Ancient Asian communities were said to have used leather and plants; the Romans invented “hipposandals” made from leather and metal.
Be it on farms or battlefields, humans have been protecting horses’ hooves for centuries.
There was a time when making horseshoes — a practice known as farriery — formed part of a blacksmith’s everyday routine. Carrying heavy loads on hard surfaces would inevitably lead to the wear and tear of a horse’s hoof.
In the competitive world of racing, a horse’s hooves might be tended to every 10 days. A well-fitted shoe can help keep a horse injury free, as well as helping with traction across muddy surfaces.
William Haggas, a trainer notable for raising two British Classic winners, employs 80 farriers who shoe 40 horses a day.
“When a horse is just in regular training they’ll wear a steel shoe,” explains Billy Mulqueen, one of Haggas’ team of farriers. “And that’s purely for durability and wear. Aluminium is used more for running, but that doesn’t wear as well in everyday training or on the concrete.”
Although Mulqueen doesn’t believe a farrier can be directly responsible for making a horse run faster, he does see his job as an essential cog in a racehorse team.
“We’re the common observers,” he says. “We spend a lot of time with the horses on our own, and we pick up things that we can transport back to head labs, vets, trainers. We’re looking after the feet and that’s very important, but we can also pick up on other stuff.
"Horses are very used to it. You’re going into the non-sensitive structure of the hoof, so if you’re accurate and get it right they shouldn’t feel it.”
Although the work lacks glamor, it is an essential part of a horse’s welfare. Haggas is quick to praise the likes of Mulqueen who help to ensure his horses are in the best condition come race day.
“It’s a fantastic job,” Haggas says, “because I get all the glory if my horses win and I don’t do any of the work. Over the course of 30 years, we’ve assembled a great team of people. We try and build a family spirit in the place. Our motto is if you work hard, you will be rewarded, whether it’s financially or otherwise.”