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History of Horses & Shoes

Excepts from Henry Heymering, RJF, CJFJ. P. Mgnin  --- (1865), as quoted by Fleming (1869), says: 'We place the invention of horseshoeing about the fifth or sixth century before our era (i.e. around 500 BC).

In the 1800's worn out horseshoes were used to make horseshoe nails, and worn out horseshoe nails were then welded together to make musket barrels. With that kind of recycling effort it seems unlikely that any samples of ancient horseshoes would still exist (unless re-worked into another object). Despite the fact that iron was rare and valuable and very easily re-used, archaeologists have discovered a few specimens of shoes which they think date back to a century or two BC.

 

I'm not certain how they determine the age of horseshoes. Fleming (1869) seems to indicate that much of it is done simply according to the depth at which they are found -- the deeper, the older. Oftentimes old shoes were found 6 feet or more beneath a city as excavations were being done for sewer pipes. Some shoes seem suspiciously new -- Fleming notes one dated about 80 BC that contained titanium. Other shoes seem suspiciously vaporous -- Fleming quotes Chifflet's discovery of one horseshoe In a 5th century (AD) tomb: 'an iron shoe... was so eaten away by rust, that while I was trying to cleanse the nail holes... the rotten iron broke in pieces..."

The tombs of royalty frequently contained several of their finest horses, money, jewelry, and other valuable possessions, and so would seem to be an ideal place to find examples of old horseshoes, but Bracy Clark (1831) notes that other tombs of the early Middle Ages do not contain horseshoes (even though they contain horses, and iron bits). Yet the suspicions that horses were shod In the early Middle Ages increase.

In the 8th century. the likelihood that horseshoeing has been invented increases even more. Armorers were kept extremely busy with all manner of offensive and defensive iron work from crude battering rams to fiendishly delicate chain mail. There are folklore tales of Charlemagne having shed his own horse, and having broken a horseshoe in two with his bare hands. About 790

the Catalan forge was developed. It increased by 7 fold the rate at which iron which can be produced from ore (Smith, 1966). But it is not until 910 that we find the first written record of iron horseshoes (Leo VI 910) -- what else could he have meant by 'crescent figured irons and their nails' while listing equipment to be carried by his cavalry (Clark 1831)?

Finally, by the Crusades, there can be absolutely no doubt -- horseshoeing is widely popular all across Europe. Guibert de Nogent (as quoted by Severln 1989), speaking of the Crusades wrote: "Truly astonishing things were to be seen, things which could not but provoke laughter: poor people shoeing their oxen as though they were horses....' While horses may have been shod earlier, the Crusades finally made shoeing important, and immensely popular. Iron had become cheaper and more plentiful. The crusaders favored the big Flemish horses -- which had weak, flat feet from being raised on the damp lowlands. Armorers could make anything from iron, and were putting it all over the knights' and horses' bodies. Shoes not only protected the horses' weak feet, but gave the knights a psychological advantage over those they were attacking. Would you rather be run over by a barefoot horse, or one with iron shoes? Would you rather be kicked barefoot, or with an iron shoe? What a sight to see an armored horse and rider charge you with sparks flying from their feet!

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