A Little Bit of Barefoot History
by Nancy Filbert, Strasser Hoofcare Professional ©2006

1. Ancient Hittite Chariot war horses were trained and used barefoot, and in their 6 months of training would cover about 4474 miles in this period. They would cover an average of 47-125 miles per day.

2. Xenophon, the 4th Century B.C. Calvary Commander, wrote detailed instructions on how to care for horses’ hooves (barefoot) in a very detailed fashion. He also wrote that a horse’s life-span should range between 40-50 years.

3. General Daumas, who studied the Bedouins (Arabia), writes: “A good horse in the desert must cover consecutively for 5 or 6 days, 69-108 miles, have 2 days of rest and start again...On the other hand, one does not seldom see horses cover 138-166 miles in 24 hours.”

4. F. Von Schwarz states that “At the time when the Turkmenen’s raids were still in full bloom, participants in such raids covered on their horses, with loot and prisoners, in the waterless desert not seldom distances of 621 miles in 5 days.”

5. Markus Junkelmann, in his 3 volume work “The Riders of Rome,” examined Greek and Roman texts and found no mention of horseshoes. Nor did he see a need for the Romans to shoe their horses. He and his team recreated a Roman Calvary Unit and rode similar distances and terrains, finding that 280 miles proved no difficulty for their barefoot horses.

6. No Roman work of art shows a single shod hoof.

7. All of the exploits of Alexander The Great were accomplished on barefoot horses. Alexander’s horse Bucephalus was mortally wounded in battle at age 30!

Ancient writings and historical facts clearly reference that shoeing did not come to be until about the 9th Century, when it was introduced to Western and Central Europe. Before this, shoeing was completely unknown. This means that many civilizations, relying completely upon the horse for transportation and war purposes, put a whole lot of miles on barefoot horses for many, many years, under a wide variety of terrain and conditions.

These ancient writings went into great detail about the care of such horses’ hooves, consistently writing about toughening them; there was never mention of hoof protection of any kind. Nor was there mention about the myriad of hoof problems that we face today. If one compares the pre-medieval writings about the horse (barefoot) compared with the books written during medieval times (horses were shod), one finds that the more recent writings are filled with hoof and leg problems, and discussions on how to cure these; whereas in ancient texts, this topic is utterly absent.

This information can be easily referenced in the book “Shoeing, a Necessary Evil?” (Hiltrud Strasser). For those history buffs that feel the need to research further for their own interests, the sources for the information printed above are clearly listed. This is just the “tip of the iceberg,” as far as the amount of information written on the subject of the history of barefooted horses.

©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.


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