As an old consultant engineer I will dedicate the following posts to one of the most fascinating mechanical designs I’ve ever come across, the horse hoof.
Three Nokota horses were persuaded to jump over the big pond to settle down at our ranch about five months ago and for us this was a unique opportunity to learn straight “from the horse’s mouth” about wild unaltered horse hooves and how they differ from the usual domesticated hooves.
These Nokota horses have been living semi-wild with only little human contact for two or three horse generations. Before that they roamed free in the extremely rough Little Missouri Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in south west North Dakota for several centuries and the process of natural selection ruled out horses with bad hooves long ago. The main lines of ancestors of the Nokota horses has never been shod or trimmed for maybe 400 years. (Read about the history of the Nokota horse in six consecutive posts earlier on this blog starting with; Nokota story 1)
It is often said, and the written sources are numerous, that the hooves of wild free roaming horses (or feral horses if you insist) like the Nokota horses, generally have enormous strength and hardiness, while domesticated horses has a more varied hoof quality, ranging from fair to catastrophic.
The importance of the horse hoof
The hooves of a horse are one of the most perfected self adaptive systems in nature. The competitive horse conformation, in which the hooves play an important role, allows an eight hundred pound body to accelerate quickly and move at high speed on any ground, to outrun predators like mountain lions and wolves. One good kick from a horse hoof can easily knock out any predator. A newborn horse runs alongside her mother protected by the herd just a few hours after birth. The intelligence of the horse also meets any environmental challenge. A horse can survive thru hard winters by using their hooves to paw through deep snow, crack up ice covered water holes and scratch off hard snow crusts to get to the grass underneath. A herd of horses can cover vast areas in search for food and water making it possible to survive in desert like terrain.
The horse is likely the most successful species of all grass eaters. The only threat to the horse is Human, the dangerous one. Fortunately for the horse and for us some of our forerunners discovered that the horse could serve a better purpose than to fill our bellies, it’s probably the only reason horses still exists today.
We still have a responsibility to fulfill. The advantages our own species has received from the horse have been one of the foremost reasons for human success, no one can honestly deny that. The inventive species has come up with more effective ways of transportation and the horse has been retired, reduced to a sporting equipment and a picturesque holiday amusement, but I have a nagging feeling that the horse once again has an important role to play for our future. The horse was much more than a mere means of transportation from A to B for the first horse cultures. Isn’t the exaggerated attention and care that we put into our cars an evidence of how much we miss the horse?
Look, now I’m rambling again, this post is about the horse hoof so let’s get to the point; The hoof is much more than just the feet of a horse. Tomorrow I will post the more technical, or should I say biological, part of this horse hoof essay and describe how I recon the horse hoof is built and work, see y’all then!