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Horse Shoes and Shoeing

Horse Shoes
The horse shoehas long been a symbol of good luck - possibly at least partly  due to the fact that you indeed have 'good luck' if you can find a farrier just when you need one,  if your horse does not throw a shoe the furthest point away from home or just before an important competition?

Which way up should you hang a horse shoe?
Farrier and Blacksmiths
What a farrier does
Shoeing a horse
Hot Shoeing
Why do horses need shoes?

Tradition has built up all around the world about horse shoes - one interesting fact is that no one can agree which way up they should be hung for good luck!  One school of thought says they should be hung in a U shape, with the two prongs pointing up to ensure the good luck does not run out. 

Others say it should be the other way up, so that good luck runs down on you.  Some people believe it is not enough just to have the horse shoe pointing up, you should also sit something in the middle to stop a witch taking up residence there!

What is the difference between a Blacksmith and a Farrier?

Farriers have been around for as long as horses needed to be shod.  The Worshipful Company of Farriers, was established in 1356 during the reign of Edward III.   A farriers's work is 'any work in connection with the preparation or treatment of the foot of a horse for the immediate reception of a shoe thereon, the fitting by nailing or otherwise of a shoe to the foot or the finishing off of such work to the foot'.   A 'Farrier' should not be confused with a 'Blacksmith'.  A farrier works with horses but needs training in blacksmithing in order to make the shoe properly.  A blacksmith is a smith who works with iron and may never have any contact with horses.  The shoeing of horses is part and parcel of the blacksmith's craft, so smiths may have been trained in farriery and may, therefore, shoe horses legally alongside blacksmithing, as long as they are registered as a farrier.  

A farrier at work

What a Farrier does

If you have never watched a Farrier at work, shoeing is a fascinating procedure.  It looks like it would be painful for the horse, but in actual fact it is very much like us having our toe nails cut - as long as it is done carefully it does not hurt. 

Most horses will stand patiently for the Farrier as he removes their old shoes and puts on new ones. 

The Farrier's tools and apron have remained virtually the same throughout many centuries, although nowadays the 'forge' is a portable gas oven, which means the Farrier can travel to the horse to shoe him, rather than the horse having to visit the Farrier.

Next the surface of the hoof is levelled off using a rasp, and then excess growth is trimmed with hoof cutters.  Finally the hoof wall is tidied up and ragged pieces of the soles and frog trimmed with the drawing knife.

A Farrier at work - Shoeing a horse

The first task is to straighten the clenches, this is where the nail has been bent over on the side of the hoof wall.  This is done with a buffer and hammer.  Once all the clenches have been straightened the shoe is levered off with the pincers. 
Removing a Horse Shoe
Using Pincers to remove the shoe
Trimming the Horse's foot before shoeing
Trimming the horse's foot
Straightening the clenches prior to levering off the old shoe
The old shoe is removed using pincers
The excess growth is trimmed with hoof cutters
The growth is removed for a good flat surface to shoe
Shoeing can either be done hot or cold.  With cold shoeing precise measurements need to have been taken and the shoe shaped off site as only very slight adjustments can be made.  Hot shoeing is much more versatile.  The Farrier carries a range of horseshoes in various sizes, and these can be shaped to the individual horse's feet very precisely.  The basic shoe will be placed in the forge until the metal becomes literally red hot. 

Hot Shoeing

The farrier selects a shoe and heats it in his portable forge. 
Portable Forge
Farrier at work
Portable forge
Farrier at work
Using a pritchel the hot shoe is taken to the horse and held against the surface of the hoof.  The slight burning will show where alterations must be made, and the Farrier will remove the shoe and shape it over an anvil.  This process may be repeated until the Farrier is happy with the fit.  The shoe is them immersed in a bucket of cold water to cool.
Hot shoe held against surface of horse's foot
Preparing the shoe
Burn marks show where alterations need to be made
Hot shoe quenched in bucket of cold water
The hot shoe is held against the surface of the hoof
The farrier reheats the horseshoe and shapes it over an anvil
Burn marks show where alterations have to be made
Once he is happy with the fit the horseshoe is cooled in a bucket of water
The final process is to nail the shoe onto the hoof.  Normally seven nails are used, but the number may vary depending on the condition of the hoof.  The nail is driven in so it slants towards the outside,   This leaves part of the nail sticking outside the wall of the hoof.  The Farrier cuts off the excess nail, and then smoothes the sharp point with a rasp.  Finally the nail is bent down to make a clench.

These shoes will last the horse approximately six weeks before the farrier has to come out again (as long as one hasn't been lost in the meantime).

Horses feet grow like fingernails, and even if a horse is not shod, its feet have to be regularly trimmed.

Why do horses need horse shoes?

Sometimes when you see the level of care and attention required by the horses and ponies that we keep to ride, it makes you wonder how horses ever survive in the wild.  Why don't wild horses need shoes like their domesticated relatives?

In the wild a horse continuously walks and grazes, moving on to find fresh pasture and going over a variety of terrains and surfaces in his hunt for food.  This keeps the horse's feet down to a smooth, even and hard state.  The domesticated horse walks less, and his feet do not have the same opportunity to harden, making them more vulnerable to injury.

Nutrients such as carotene are essential to healthy hooves.  Carotene is found in far higher amounts in live vegetation, rather than in processed or dried food.

Domesticated horses which are kept for work require shoes because of the extra weight their feet are being asked to carry - this may be from a rider, or from pulling a cart.

Not only does  a horse in regular work need horseshoes, he also needs to have his feet attended to regularly otherwise the hoof will grow large, long and fragile.  Cracks may well appear in the hoof, and there may be damage to the horse’s legs as he walks abnormally due to his foot being misshapen.