2000 Years of Shoeing?
by Dr. Hiltrud Strasser
It is often cited as an argument for the indispensability of horseshoes by their supporters that horseshoes have been in use for thousands of years for riding and draft horses. According to the most recent findings, however, it is certain that the horseshoe was first introduced to Western and
Central Europe in the 9th Century, and was previously completely unknown.
In Ancient Greece, too, the riding horses went barefoot. The Greek Xenophon
began his treatise "On the Art of Riding" (written about 400 BC) with
horses' hooves, and emphasized the great importance of regular hoofcare. His
book deals exclusively with the husbandry and training of military horses, which
could perform their duties very well without shoes. Markus Junkelmann writes
in his book "The Riders of Rome" (Die Reiter Roms vol.3) "The
great distances covered by Scythian, Persian, Macedonian and Carthaginian cavalries
during their campaigns--think only of the battles of Alexander the
Great--show that cavalry, even without horseshoes, is capable of the greatest
And what about the Ancient Romans' attitude to hoof protection? We know of
the so-called "hippo sandal" of iron, "soleae ferreae" in
Latin, which was in use in the Celtic-Roman area north of the Alps from the
middle of the 1st century to the 4th Century AD. The hooves were wrapped and
placed in the shoes, which were then fastened with the help of bands running
through hooks and eyes at the front and back ends of the shoes. The hippo sandals
were usually allowed to be worn only by draft and a pack animal walking on paved
roads, since a gait faster than the walk seems to have been impossible with
the hippo sandals.
Nailed-on horseshoes are to be found neither in Roman literature, nor depicted
in art. The equestrian statue of Caesar Marcus Aurelius (died 180AD) shows a
horse with beautiful natural hooves.
Since the sculptor represented every detail of the horse and rider very realistically
and accurately, he certainly would not have simply left out a form of hoof protection.
But no Roman work of art shows even a single shod hoof, while in the Middle
Ages shod hooves are always clearly shown even in simple pictures. There are
various medieval paintings in which the artist has faithfully represented the
shod hooves as contracted hooves--as contracted hooves are in fact a consequence
The invention of nailed-on horseshoes has been ascribed to the Celts, who are
supposed to have been using them already in Roman times. If, however, horseshoes
had actually been in use by the Galls, Celts or Germanic tribes, Julius Caesar
would certainly have mentioned them in his book "The Conquest of Gaul".
Also, neither in Pompeii or Herculaneum, nor in the ruins of other Roman forts
where mounted units were stationed, have horseshoes been found amongst the considerable
iron artifacts. And among the remains of 30 fallen military horses in Krefeld-Gellep,
there was not a single horseshoe to be found.
The Swiss researcher Walter Drack compared artifacts of supposedly Celtic horseshoes
with shoes from precisely datable medieval finds, and observed that the "Celtic"
shoes were the same type used in central Europe from the 10th to the 16th Centuries.
On this subject Markus Junkelmann writes:
"The silence of written and pictorial sources, the topological identity
of all discovered 'originals' with mediaeval and early modern pieces, as well
as the material improbability that the horseshoe, after it was first invented,
should then over centuries be only sporadically used, while at the same time
the existing, awkward hoof shoe remained in use, support with virtual certainty
that there were neither Celtic nor
Roman horseshoes." Nowadays, the working and military horse has become
a leisure- and sporting companion who often suffers, through the confined keeping
usual in most areas, from extreme lack of movement. Is it not thought-provoking,
this assumption that a horse, which is only allowed to move 1 - 4 hours a day--if
that--supposedly cannot do without constant shoeing?
Copyright Dr. vet. med. H. Strasser
Blaihofstr. 42/1, 72074 Tuebingen, Germany
Tel/Fax: (011) 49-7071-87572
Ed. & Canadian contact: Sabine Kells at email: textorder @ shaw.ca
©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.
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