by Fran Jurga | 26 October 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog
What year is it?
Patrick Ryan was, according to this slip of paper, a doctor (?) of horseshoeing in Baltimore, Maryland in the late 1800s.
You might have to double-click on the image to read the fine print, but across the top of the bill head, Mr Ryan promises "Horses Shod According to the Natural Formation of the Hoof. Satisfaction Guaranteed."
There's nothing new about the new school of thought on natural hoofcare. In the 1800s, a legion of learned professors and prickly posers preached any number of plausible and implausible theories about the so-called natural function of the hoof, as they interpreted it to be at that time. Most of the theories involved employing the frog by using a thin shoe or even a three-quarter shoe that exposed the heels and base of the frog to concussion, in the belief that that would stimulate the pumping action of the frog.
Professor Bracy Clark in England was the leading proponent of truly natural hoofcare, and his writings are quite interesting and worth a read. Just the reverse of Ryan in Baltimore, he was a veterinary surgeon--in the earliest days of the profession--who left academia behind and chose to shoe horses and study the hoof for the rest of his life.
Professor Clark enjoyed a renaissance about ten years ago when Dr Hiltrud Strasser chose selections from his vast body of writings to defend some of her theories. What many people missed was that he was a highly respected veterinarian and actually has a very broad body of writing on the anatomy and function of the foot and its diseases, far beyond simply expressing displeasure with shoes. In fact, he tried tirelessly to invent horseshoes that would work in harmony with the natural function of the foot and not stifle it.
The author/historian Major-General Sir Frederick Smith writes of Bracy Clark, "No writer in the profession before or since [his] day has brought to bear such a degree of scholarship."
In fact, Bracy Clark's first writings were exactly 200 years ago, in 1809. So let's tip our caps to him today. I recently learned that a packet containing Professor Clark's 1809 manuscript sold at auction for 3,130 British pounds--that's roughly $5,000 for some very frail old farrier papers.
To quote from an article by Ian McKay in the October 2009 edition of Book Dealer:
...This little collection opened with an illustrated 1809 account of A Series of Original Experiments on the Foot of the Living Horse. On the back of the frontispiece to this main work is a tipped-in prospectus in which Clark explains that he plans to publish his discoveries from time to time but ‘…must depend upon the intelligent and opulent for support in reimbursing the expenses…’, while bound in at the end is a single explanatory leaf, titled A New Exposition of the Horses Hoof, that refer to a pasteboard model of that equine extremity.
Other tracts in this little volume included Essays… on …the Nature and Cure of the Split-Hoof, Vulgarly Termed Sand-Crack and …the Causes and Cure of Running Frush in Horses’ Feet, both of which are dated 1818, plus another of 1822 …on the Canker and Corns of Horses’ Feet.
Another of the seven items that make up the collection is the advertisement ...., in which Bracy Clark announces that he has retired from all work with horses, ‘except what relates to the feet only’, and has opened a "…forge, in the Edgeware Road, near the Paddington Turnpike, for shoeing Saddle Horses, more especially, upon a New Plan, which admits the natural expansion of his Foot, and is more durable than the common shoe."
I got out my magnifying glass and was able to read some of the tiny print in Professor Clark's ad. I could read that he added at the bottom "Shoes made and sent (for ready money) to any part of the kingdom. No rasping off the natural rind of the hoof, no frog scalping--or notching of the heels allowed. A lecture on shoeing and the nature of the foot is delivered by the inventor the first Monday or every month at 12 o'clock. Admission 5 shillings." He would teach "professional characters" how to shoe according to his method for one price, and the sons of shoeing smiths for a reduced rate.
And now the big question: who bought these precious historic manuscripts? And what will he or she do with them?
Click here for original document: Bracy Clark Expansion Shoe -
Here's Bracy Clark's treatise on his tablet expansion shoe; the images are on the last pages. You can click on "full screen" at top right of the image box to read it easily and print it. The pages may load slowly, depending on the speed of your connection. I hope you will read it and realize how articulate this man was in describing the foot and his theory of hoof expansion. Read the part where he says that this shoe is his gift to horses, and that he is not patenting it so that more horses can benefit from it. In that sense, reading this reminds me of the Steward Clog.
What would I give to go back in time and head to Regent's Park for one of his Monday lunchtime lectures? This fellow's writings are worth a read, a re-read and many good long discussions to see where and how we've changed the way we look at the hoof's function. What would he say if he showed up today?
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