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‘Seeing it through the Horses Eyes’

Horses, Horse Shoes, Saddles and Riding

Let’s take a brief journey and trot with me down the winding and foggy roads of evolution of the modern horse, horse shoes and consider where it all began.

Personally, I think history is a bit like walking with your head in the clouds and you only realise when you stumble, that you have actually left the straight path which is where life usually becomes interesting.

Let’s take a look back to the Eocene times about 50 million years ago or so, where it all began when the woodlands of the North American Continent gave way to some grassy plains.

A fox-sized creature which could previously hide from Rex and his friends in the forest stuck its nose out into the open and found himself an easy target for a quick snack.  Being confronted with this new lifestyle, over the Pliocene time (about 2.5 – 5 million years ago), the tiny creature evolved with single large toes on its feet, more teeth, a larger size and the ability to run faster, culminating the beginning of the modern horse genus Equus.

For this poor little creature, the battle was on for survival.

For better feeding grounds and to escape predators many of these little guys took the opportunity during the last Ice Age some 12 thousand years ago to make their way over the Bering Land Bridge into Eurasia (Asian Steps, Mongolia and Eastern Europe).

This saw the final extinction of the proto-type horse from the Northern American continent.

It then continued to flourish in his newly found homeland but little did he know about the Eurasian Nomads who would dig their teeth into any tucker they could catch.

However some 6000 years ago the Nomads must have had their chance while watching some of this early horses grazing in a gorge, they blocked the exit off and herded them for later use.

This could well have been the first attempt of domestication of the horse. Some imaginary wild rodeos later, the Eurasian Nomads conquered as the first Horsemen new places where they had never been before.

Euphoric about the joy of riding and being able now to cover more ground in a shorter time they also realised that the distance of their newly found transport was restricted if they did not protect the hooves.

Innovative as they were, they made a kind of horse shoe – a first ever, from raw hides in which they placed woven grasses and strapped it around the lower leg. This protected and also cushioned the hooves.

Sculptures and pictures also show that they made saddles, stirrups, bridles, and bits.

By now the Nomads started to conquer foreign land and entered the European Continent on horseback, on a hit and run basis, right into the horse-less Roman Empire State.

As sophisticated as Roman civilisation was at this time they were no match against the riding Conquistadores from the East. However they did catch or trade some horses during this intervention, and so the course of a final journey of modern horse was set, and with it the metal (iron) horse shoe.

The Romans re-invented and manufactured the first ever metal horse shoe which was known as the Hippo Sandal. Leather strips were attached and strapped around the lower leg, which supported the whole of the hoof – a kind of sole shoe.

By the sixth and seventh centuries, European horsemen had begun nailing metal shoes to the horses’ hooves. This would have been an invention of someone who had to make a truck payment.

During the fourteenth century the design of shoes changed, as metal became a more valuable commodity, and any wornout items were generally reforged. The newly shaped shoe resembled the rim shoe of today.

The hot-shoeing process became common in the sixteenth century.

The ancient craft of black smithing lifted man from the Stone Age, and the Blacksmith’s art reached its pinnacle in the middle Ages, with some of them adapting their skills to horse shoeing. Though horse shoes changed little, the Farriers work remained hard and stressful.

In conclusion, the horse has been invaluable to humans since his domestication. The speed and strength was harnessed to help us hunt, prey, fight wars, work fields and generally broaden our horizons.

Without the horse, the course of human history might well look very different today and despite the many disadvantages of metal horse shoes, they have played their role in protecting the horses’ hooves for centuries. Horses have been indispensable to the growth of our civilization.

The Editor

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