History of a Farrier

In the beginning the was a need for a person to shape a new material.

A Short History of the Term "Farrier"

© Tom Ryan, FWCF

The meaning of the term "farrier" has changed dramatically over the centuries from a horse doctor to a person who shoes horses. How the change of usage came about isn't clear, and the reason is probably lost in the mists of time. The few remaining sources of information come mostly from old books.

Many people are often surprised by the volume of treatments and remedies found in old farriery books and the lack of information on horseshoeing. This is because, historically, a farrier was a horse doctor. It is only in the last hundred years that people who shod horses began calling themselves farriers.

There are differing opinions on where the word "farrier" originated. It is said that the term "farrier" has two possible sources: From the Latin, faber ferrarius (faber meaning craftsman and ferrarius meaning metal), together literally means blacksmith.

In the begging there was a BLACKSMITH.


Longfellow wrote - "Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands . . . " A staunch pillar of the community respected and admired by all, was the smith of our forefathers.

The ancient and venerable craft of blacksmithing lifted man from the Stone Age. One of the oldest references is in the Scriptures: Genesis, Chapter 4, Verse 22: "Tubal Cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron."

In the history of the blacksmiths' art no period was richer in inventive fancy than that of the Middle Ages. The European smiths had a thorough understanding of the technicalities of iron. During this period of the Middle Ages, both the form and artistic workmanship of iron smithing was brought to perfection. Even the common domestic items such as the homely gridiron and the pothook could compare with the elaborate hinge on a church door. Even a nail head was a thing of beauty.

The medieval smith made the chain mail for the soldiers of the Crusades, the term "mail" means hammered. All the weapons of war - armor, swords, maces, battle-axes, etc., were handiwork of the Smith. These were made entirely with the hammer and anvil, the pieces welded and riveted by manual labor of the smith. The finishing work of engraving, chasing and punching was also done by hand. Examples of the elaborate art of smithing can be found in the 12th and 13th century churches of Europe - from the intricate detail of the door plates, hinges, knockers, to the window grilles and railings, to the yard fences and gates on the church grounds.

On thru history the smith plied his skills with metals. Anchors for the sailing ships of Columbus; smiths forged the chain across, the Hudson River to block the British fleet; George Washington retired his troops to the "Valley of the Forges" to repair his arms and equipment; -- events which shaped the history of the United States.

Many great men of history practiced the smithing trade. All of our tools, machines, engines and horseless carriages originated in the blacksmith shop. Mr. Studebaker was a blacksmith, then a wagon maker, and in the early 1900's he started building autos and trucks. Many specific trades or crafts have evolved from the basic blacksmith skills of yesteryear.

 Then The Farrier

In Dollar & Wheatley's "Horse Shoeing and The Horse's Foot," the authors state that Henry de Ferraris was instructed by William the Conqueror to superintend and encourage the art of farriery. Probably the people he employed as animal doctors were only later called farriers after their overmaster, and this could be the most likely source of the term farrier.

The next reference to a farrier is in 1356, when the mayor of the City of London called together the farriers of London to form the "Marshalls of the City of London" because of the "many offences and dangers" committed by the farriers in and around London. The term "marshal" comes from Old Frankish marhshelk, literally horse servant. A marechal was a man who had charge of the horses in Norman France. The Normans brought their marechals to England with them and the name soon became Anglicized to marshal (1).

The Great Fire of London in 1666 caused great confusion to the livery companies and was the reason that a new charter was sought from Charles II. It was granted in 1674, setting up the "Brotherhood of Farryers within our cities of London and Westminster." The charter said there should be a master, three wardens and not above twenty nor under ten assistants. The charter named 49 persons as "farryers" practicing within seven miles of the City of London. One of the first three assistants was Andrew Snape who was farrier to Charles II and author of the book, "The Anatomy of the Horse." One key section of the charter describes the power of the master, wardens and assistants to search "with a constable or other lawful officer in the day time only to enter into any shops, cellars, stables, other suspected places within the said cities, liberties, precincts, and places aforesaid, there to search for, and find out all and every misdemeanor and defective works and medicines to the intent that due legal prosecution may be had and taken against all and every such offenders." It is important to note that the charter makes no direct mention of horseshoeing.

In a testimonial by George Daggett made in 1691 to the Company of Farriers, Daggett said that three books were given to him by the outgoing clerk named Strugnell, who surrendered the books to him when he became clerk in 1679. The first two books recorded accounts and apprentices going back some forty years before the fire, while the third, a small old book held "some few things of little concern." These three surviving books of records, which may have belonged to the original Marshalls of the City of London, were all that survived the Great Fire of London. The three surviving books were not at the house of a Mr. Nicholls or his son's, which were both destroyed by the fire but in some other place.

The documents, which were lost in the three days of the fire, may well have illuminated past centuries in the dark history of farriery.

The turning point for the old practitioner farriers came about in the year of 1796 when on the 3rd of March the Adjutant General of the Army, instructed by His Royal Highness the Duke of York, asked the president of a standing committee of officers which met in London to report on various matters concerning the cavalry, including "the veterinary collage and whether its instruction should furnish the means to improve the present practice of farriery," i.e., the treatment of diseases in horses.

In April, 1796, the committee reported the following: "The Board having taken into consideration the heavy loss of horses continually accruing to the Cavalry from the total ignorance of those who have at present the medical care of them, as well as from the very inadequate allowance for that Department, which precludes all possibility of procuring persons better skilled in the knowledge of farriery, are of the opinion that a veterinary college may afford the greater improvement in this essential part of the service...." Finally, on 24 May, 1796, colonels of cavalry regiments were informed by the committee on their plans to improve the practice of farriery in the corps of cavalry, that "A person properly educated and having received a certificate from the medical committee of the Veterinary College shall be attached to each regiment having the name of Veterinary Surgeon, that the appointment is by warrant for not less than seven years, and that the Veterinary Surgeon shall have the same pay as a Quarter Master of Cavalry viz. 5s 6d per diem."

The committee was puzzled by what name to give these novel recruits and wished to differentiate between surgeons of men and surgeons of horses. Being well grounded in the classics, they chose to call them "Veterinary Surgeons." The term "veterinary" comes from the Roman name for a hospital for sick and wounded horses, called a veterinarian. This is believed to be the original formation of the title, "Veterinary Surgeon" (2).

In "The Horse," by W. Youatt, New Edition 1843, Chapter XXI, "Shoeing," all references to the person shoeing the horse are to the "smith," e.g., (page 418): "The old shoe must first be taken off. We have something to observe even here. The shoe was retained on the foot by the ends of the nails being twisted off, turned down, and clenched. These clenches should be first raised, which the smith seldom takes the trouble thoroughly to do...." Later the author states, "The shoe having been removed, the smith proceeds to rasp the edges of the crust." In the next chapter, "Operations," the author starts with the words, "These being more to the veterinary-surgeon than the proprietor of the horse, but a short account of the manner of conducting the principal ones (operations) should not be omitted." During a discussion of the practice of bleeding, the author states, "In cases of inflammation, and in the hands of a skilful practitioner, bleeding is the sheet-anchor of the veterinarian; yet few things are more to be reprobated than the indiscriminate bleeding of (sic.) The groom or the farrier." It would seem that the author differentiates between smith, veterinarian and farrier, the latter being less skillful at bleeding the horse.

A book published in 1852, "Every Man His Own Farrier," gives a graphic description of the work of a farrier from this age. In the first chapter the author states that he has little knowledge of horseshoeing except to say that all shoeing smiths differ in their ways of working. The remaining chapters make terrifying reading, covering the topics of bleeding and purging of horses, seemingly to inflict only pain upon the poor horse.

One of the first references to horseshoeing in the Court Minutes of The Worshipful Company of Farriers was on 11 January 1887, 213 years after its charter was granted, and stated: "That a committee be now appointed to consider and report whether it is desirable that the Company should open a registry for the entry therein of the names, addresses and ages of any Master and Journeymen Farriers who shall pass a practical examination in the art of making shoes and shoeing horses...." The Worshipful Company's interest in horseshoeing was shown by the offering of the freedom of the Company to prize winners at horseshoeing competitions held in Nottingham on 10 July 1888, and with the introduction of the RSS examination for shoeing smiths, first organized in 1891, followed by the Associate ship in 1907 and the Fellowship in 1923. By this time a farrier was recognized as one who solely shod horses.

All the "treatments" used by the early horse doctor/farriers seemed to hold little scientific value and inflicted only misery upon the horse. The practices described in the old farriery books would have caused many secondary infections and it is these practices, which brought farriery into such disrepute time and time again through the ages. It was the founding of the veterinary college, which signaled the end of this old and cruel farriery. Perhaps as the demand for medical advice shifted to the veterinary surgeon, farriers turned to shoeing horses or horseshoers offered remedies to the horse owners, calling themselves smiths and farriers. It is even feasible that the Worshipful Company of Farriers of a hundred years ago, which had neglected its duty to its profession for decades, concentrated only on its own court and dinners - and woke up too late to help the animal practitioner.

How the transition from "horse doctor" to "shoeing smith" to "farrier" really took place, I'm not sure, but took place it surely did.



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A bronze sculpture depicting a farrier at work.

A much more common farrier's posture and work

A farrier is a specialist in equine hoof care, including the trimming and balancing of a horse's hoof so as to fit shoes to the horses foot. A farrier couples a subset of the blacksmith's skills (fabricating, adapting, and adjusting metal shoes) with a subset of veterinary medicine (knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the lower limb) to address the care of the horse's feet.

At one time, farrier and blacksmith were all but synonymous. A farrier's work in Colonial America would have included horseshoeing as well as the fabrication and repair of tools, the forging of architectural pieces, etc. Today, farriers usually specialize in horseshoeing, focusing their time and effort on the care of the horses foot. For this reason farriers and blacksmiths are considered to be in separate, albeit related trades.

A farrier's routine work is primarily hoof trimming and shoeing. In ordinary cases it is important to trim each hoof so that it retains its proper orientation to the ground. If the animal has a heavy work load, works on abrasive footing, needs additional traction, or has pathological changes in the foot, then shoes may be required.

Additional tasks for the farrier include dealing with injured and/or diseased hooves and application of special shoes for racing, training or "cosmetic" purposes. In cases of horses with certain diseases or injuries, special reparative procedures may be needed for the hooves, and then special shoes may need to be constructed and fitted.

[OE. farrour, ferrer, OF. ferreor, ferrier, LL. Ferrator, ferrarius equorum, from ferrare to shoe a horse, ferrum a horseshoe, fr. L. ferrum iron. Cf. Ferreous.]



THE evolution of the modern horse-shoe from the primitive foot-gear for draught animals used in ancient times furnishes an interesting subject for investigation. Xenophon and other historians recommended various processes for hardening and strengthening the hoofs of horses and mules, and from this negative evidence some writers have inferred that the ancients were ignorant of farriery. It seems indeed certain that the practice of protecting the feet of horses was not universal among the Greeks and Romans. Fabretti, an Italian antiquary, examined with care the representations of horses on many ancient columns and marbles, and found but one instance in which the horse appeared to be shod; and in most specimens of ancient art the iron horse-shoe is conspicuous by its absence. But in the mosaic portraying the battle of Issus, which was unearthed at Pompeii in 1831, and which is now in the Naples Museum, is the figure of a horse whose feet appear to be shod with iron shoes similar to those in modern use; and in an ancient Finnish incantation against the plague, quoted in Lenormant's "Chaldean Magic and Sorcery," occur these lines:

O Scourge depart; Plague, take thy flight. . . . I will give thee a horse with which to escape, whose shoes shall not slide on ice, nor whose feet slip on the rocks.

No allusion to the horse-shoe is made by early writers on veterinary topics. But, on the other hand, there is abundant testimony that the ancients did sometimes protect the feet of their beasts of burden. Winckelmann, the Prussian art historian, describes an antique engraved stone representing a man holding up a horse's foot, while an assistant, kneeling, fastens on a shoe. In the works of the Roman poet Catullus occurs the simile of the iron shoe of a mule sticking in the mire. Contemporary historians relate that the Emperor Nero caused his mules to be shod with silver, while golden shoes adorned the feet of the mules belonging to the notorious Empress Poppaea. Mention of an iron horseshoe is made by Appian, a writer not indeed remarkable for accuracy; but the phrase "brasen-footed steeds," which occurs in Homer's Iliad, is regarded by commentators as a metaphorical expression for strength and endurance. Wrappings of plaited fibre, as hemp or broom, were used by the ancients to protect the feet of horses. But the most common form of foot covering for animals appears to have been a kind of leathern sock or sandal, which was sometimes provided with an iron sole. This covering was fastened around the fetlocks by means of thongs, and could be easily removed.

Iron horse-shoes of peculiar form, which have been exhumed in Great Britain of recent years, have been objects of much interest to archaeologists. In 1878 a number of such relics shaped for the hoof and pierced for nails were found at a place called Caesar's Camp, near Folkstone, England. In the south of Scotland, also, ancient horse-shoes have been found, consisting of a solid piece of iron made to cover the whole hoof and very heavy. In the year 1653 a piece of iron resembling a horse-shoe, and having nine nail-holes, was found in the grave of Childeric I., king of the Franks, who died A.D. 481. Professor N. S. Shaler believes that the iron horse-shoe was invented in the fourth century, and from the fact that it was first called selene, the moon, from its somewhat crescent-like shape, he concludes that it originated in Greece. But even in the ninth century, in France, horses were shod with iron on special occasions only, and the early Britons, Saxons, and Danes do not appear to have had much knowledge of ferriery. The modern art of shoeing horses is thought to have been generally introduced in England by the Normans under William the Conqueror. Henry de Ferrars, who accompanied that monarch, is believed to have received his surname because he was intrusted with the inspection of the farriers; and the coat-of-arms of his descendants still bears six horse-shoes.

On the gate of Oakham Castle, an ancient Norman mansion in Rutlandshire, built by Wakelin de Ferrars, son of the first earl of that name, were formerly to be seen a number of horse-shoes of different patterns.

The estate is famous on account of the tenure of the barons occupying it. Every nobleman who journeyed through its precincts was obliged as an act of homage to forfeit a shoe of the horse whereon he rode, or else to redeem it with a sum of money; and the horse-shoes thus obtained were nailed upon the gate, but are now within on the walls of the castle.

These walls are covered by memorials of royal personages and peers, who have thus paid tribute to the custom of the county.

Queen Elizabeth was thought to have initiated this practice, though this opinion is incorrect. According to tradition she was once journeying on a visit to her lord high treasurer, William Cecil, the well-known Lord Burleigh, at his residence near Stamford. While through Oakham her horse is said to have cast a shoe, and in memory of the mishap the queen ordered a large iron shoe to be made and hung up in the castle, and that every nobleman traveling through the town should follow her example.

A similar usage prevails to-day, new shoes being proof shapes and sizes chosen by the donors.

While John of Gaunt (1339-99), son of Edward III. of England, was riding through the town of Lancaster, his horse cast a shoe, which was kept as a souvenir by the townspeople, and fastened in the middle of the street. And in accordance with a time-honored custom a new shoe is placed in the same spot every seven years by the residents of Horse-Shoe Corner.

The practical value of the horse-shoe is tersely expressed in the old German saying, "A nail preserves a country;" for the nail keeps in place the horse-shoe, the shoe protects the foot of the horse, the horse carries the knight, the knight holds the castle, and the castle defends the country.

The followiny story from Grimm's "Household Tales" (vol. ii. p. 303) may be appropriate in this place, as illustrating the same idea, besides pointing a moral.


Anvil Brand






Grand Champion



Natural Balance




St. Croix

Thoro' Bred




Grand Circuit



The Nail.

A merchant had done a good business at the fair; he had sold his wares and lined his money-bags with gold and silver. Then he wanted to travel homeward and be in his house before nightfall. So he packed his trunk with the money on his horse and rode away. At noon he rested in a town, and when he wanted to go farther the stable-boy brought out his horse and said: "A nail is wanting, sir, in the shoe of its left hind foot." "Let it be wanting," answered the merchant; "the shoe will certainly stay on for the six miles I have still to go; I am in a hurry," In the afternoon, when he once more alighted and had his horse fed, the stable-boy went to him and said, "Sir, a shoe is missing from your horse's left hind foot; shall I take him to the blacksmith?" "Let it still be wanting," answered the man, "the horse can very well hold out for the couple of miles which remain; I am in haste." He rode forth, but before long the horse began to limp. It had not limped long before it began to stumble, and it had not stumbled Iong before it fell down and broke its leg. The merchant was forced to leave the horse where it was, and unbuckle the trunk, take it on his back, and go home on foot. And there he did not arrive until quite late at night. "And that unlucky nail," said he to himself, "has caused all this disaster." Hasten slowly.








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