Old horseshoes usually look a bit worn and rusty. However, that doesn’t mean that they’ve reached the end of their life. Instead, you’ll be surprised to know that they’re various DIY projects you can create with old horseshoes.
Before I share some of those DIY ideas with you, how to tell how old a horseshoe is?
Well, that’s one of the most popular questions when it comes to old horseshoes. And although some people claim dating horseshoes is almost impossible, I don’t think it’s that hard. Besides, in this article, I’ll show you some tips that will help you estimate the age of any old horseshoe you’ll ever come across.
First, here is some general information you may want to know about horseshoes!
The Basics: What’s a Horseshoe?
A horseshoe refers to a fabricated U-shaped metal plate, designed to protect the horse’s hooves from wear on various surfaces. In addition, horseshoes control the horse’s interference problems and improve its gait.
In terms of construction, a horseshoe is either crafted from aluminum or steel. However, aluminum is rarely used since it is more costly. Alternatively, you can metal shoes that are coated with plastic or entirely made of plastic.
Also, there are 2-piece plastic shows that are made of steel, but feature detachable plastic inserts. To sum things up, there are different types of horseshoes out there. At the same time, different materials are used to make them.
Whichever the case, you can attach these shoes to the horse with nails. Thanks to the dense nature of the horse’s hives. More importantly, hooves don’t have nerves, meaning the nail will not inflict pain to the horse. As an alternative, you can attach the shoe on the ground side of the hood with glue.
Note, the fitting of horseshoes is done by professionals known as farriers. More importantly, legal requirements restrict people with experience and specific qualifications to do horseshoeing in some countries like the UK. However, professional licensing isn’t a legal requirement in other areas like the USA.
The History of Horseshoes
Before the invention of automobiles, the horse was the main mode of transportation in the USA. But with the invention of cars between 1901 and 1960, the population of horses declined.
Interestingly, their population increased again in the early 1960 due to the popularity of horse riding and racing as recreation activities. Since then, the population of horses has been relatively stable, although horse racing isn’t that popular due to the emergence of other forms of gambling.
Back to the main topic, the invention of horseshoes dates back to the time people started domesticating horses. The main aim of inventing horseshoes was to protect working horses from being exposed to severe conditions.
More notably, this will protect their hooves from excessive damage or breakage when they come into contact with sharp items in the ground. Also, this would protect them from the constant strain caused by traveling several miles a day, making them more useful for longer.
To be precise, the earliest type of horseshoes can be traced back to 400 BC. Romans used leather strap gears, plants and hides to make these shoes. While in Ancient Asia, horseshoes were crafted from woven plants. Apart from protection, these shoes soothed existing injuries on the horse’s hooves.
Moving on to Northern Europe, horses experienced some difficulties getting a toehold on the terrain due to the area’s cold & wet climate. This prompted the invention of nailing metal horseshoes between the 6th and 17th century.
On the downside, historians find it difficult to concur on various accounts when the fitting of horseshoes started. Moreover, cast iron horseshoes were often repurposed to create other forms of metal craft such as weapons.
As a result, proving how horseshoes started has become a bit difficult due to scarcity of archeological findings. Nonetheless, the ongoing assumption is that horse riding started around 3500 BC. But horseshoes became popular, especially in Europe about 1000 AD.
During this period, the shoes were crafted from light bronze alloy and featured 6 nail holes and a scalloped shape structure. This scallop-shape design disappeared over time, and 2 nail holes were added to the shoes. Specifically, the design was replaced by a heavier and wide structure.
And when horseshoes became a common item around the 14th Century, they started selling in bulk in medieval Europe. More importantly, the design of specialized horseshoes started to suit horses used in various circumstances like war and transportation.
However, the production of horseshoes reached its peak in the 1800s, thanks to the industrial revolution. Also, a machine that could produce 60 horseshoes/ hour was patented in the USA in 1835.
This played an important role in the victory of the Northern armies during the Civil War in the 1860s since they had a horseshoe-manufacturing machine. As a result, their horses were better equipped than the Southern forces’, which enhanced their performance on the battlefield.
During the 1900 Olympic Games, equestrian (horseback riding) was introduced as a competitive sport. Something that triggered the commercial success of horseshoes in the early 1990s. More importantly, these generally led to the popularity of horseshoes as we know them today.
How To Tell How Old a Horseshoe is? Estimate The Age of A Horseshoe
Although nailed horseshoes are being used up to this day, they were first introduced in the 9th – 10th centuries. Specifically, the earliest approved shoes with nail-holes was discovered in the later 9th Century in Winchester.
In terms of appearance, these shoes have relatively wide webs and are thin (2-3mm). More notably, their nail-holes are found within rectangular countersinking. Note, these types of horseshoes can be categorized as Clark type-1 (Early-medieval shoes) and are usually found in Europe.
Medieval horseshoes (Clark’s type 2) dates back to the later 11the Century up to later 13th Century. Unlike type 1 horseshoes, they have thicker (5+ mm) and narrower webs. In addition, their countersinking create ‘lobate’ or wavy edges.
Another thing worth mentioning about type 2 horseshoes is that they are subdivided into 2 groups; 2A & 2B. Luckily, you can easily distinguish these sub-type by the nail-holes within the countersinking. In general, Type 2A have circular nail holes and date back to the late 11th century – 13th century.
On the contrary, Type 2B horseshoes have rectangular nail holes and date between mid-12th Century and 13th Century. Also, around 90 percent of type 2B horseshoes have Calkins. However, in both cases, each branch has 3 nails, which usually have fiddle-key heads.
Moving on, Clark’s Type 3 horseshoes date from the 13th/ 14th century. They’re also referred to as transitional horseshoes since their countersinking have rectangular holes just like type 2B.
However, they have wider webs and smooth edges. In addition, about 75% of these shoes have Calkins and each branch has 3-4 nail holes.
Shoes classified as Clark’s type 4 (Dove/ Guildhall/ Later Medieval) date between the 14th Century and 16the century. They have wide webs, but lack countersinking. As a result, their nail holes flare up towards the ground.
Also, some horseshoes within this category feature a unique angular inner profile at their toe end. Not to forget that each branch has 3-4 holes and more than 50% of them have Calkins.
Generally speaking, older horseshoes are simple and feature larger nail holes. Also, they’re thicker than the newer ones. So, if you come across a large and heavy horseshoe with more than 6 nails, chances are that it existed before the 17th century.
However, with the patenting of the 1st horseshoe manufacturing machine in 1835, the shoes started having more ‘perfect’ shapes. On the same note, shoes manufactured from the 1st half of the 19th Century have slender designs with fullers.
DIY Uses of old Horseshoes
There are many creative ideas you can use if you have old horseshoes. For instance, you can nail the old shoes to a smaller wood piece to create a jewelry/ key holder. Other DIY projects you can use them for include creating;
- Picture frame
- Wall decor
- Wine rack
- Towel rack
- Horseshoe pit
Hopefully, after going through this post, you can easily tell how old a horseshoe is. So, if you come across an old shoe, either in the field or in an antique store, check out the properties we’ve highlighted above. They will help you estimate its age, before you use it for your next DIY project.