Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Horseshoes for the US Army: A 300-mile march on pavement tested calks for artillery horses

Here's the 112th Field Artillery, a New Jersey unit, in marching formation. Notice how close to the side of the road they are, particularly the wheels. In 1935, similar artillery horses from Fort Myer in Virginia were marched 300 miles on hard-surfaced roads to test out horseshoe designs.

How--and why--did the US Army make its decision about horseshoe policies in days gone by? The advent of paved roads in the 1920s necessitated a reaction from the Army. They realized that, in the event of war or a domestic crisis, artillery guns would be transported over pavement, and the horses' feet would have to accommodate hard-surfaced roads of different types.

The November-December 1935 edition of The Field Artillery Journal tells us about it; an account is transcribed here in red:

The First Battalion, 16th Field Artillery stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, recently completed a march from its home station to the concentration area of the First Army Reserve at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, and return to Fort Myer, Virginia.
  • Total distance covered, 301.3 miles.
  • Average march per day, 18.7 miles.
  • Speed varied between 4 and 5 miles per hour.
The entire march was made on hard surface roads with no apparent ill effects to any of the animals. The gait was the walk and trot. The first fifteen minutes of each day's march at the walk; from then on alternate walk and trot. Trotting took place only on level stretches of the road.

Horses were changed daily within the teams and sometimes by spare animals. Also the changing of complete teams from gun to caisson helped to equalize the loads. The use of Hippo Straps was resorted to upon suspicion of a sore neck and before the actual sore was apparent.

The shoeing problem presented many difficulties. Horses that walked with a drag walk--that is that would slide their feet over the road--soon wore out their shoes. Some animals would wear out a set of shoes in one day's march, others in two days, and practically all animals had to be shod within a week's time.

It was discovered that by building up a toe calk and heel calks to the same level on each shoe that they would last much longer. Caution had to be taken that heel calks did not wear down faster than the toe calks, thereby throwing the foot out of level. In one battery, 33 horses were shod in a 24-hour period.

As evidence of the splendid work done by the horseshoers, there was no case in which an animal cast a shoe during the entire march.

Another difficulty encountered was slippery roads. These were a serious menace to both animals and men and such roads should be avoided where possible. Roads of this nature are extremely difficult to recognize by motor reconnaissance. Even after stopping your car and making a very careful examination of the road surface it's a two-to-one bet that you are wrong and your nonslippery road will turn out to be something like an ice skating rink.

By experience in selection of routes this much can be said: Slippery roads usually have a high crown, that is the sides of the road slope off rather steeply, they are always made of a mixture of stone and asphalt or stone and some tar product. The appearance of the surface is most deceptive. It may appear rough or smooth and still be slippery. The presence of asphalt or tar on this surface is a sure sign of danger.

Concrete highways were found to be excellent and no slipping occurred on this type of road except where an unusual amount of repair work with tar or asphalt had been carried out.

Certain new types of asphalt pavement--such as that now being laid in Maryland on some of its state roads and the city of Washington, D.C.--make excellent footing for horses. In fact it proved to be the best type of hard surface on which to march.

The results accomplished are attributed mainly to the following reasons:
  • A thorough reconnaissance and careful selection of routes;
  • The time of day selected for the march;
  • The close supervision of the care of animals;
  • The care taken to insure a sufficiency of water for animals;
  • The superior work of the horseshoers;
  • Gaits maintained throughout the march.
(end of transcription from article)

To calk or not to calk? That was the Army's question.

Looking at these findings in hindsight, there is no discussion about any benefit or down side of raising the horse's foot off the ground with the calks, or what effect the calks may have had on the horses' foot landing patterns.

It seems the goal was to decrease the amount of time between shoeings by increasing the wear that the shoe could provide.

The author also does not comment on whether the horses had better or worse traction on different types of pavement encountered based on whether they were flat shod or shod with calks.

This video shows an artillery team in action during the National Cavalry Competition in 2011 at Fort Reno in Oklahoma; this is a unit from Fort Sill, also in Oklahoma. (Photo via U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group)

Horses today who work on pavement are often shod with various types of plastic shoes or steel that is protected with hard-surfacing "grip" material. Plastic shoes were available in the 1930s and were widely used at the time on city work horses that had to endure pavement all day, every day. Other variations, such as rope inserts on the fullered ground surface, were also in use at that time.

No followup to this article was published so it's difficult to know if the calked shoes were adopted for permanent use on the horses, or how they fared.

It was often Army policy to adopt a method of hoof trimming or one specific shoe, such as the Army's decree that the Goodenough shoe be tested on 50 percent of Army horses in the years following the Civil War. No criteria were given about which horses were best suited to that type of shoe; the goals were efficiency in stocking and procurement, economy in purchasing large quantities, and finding a shoe that offered maximum wear qualities.

Influential men all the way up to US Presidents were courted to adopt various shoe designs or trim methods for use by the US Army. The Civil War was barely ended before General Ulysses S. Grant was recommending a complete overhaul of how the US Army shod its horses. He recommended the adoption of the Dunbar system to Quartermaster Montgomery Meigs. It literally took an Act of Congress to change horseshoes for the Army, but Dunbar and Grant accomplished it.

While it seems insensitive to the horses to make judgments based solely on the longevity of a steel shoe, the Army had very practical decision-making systems that would be based on what would happen during a war situation, where the loss of a horse from work because of needing re-shoeing, or the loss of shoes, or the quick wear of shoes might affect the ability of the battalion to move the guns to new positions.

Another question this brings to mind is that calk-heeled shoes certainly weren't new. Removable calks were available commercially, as well. It is interesting that the military had been using flat shoes previously, although the reason behind that preference isn't stated--and might have been a good one to ask. 

Were calked shoes the answer to the Army's problem? Could a modification that extends shoe wear also be guaranteed to prevent slipping? There's more than one way to calk a horse, and the Army chose the most labor-intensive method: having the horseshoers (the US military did not the use of the word "farrier") forge them in the fire as part of the shoe, and from the same material. When a calk was worn, the entire shoe would need to be replaced. How efficient was that?

--story © Fran Jurga

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Thanks to the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group for their mention of the horseshoe wear study of the Fort Myers unit.

To learn more:
Historic Hoofcare: Ice Harvesting (special shoes for winter traction) 

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by John Kiernan, Chief Farrier of the Cavalry Depot, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. 

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. 

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

When the Master's Away, His Apprentices Will Play (Music, That Is)

People sometimes refer to the musical sound of horse hooves. Others remark on the music that the hammer makes on the anvil.

Hit the right thing the right away, and you'll hear a tone that you can adjust by hitting it with something else, or by hitting the same thing in a different place.

Is percussion by itself still music?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Laminitis-Surviving Rodeo Star "Vegas" Is Back: Turtle Powell's AQHA Roping Horse of the Year Returns to National Finals Rodeo

Back at it: 2010 AQHA Team Roping Header Horse of the Year RA Sonoita Silver (a.k.a. "Vegas"), was back in his namesake town last week for the comeback of a lifetime. The horse survived severe laminitis and was helped back to the arena by Lubbock, Texas farrier Blane Chapman. (Photo © Molly Morrow Photography, used with permission.)
World Champion Team Roper Turtle Powell was back in the saddle of his favorite horse last week. And no one at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) even noticed.

In the world of rodeo, bad news travels fast. When the ropers on the circuit heard that Turtle's outstanding horse "Vegas" had spent three months in vet hospitals in Montana and Washington because of fever and, eventually, severe laminitis, they shook their heads and said, "Too bad." They knew they'd never see the horse again.

Friday, December 07, 2012

On the Case: Wrapping Up a White Line Disease Rebuild

 A Series of Case Reports from The Hoof Blog

Lameness-specialist veterinarian Mark Silverman, left, and creative-thinking farrier Ernest Woodward, right, have opened the Southern California Equine Podiatry Center outside San Diego, California. The Hoof Blog asked them to share this case, which is somewhat more practical and more economical than many hoof repair treatments. 

To accomplish it, you need to know and understand the products used and their properties in order to select the right fabric, adhesive and/or impression material to insure the success of the job.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Friends at Work: Would You Put Yourself in His Shoes?

Photographer Arjan Haverkamp saw nothing unusual about this scene at the Dierenpark Amersfoort (zoo) in The Netherlands. I think he was curious about the donkey's hooves. When I saw the photo, all I could see was the farrier's shoes!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Organizations: Canadian Association of Professional Farriers Formed

 News via Press Release: 

The Canadian Association of Professional Farriers (CAPF) has been launched as an affiliate of the American Association of Professional Farriers (AAPF) to provide Canadian farriers with a professional organization that not only promotes the integrity of the farrier industry as a whole, but also strengthens the knowledge and skill set of its membership.