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Friday, August 25, 2017

No Hoof - No Horse

Trooper in His Shaggy Winter Coat
Last month Kelly Goshorn asked me to write about caring for horses. That made this month's blog topic an easy pick. I know a few things about horse care. Pictured here is my old horse, Trooper. He's twenty-five years old and needs some extra care in his senior years, but he's worth it.

In Colonial times, horses worked hard. They toiled in the fields, clipped along the roads, and packed goods into places where no roads existed. But they could do little of that if they were neglected.

"No hoof, no horse" was a famous saying back then and it's still well-known today. A horse without four good hooves is in serious trouble. Some people say that a horse has five hearts. In a way that's true. Besides the obvious beating organ in his chest, each of his hooves has a cushioned pad that, when pressed, helps push his blood supply back to his chest. Losing the use of a hoof damages his circulation. Even with today's advances in equine medicine, many horses with hoof injuries can't be saved. Probably the most famous being Barbaro, a racehorse who survived a shattered leg until laminitis, a very serious hoof condition, set in. 

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Setting a Horse Shoe

To prevent problems, horses that are used frequently are fitted with horse shoes. The metal shoes are nailed into the hoof wall. There is no pain involved in this process. The hoof wall is like our fingernails, only stronger and much thicker. The shoes prevent the hoof from being chipped, over-worn, or otherwise damaged during hard use. On a regular basis, the shoes are removed so that the hoof walls can be trimmed back - much as we trim our nails - and then the shoes are reset onto the trimmed hooves. Our Colonial ancestors took their horses to a blacksmith or a farrier for shoeing.
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Blacksmith Forged Hoof Pick

In between visits to the blacksmith or farrier, the owner or stableman would keep the horse's feet healthy with regular cleaning using a hoof pick to remove dirt, manure, and stones that could collect there. 

And finally, the horse needed somewhere dry to stand when he wasn't working. Damp is another enemy of a healthy hoof. While a horse can work all day in the damp fields, the hooves must be cleaned out and the horse given a dry place to rest afterwards to prevent bacteria from attacking the hoof and causing lameness or even death.


  1. Lots of good information here. Thanks, Pegg.

    1. Little details, slipped seamlessly into a story, add richness and depth. I hope others can use a nugget of horse care in their stories.

  2. Thanks for this great post, Pegg. What do you think of those cool horseshoes they use nowadays on Mackinac Island?

    1. Since Mackinac Island is almost totally paved, they need those special shoes. You should see the winter shoes the Amish around me use. With all the ice and snow we get, they need extra metal grips on the toes. Fearsome-looking things!


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