This 384-page work by Professor Russell has been a source of valid information for farriers for nearly 140 years. Hardly an article or research paper is written today without containing some reference to his work. That in itself speaks to the necessity of every farrier having this book on his or her bookshelf.
Russell was indeed ahead of his time. While reading this book, the apparent differences between language spoken in that era and today are obvious. The very eloquent and descriptive first chapter on observation and evaluation of the equine segments ends in an eight-line sentence summarizing his perspective.
In regard to the anatomy of the leg and hoof, Russell provides a narrative that amply describes this complex subject and couples it with over 600 hand-drawn illustrations that are very accurate in detail. It is also fun to find new terms for the common terms we use today, such as cutigeral cavity (for coronary groove).
Balance Is Critical
Russell pays close attention to the development of skills in trimming and balancing a horse’s foot with its leg. Believing that this can’t be left to guesswork, he utilizes numerous instruments to give him a true picture of the limb and hoof while analyzing the differences in each horse.
Russell provides a good narrative on shoeing different types of horses. During his lifetime, racehorses (both running and cart) and draft horses were the most elite animals. Although he offers interesting comments on the need for shoeing these horses for their individuality in conformation and work, those variances must be the practitioner’s concern and taken into consideration while shoeing.
Apparently Russell wasn’t a fan of burning toe clips into the hoof as he mentions it often produces injury or soreness to the hoof. He preferred using a knife to make a notch for the clip. He also states that shoeing horses with unequal numbers of nails on each side aids in hoof deformation and subsequently leads to unbalancing the hoof from the leg. It reminds me once again to question everything that we do.
I found it refreshing that he states that since “the hind feet differ from the front ones in shape, operation and mode of growth, a different method should be applied to them.” That contradicts what is practiced in many regions today and should give rise to questioning the practice.
While reading Russell’s chapter on therapeutic shoeing, there’s a feeling of frustration with the farrier industry, as he mentions more than once the obvious problem of farrier-induced pathology or hoof deformities. His illustrations back up his perspective on the causes and methods employed to recover them. He frequently refers to his earlier chapters on basic foot shape and proportions to help you see correctly when addressing those problems.
Continuing on this theme, Russell explains conformational issues in clear and common sense terms that predispose animals to poor gaits and the limitations of farrier practices needed to overcome these faults. Nearly 140 years later, some of his suggestions could be questionably effective, as research has provided information that was unavailable to him.
I especially enjoyed his chapter on specific and remedial shoeing. I’ve long been an advocate of using calks and traction devices for enhancing the three-dimensional plane of the hoof for placement or propulsion. Russell is a proponent of judicious use of trailers, calks, bars, drawn branches and extensions with specific problems.
While his combinations could often be deemed excessive, even by my standards, the chapter was interesting. We have either lost some of this knowledge or are too lazy to produce the shoes he suggests. As a result, not many of these techniques are practiced today.
A Hard Book To Put Down
This book is a very good read and hard to put down. After you have read it, you will understand why it has been the go-to book for many years for hoof researchers and authors. Its information is as useful today as in the late 1800s. Even if you don’t agree with all he teaches, you’ll find yourself searching for validity for your own positions as Russell presents his side of the discussion very well.
It is nice to have this book available again so we can benefit from Russell’s knowledge.