriorate and horseshoeing was born as a remedy to the problem. 1
As we search for the first written record of horseshoes it is not until 910A.D that we find it (Leo VI 910) – what else could he have meant by “crescent figured irons and their nails” while listing equipment to be carried by his cavalry (Clark 1831). 2
Finally, by the Crusades, there can be absolutely no doubt – horseshoeing is widely popular all across Europe. Guibert de Nogent (as quoted by Severin 1989), speaking of the Crusades wrote: "Truly astonishing things were to be seen, things which could not but provoke laughter: poor people shoeing their oxen as though they were horses....” While horses may have been shod earlier, the Crusades finally made shoeing important, and immensely popular. Iron had become cheaper and more plentiful. The crusaders favoured the big Flemish horses – which had weak, flat feet from being raised on the damp lowlands. Armorers could make anything from iron, and were putting it all over the knights and horses bodies. Shoes not only protected the horses' weak feet, but gave the knights a psychological advantage over those they were attacking.
Would you rather be run over by a barefoot horse, or one with iron shoes? 3
The practices of close confinement and shoeing continued into the Renaissance where horses were being used more than ever for carrying soldiers and supplies. We became a horse dependent society. With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution we were seeing machine-pressed horse shoes, replacing the time consuming hand created shoes. Ever growing needs of the horse dependent society. Horse owners were also now accustomed to the convince of keeping their horses close by and it was assumed that horse owners needed to shoe their horses. After all its costumery now. After World War II, cars and other forms of transport replaced the use of the horse. Most horses then became pleasure or hobby animals but the tradition of shoeing and keeping horses in stalls has never been challenged. 4
Along with the tradition of horseshoeing that started during the Crusades, horseshoes were accepted in Lieu of money to pay taxes and also became synonymous with good fortune. A good reference is the Oakham Castle Horseshoe collection.
If we delve deeper and think outside the box and come back to mother nature we can find the answers easy. If you follow the relationship between humans and the domestic horse it is clear to see the thought process behind the way we currently keep them. We have changed their environments and we have changed their diets all for our ease and benefit but as we clearly no longer need them in the same way as much as we used to so perhaps now is the time we need to rethink and reeducate ourselves on how we as humans can serve the horse and not the other way around.
1. JACKSON, J. The Natural Trim, Principles and Practices. J. Jackson publishing California 2012 pg 16
2. HEYMERING, H. Who Invented Horse Shoeing [Online]. http://www.neverbluefarm.com/articles/Who%20Invented%20Horseshoeing.pdf first published in the ANVIL Magazine, March 1991, p.35-36 Missouri
3. HEYMERING, H. Pg 35-36
4. JACKSON, J. Pg17