Farm Blacksmithing

by J.M.Drew St. Paul Publishing Company 1918


Because the reader finds this chapter, he must not jump to the conclusion that the author intends to advise all farmers to do their own shoeing. Horse shoeing is not easy work. Neither can the art be learned in a short time, much less from books alone. It has been thought best to tell how shoeing should be done in ordinary cases and to let each reader decide for himself whether or not he shall do the work or hire it done. The instruction will do him no harm in either case, for it often happens that the blacksmith could be benefited, and through him, the horses which he shoes, by a little timely advice. Workmen in nearly all other lines of work seem to be willing and anxious to carry out the wishes of their employers, but for some unexplainable reason, the horse-shoer does not seem to relish advice, but wants to follow his own ideas of shoeing regardless of what the horse owner thinks should be done. The late Dr. Dickson presents the situation in the following terse way: It is a strange fact, but none the less true, that all the world over the farrier is the one among all our artisans who is least amenable to suggestions from his employers. Other mechanics permit their patrons at least some discretion as to the size, shape and structure of the article desired, but when the ordinary horse owner takes his animal to the shoeing forge he has usually to place himself absolutely in the blacksmith's hands and give him permission to cut and carve at his unholy will, or else take his horse elsewhere, and then probably find himself no better off. The result is that his horse's feet are mercilessly mutilated instead of being left as nearly as possible as nature in her wisdom made them.

There are three or four most irrational practices followed by many country blacksmiths in the shoeing of horses, that cannot be too strongly condemned. First, the cutting away of the frog, which is done by a majority of country smiths, is a most positive injury to the foot and can have no reasonable argument in its favor. The frog is the natural cushion and expander of the hoof and was placed there by an all wise Creator. To cut it out means not only to rob the foot of the cushion which should soften the concussion of every step, but to allow the foot to contract at the heel and become misshapen and crippled.

Another mistaken idea is that the sole of the foot should be thinned till it will yield to the pressure of the thumbs. The sole proper should never be touched by the knife. All loose scale may be trimmed away but the knife should never cut either the sole or the frog. All trimming on the bottom of the foot should be done by the rasp, which will trim the edge and not the sole. The writer has a knife in his shoeing box but he cannot remember when he last used it. Cutting of the sole or frog in any way works an injury by causing the tissues to shrink and become hard and dry. A frog which has been trimmed by the knife often dries so as to become as detrimental to the foot as a stone or other foreign body. There is never any good excuse for touching the knife to a healthy frog. It will wear away fast enough if let alone. The writer never saw one that was too large.

Hot fitting of shoes to horses' feet should not be allowed by the horse owner. While it may be possible, as claimed by some horse shoers, that a better fit is obtained in this way and that no real harm is done to the foot if properly trimmed after touching with the hot shoe, it is also possible that a good fit may be obtained by cold fitting and the latter process certainly is safer. If the foot be perfectly leveled with the rasp and the shoe be made perfectly level there is no trouble about making it fit. It ought not to be necessary to say that the shoe should be made to conform to the shape of the foot, and not the foot to the shoe, but it does seem, judging from their work, that some smiths need just such hints.

A very common fault among horse shoers is the habit of setting a shoe a little too far back on the foot and then rasping off the toe to meet the front of the shoe. The trimming of the hoof should all be done from the bottom of the foot before the shoe is set; and the outside of the hoof should not be touched by the rasp excepting to smooth off any slivers around the edge. The common practice of rasping the entire outer surface of the hoof after setting the shoe, should never be allowed, as it destroys the natural coating of varnish with which every healthy hoof is covered, and allows it to become dry and brittle. The smallest nails that will serve to hold the shoe in place should be used, and the smallest possible number of them; and they should not be driven high enough to endanger any of the sensitive tissue.