A Little Bit of History on Horseshoes!


We have my Equine Podiatry coursework to thank for this post... I felt I had written it quite well and received good marks for it - so I didn't want it to go to waste and thought I would share it! Hope you enjoy it - but prepare yourselves it is a long one!

(Figure 1: An illustration of a Hipposandal: an early version of the horseshoe we know today! Picture sourced from: www.en.wikisource.org)

As a result of domestication; the role of the horse throughout history has quadrupled in comparison to their wild ancestors. Over thousands of years’ horses have become working animals and were of significant importance during the industrialisation of the modern-day world, and have contributed to the war effort. As the demand on these horses grew; the more of a necessity it was to better protect their hooves.

The production of horse shoes was needed to keep up with this demand; in the early 1800’s the first horse-shoe manufacturing machines were patented in the US which were capable of producing approximately 60 shoes per hour (American Equus, n.d.). With steel shoes proving to be longer lasting and more cost effective (Sparkes, 1976) it was found that the application of these shoes increased the efficiency of the working horse. During world war 1 (1914-1918) the terrain of which horses endured was often hostile. However, horses were far more efficient logistically at transporting artillery, ammunition, medical supplies and even the wounded (National Army Museum, n.d.)

Equines were valuable in the coal mining industry, in 1842 a law was passed that prevented women and children under 10 to work in the mines; ponies were introduced to replace this requirement. Farriers were employed to look after all of the ponies’ hooves, no pony was allowed to work if they had a shoe off; and due to working in an environment with explosives; their shoes were made of a copper alloy or copper/zinc alloy (brass) as they were less likely to produce a spark. Despite the amount of coal available all ponies were shod cold to avoid the potential of a fire or explosion (Jurga, 2010).

History of the horse being a valuable working animal dates back further than this however, due to the combination of a lack of archaeological findings and the ill-documentation in history; it is unknown as to when the first application of a metal horse shoe was. However, in the 19th century book “Horse-Shoes and Horse Shoeing” (Fleming, 1869) explores the evolution of applying shoes to horses. He discusses the differences in managing equine hooves (barefoot versus shod) in accordance to geographic location.

For example, the Ethiopians would dismount their horses and swap to mules; and lead their horses by hand so that their horses could tread lightly on stony surfaces. The Russian Frontiers during a cattle drive would dismount their ponies if their hooves had worn down too much, and select another pony whilst their previous mount recovered in pasture. Even in Xenophon’s day a horse was of little profit to him if he had poor feet (Xenophon, 2006). It appears even in the earlier years of the working horse; there were cons for keeping a horse barefoot with regards to efficiency and productivity. I believe the motivation of shoeing horses for protection serves this purpose; to increase the yield possible to be produced for humankind to thrive.

A Hipposandal was a removable device that was designed to protect the horses hoof, there were several versions documented in history; the straps were either made of rawhide, leather or plant material; but Iron was typically used for the sole.

Iron shoes are no longer used; often documented as forming part of the Hipposandal they were both bulky, heavy and ill-fitting being 5 ½ inches long, 3 ½ inches wide; with cinch clips extending to as tall as 5 inches! Hull museum currently have a set of iron shoes that weigh 23 ½ ounces (approx. 666 grams) (Sparkes, 1976)


American Equus. (n.d.). The History of the Horse Shoe. Retrieved from american equus: https://americanequus.com/history-of-horeshoes/

Equus, A. (n.d.). History of the Horse Shoe. Retrieved 2020, from American Equus: https://americanequus.com/history-of-horeshoes/#:~:text=Indeed%2C%20the%20invention%20of%20the,as%20early%20as%20400%20BC.

Fleming, G. (1869). Horse-Shoes and Horse Shoeing Their Origin, History, Uses and Abuses. Piccadilly : London: Chapman and Hall.

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Jurga, F. (2010, April 9). Coal Mines and Pit Ponies: Farriers made sparkless horseshoes for safety underground. Retrieved from www.hoofblog.com: https://hoofcare.blogspot.com/2010/04/coal-mines-and-pit-ponies-farriers-made.html

Morell, V. (1999). Dietary Data Straight From the Horses Mouth. Science, 283(5403), 773.

National Army Museum. (n.d.). Horse Power In The First World War. Retrieved from National Army Museum: https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/horse-power-first-world-war

Sparkes, I. G. (1976). In Shire Album No. 19. (pp. 3-4). Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom: Shire Publications Ltd.

Waller, S. B. (2016, November 26). Equine Internal Combustion. Retrieved from The Horse: https://thehorse.com/130851/equine-internal-combustion

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Xenophon. (2006). The Art of Horsemanship (22 ed.). Dover Publications Ltd.

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