by Linda Chamberlain
If he could speak – perhaps they would listen. But the equine world is hard of hearing when it comes to the issue of the horse and his tight, nailed-on shoes.
If he could scream, perhaps his owner would realise that trotting up the road is sending vibrations up his legs that the men who drill the roads are familiar with.
If he could shout, he’d tell you that those shoes were put on while his foot was lifted from the ground. It wasn’t weight bearing so it was at its most narrow. The shoe was nailed on six weeks ago and his foot has been growing daily ever since. Perhaps he’d say – my trainers are tight! Can you do something about it?
But the horse is a quiet cripple. He says nothing. His instinct is to run even if he’s in pain, even if he can’t manage his natural stride. He’ll keep going…on and on, with you on his back and his compromised legs storing problems until the day he goes lame.
The shoeing of a horse appears utterly painless. Nails are driven through his hoof one by one, carefully avoiding the sensitive structures deep in the foot. The horse – such a stoic creature – makes no cry or complaint. If only he would yelp like a dog rather than pretend to be a trout!
The farrier has finished his work, he lets go of the hoof and the animal walks – indeed, he walks well. This one is an equine athlete, a show jumper. He’s at the top of his game and he can manage some impressive moves.
But wait –let’s watch him through the lens of a camera. Let’s imagine we have the analytical mind of David Attenborough to guide us through some slow-motion footage. With hushed, respectful tones he’d explain how the foot of any animal will absorb the shock of landing and thereby protect the leg from harm.
‘Ah, but not for this magnificent creature,’ he’d say, as the horse elongates his stride. ‘Sadly, there’s no flexibility in the design of his footwear. Here we see him approaching an obstacle but observe his right foreleg on landing.’ Attenborough sounds as though lions might be stalking a sickly herd member. There’s trepidation in his voice. ‘Half a ton of horse landing onto one leg – the force driven into metal and nails. The foot is unable to expand or move and thereby minimise the strain through the leg.’
The camera cuts to Attenborough’s lined and familiar face. He has some history to tell us and a comparison to make; it’s very tenuous but he wants horse riders everywhere to think carefully about it. The practice of metal shoeing began about 1000 years ago – about the same time as the Chinese began binding the feet of young girls in order to make them appear dainty and feminine and to walk with a certain gait.
Both practices hinder the circulation and cause the foot to wither and shrink. The Chinese went much further and the feet of young girls were deliberately broken into shape. The human pain is documented – it was said to take girls about two years to get used to walking again and even then they couldn’t go far. None of them became athletes – not even for the short period enjoyed by our equines.
Attenborough is trying the patience of a few riders by now but hold on – this tenuous comparison has some validity. Just as the horse becomes dependant on his metal shoe, the Chinese woman suffered great pain if her bindings were removed. The structures of the foot were so damaged that she couldn’t manage without. The loss of the bindings reportedly gave as much pain and discomfort as they brought her as a girl. And there is the dilemma – stay with bound, shrivelled feet for the rest of your days…or make an agonising bid for freedom.
Some equines freed of their shoes also suffer discomfort at first, possibly pain, and it’s no wonder that their owners hesitate to ask them to live without shoes. Who wants to see their beloved animal hesitate over hard ground? Or heaven forbid, endure a time of being led in hand rather than ridden…just until their feet recover?
But the horse liberated from his bindings has a much better chance than the lotus feet of China. His bones haven’t been broken and he has a great, natural ability to heal. He can do it, given time, patience, a good sugar-free diet and an expert trim. How easy it is compared to the poor women in China.
If this horse could talk – he’d tell his owner to go for it, for the sake of his joints and his tendons.
If he could scream – he’s say let’s go barefoot because in a couple of months I’ll run just as fast.
If he could shout –he’d argue, ‘For god’s sake, we don’t need these things any more. Nailed-on shoes have been superseded by some very natty hoof boots that you can hang up next to my saddle after a ride?’
Foot binding in China was outlawed 100 years ago although the tradition continued into the 1930s.
The domestic horse is still patiently and silently waiting…
Thanks to Amanda Edwards for inspiring this post…and apologies to David Attenborough whose name slipped into my head while writing it!
Care about horses? Then follow this campaigning blog and buy the book! My novel The First Vet is based on one of our very-first vets who amazingly proved that horse shoes deform and cripple the animals we love. His work was suppressed…until recently. Horse lovers, book lovers are buying it and sharing it. It’s a story of love and corruption, full of real history. Reviewers have described it as ‘brave, witty and romantic.’ The First Vet is on Amazon – UK. Amazon – US.
A man who could cure horses
A woman who couldn’t walk without them
And the brother who stood between them
The most romantic novel since The Horse Whisperer set against the turbulent early years of the Veterinary College. One reviewer said it was ‘brave, witty and romantic’.