Read CHAPTER VII of Rational Horse-Shoeing , free online book, by John E. Russell, on

Bent knees interference, and Speedy cut.

The knee of a horse is a most complicated and beautiful mechanical arrangement, singularly exempt from strain or disease in any form. Bony enlargement, inflammation of the ligaments, do not attack it. The ravage of the shoeing-smith the horse’s direst enemy seems to be exhausted upon the feet and the sympathetic pasterns; the concussion of iron and pavement, uncushioned by the frog, will destroy the lower system of joints before the knee can be shaken.

Notwithstanding this perfection and strength, many horses bend the knee, and stand, or travel with it bent, until the flexor muscles shrink from lack of use. This “over in the knees” condition is invariably caused by imperfect use of the feet. The effect of heel-calks and their accompaniment of corns, making a sore in each heel, is often indicated by the horse to his regardless owner by bending his knee. The owner asks the smith why he does it, and the smith, who never fails to give a reason, says he has always noticed that horse had “weak knees.” We know of a shoer in Worcester County, Massachusetts, who has a wide local reputation for “doctoring” weak knees. He holds that the muscles of the leg in such cases are too short, and have to be lengthened with thick iron heels and calks. It is a favorite theory of this class of shoers that they are able to correct the errors of Providence in the horse’s construction, and piece him out with heel-calks and bar-shoes!


If horses were not shod, they would not interfere; it therefore follows that shoeing is the cause of this defect. A contracted hoof, pain from corns, or any inflammation causes a horse to seek a new bearing. In doing this he strikes himself. Blacksmiths make “interfering shoes,” welding side-pieces and superfluous calks upon their clumsy contrivances, and sometimes succeed in preventing the symptom, but they never remove the cause. Few horses with natural feet, good circulation, and shod with a light shoe, will ever interfere. In all such cases, take off the heavy shoe, cure the contraction, get an even bearing, and let nature have at least a momentary chance.


It is a common practice of large proprietors, engaged on railroad or city work, to buy up horses with unsound feet, unfitted for speed or gentle service, and use them up, as old clothes are put through a shoddy-mill for what wool there is left in them. This cruel policy, under an intelligent system of shoeing, would be impossible, because the vast aggregate of foot diseases would be so abated that horses, sound in general health but creeping upon disabled hoofs, could not be found in droves, as at present, and the speculator in equine misfortune would better serve his selfishness by buying young horses and keeping them sound by a natural system of shoeing.


This annoyance is frequently caused by undue use of the toe, when the heel is lame and sore from contraction and corns. When the horse has the frog well on the ground and uses his heel without shrinking he is not apt to stumble.


In dry weather, or when a horse with a hard, lifeless hoof is shod with the Goodenough shoe, and shrinks from the unaccustomed pressure of the frog on the ground, nothing is so grateful to his feet as cold water. The hose turned on them is a delicious bath; or if he can stand for an hour in a wet place, or in a running brook, he will get infinite comfort from it. We have sometimes rapidly assisted the cure of contraction, in the city, by manufacturing a country brook-bottom in this simple way: Put half a bushel of pebbles into a stout tub, with or without some sand, let them cover the bottom to the depth of two or three inches, pour on water and you have a good imitation of a mountain brook. Put the horse’s forefeet into this, and let him bear his weight upon the frog. The first time he will grow uneasy after a few minutes, but when his frog becomes natural in its function he will be glad to stand there all day.

Do not carry this treatment to excess. Moderation is the most satisfactory course in all things. Abjure utterly all oils and greasy hoof dressings, they are pernicious recommendations of unreasoning grooms. They fill the pores of the wall, and injure in every way. Nature will find oil, if you will allow circulation and secretion, through the action of the frog.

“Stuffing the feet,” is another wretched, groom’s device. A horse has a dry, feverish hoof from contraction, so his hollow sole, denuded of its frog, is “stuffed” with heating oil-meal, or nasty droppings of cows. When this sort of thing is proposed, remember Punch’s advice to those about to be married, “Don’t do it.”