The development of the horse shoe has allowed for exploration and territorial conquest, agricultural expansion and travel between settlements for trade and communication. The general consensus is that horses were first ridden around 3500 BC. It became apparent shortly thereafter that if horses were to be used to travel faster and further than a man on foot while carrying said man on their backs, their feet needed protection from rough terrain. So, the quest began to reduce wear and tear on the domesticated equine hoof.
1. The earliest form of hoof protection was seen in ancient Asia, where horses’ hooves were wrapped in rawhide, leather or other materials for both therapeutic purposes and protection from wear.
2. Around 2500 BC, the Romans were using horses in warfare and for transportation and strapped on leather or iron “hipposandals” to protect the feet of their chariot horses.
3. Although the origin of the nailed-on horse shoe remains under debate, their first appearance occurred in an Etruscan tomb from around 400 BC. In 1897, four bronze horse shoes with what are presumed to be nail holes were found.
4. By 1000 AD, most metal shoes were made from a light bronze alloy characterized by a scalloped shape and six nail holes. These survive as archeological evidence in a variety of regions along with several changes in shape and number of nail holes.
5. Because iron was a valuable commodity, and any worn-out items were generally melted down and reused, it is difficult to locate clear archaeological evidence of the earliest nailed iron horse shoes and it is unknown who first developed them. However…
6. The soft, wet ground of northern Europe overly softened hooves and strapped coverings were easily pulled off. In these damp settings, horses used in farming and transportation became susceptible to soundness problems and had trouble gaining a toehold on the surface. Horsemen tried various remedies, and by the sixth and seventh centuries began almost exclusively nailing metal shoes onto their horses’ feet.
7. By the time of the Crusades (1096-1270), iron horse shoes were widespread and frequently mentioned in various written sources. In that period, due to the value of iron, horse shoes were even accepted in lieu of coin to pay taxes.
8. By the 13th century, iron shoes were forged in large quantities and could be bought ready-made. Hot shoeing, the process of shaping a heated horse shoe immediately before placing it on the horse, became common in the 16th century. Blacksmithing became a prized trade that contributed to the development of metallurgy.
9. In 1835, the first U.S. patent for a horse shoe manufacturing machine capable of making up to 60 horse shoes per hour was issued to Henry Burden of Troy, NY. Burden Iron Works became the chief horse shoe producer for the Union Army and is now a historical site and museum.
10. In mid-18th-century Canada, marsh horse shoes kept horses from sinking into the soft intertidal mud during dike-building. In a common design, a metal bar and leather straps held a flat wooden shoe in place, but there are variations.