THE evolution of the modern horse-shoe from the primitive foot-gear for draught animals used in ancient times furnishes an interesting subject for investigation. Xenophon and other historians recommended various processes for hardening and strengthening the hoofs of horses and mules, and from this negative evidence some writers have inferred that the ancients were ignorant of farriery. It seems indeed certain that the practice of protecting the feet of horses was not universal among the Greeks and Romans. Fabretti, an Italian antiquary, examined with care the representations of horses on many ancient columns and marbles, and found but one instance in which the horse appeared to be shod; and in most specimens of ancient art the iron horse-shoe is conspicuous by its absence. But in the mosaic portraying the battle of Issus, which was unearthed at Pompeii in 1831, and which is now in the Naples Museum, is the figure of a horse whose feet appear to be shod with iron shoes similar to those in modern use; and in an ancient Finnish incantation against the plague, quoted in Lenormant's "Chaldean Magic and Sorcery," occur these lines:
O Scourge depart; Plague, take thy flight. . . . I will give thee a horse with which to escape, whose shoes shall not slide on ice, nor whose feet slip on the rocks.
No allusion to the horse-shoe is made by early writers on veterinary topics. But, on the other hand, there is abundant testimony that the ancients did sometimes protect the feet of their beasts of burden. Winckelmann, the Prussian art historian, describes an antique engraved stone representing a man holding up a horse's foot, while an assistant, kneeling, fastens on a shoe. In the works of the Roman poet Catullus occurs the simile of the iron shoe of a mule sticking in the mire. Contemporary historians relate that the Emperor Nero caused his mules to be shod with silver, while golden shoes adorned the feet of the mules belonging to the notorious Empress Poppaea. Mention of an iron horseshoe is made by Appian, a writer not indeed remarkable for accuracy; but the phrase "brasen-footed steeds," which occurs in Homer's Iliad, is regarded by commentators as a metaphorical expression for strength and endurance. Wrappings of plaited fibre, as hemp or broom, were used by the ancients to protect the feet of horses. But the most common form of foot covering for animals appears to have been a kind of leathern sock or sandal, which was sometimes provided with an iron sole. This covering was fastened around the fetlocks by means of thongs, and could be easily removed.
Iron horse-shoes of peculiar form, which have been exhumed in Great Britain of recent years, have been objects of much interest to archaeologists. In 1878 a number of such relics shaped for the hoof and pierced for nails were found at a place called Caesar's Camp, near Folkstone, England. In the south of Scotland, also, ancient horse-shoes have been found, consisting of a solid piece of iron made to cover the whole hoof and very heavy. In the year 1653 a piece of iron resembling a horse-shoe, and having nine nail-holes, was found in the grave of Childeric I., king of the Franks, who died A.D. 481. Professor N. S. Shaler believes that the iron horse-shoe was invented in the fourth century, and from the fact that it was first called selene, the moon, from its somewhat crescent-like shape, he concludes that it originated in Greece. But even in the ninth century, in France, horses were shod with iron on special occasions only, and the early Britons, Saxons, and Danes do not appear to have had much knowledge of ferriery. The modern art of shoeing horses is thought to have been generally introduced in England by the Normans under William the Conqueror. Henry de Ferrars, who accompanied that monarch, is believed to have received his surname because he was intrusted with the inspection of the farriers; and the coat-of-arms of his descendants still bears six horse-shoes.
On the gate of Oakham Castle, an ancient Norman mansion in Rutlandshire, built by Wakelin de Ferrars, son of the first earl of that name, were formerly to be seen a number of horse-shoes of different patterns.
The estate is famous on account of the tenure of the barons occupying it. Every nobleman who journeyed through its precincts was obliged as an act of homage to forfeit a shoe of the horse whereon he rode, or else to redeem it with a sum of money; and the horse-shoes thus obtained were nailed upon the gate, but are now within on the walls of the castle.
These walls are covered by memorials of royal personages and peers, who have thus paid tribute to the custom of the county.
Queen Elizabeth was thought to have initiated this practice, though this opinion is incorrect. According to tradition she was once journeying on a visit to her lord high treasurer, William Cecil, the well-known Lord Burleigh, at his residence near Stamford. While through Oakham her horse is said to have cast a shoe, and in memory of the mishap the queen ordered a large iron shoe to be made and hung up in the castle, and that every nobleman traveling through the town should follow her example.
A similar usage prevails to-day, new shoes being proof shapes and sizes chosen by the donors.
While John of Gaunt (1339-99), son of Edward III. of England, was riding through the town of Lancaster, his horse cast a shoe, which was kept as a souvenir by the townspeople, and fastened in the middle of the street. And in accordance with a time-honored custom a new shoe is placed in the same spot every seven years by the residents of Horse-Shoe Corner.
The practical value of the horse-shoe is tersely expressed in the old German saying, "A nail preserves a country;" for the nail keeps in place the horse-shoe, the shoe protects the foot of the horse, the horse carries the knight, the knight holds the castle, and the castle defends the country.
The followiny story from Grimm's "Household Tales" (vol. ii. p. 303) may be appropriate in this place, as illustrating the same idea, besides pointing a moral.
A merchant had done a good business at the fair; he had sold his wares and lined his money-bags with gold and silver. Then he wanted to travel homeward and be in his house before nightfall. So he packed his trunk with the money on his horse and rode away. At noon he rested in a town, and when he wanted to go farther the stable-boy brought out his horse and said: "A nail is wanting, sir, in the shoe of its left hind foot." "Let it be wanting," answered the merchant; "the shoe will certainly stay on for the six miles I have still to go; I am in a hurry," In the afternoon, when he once more alighted and had his horse fed, the stable-boy went to him and said, "Sir, a shoe is missing from your horse's left hind foot; shall I take him to the blacksmith?" "Let it still be wanting," answered the man, "the horse can very well hold out for the couple of miles which remain; I am in haste." He rode forth, but before long the horse began to limp. It had not limped long before it began to stumble, and it had not stumbled Iong before it fell down and broke its leg. The merchant was forced to leave the horse where it was, and unbuckle the trunk, take it on his back, and go home on foot. And there he did not arrive until quite late at night. "And that unlucky nail," said he to himself, "has caused all this disaster." Hasten slowly.