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No Foot, No Horse

He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse’s health, a boy’s love, or a whore’s oath.—Fool, King Lear (3.6.18)

Receipt books in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection contain not only remedies for human ailments but also cures for domestic animals such as horses. Such a receipt book, MS V.a.140, contains three pages of remedies (fols. 6v/7r, fols. 7v/8r, and fols. 8v/9r) for common ailments of horses. Of the seven ailments mentioned in this manuscript, four involve the horse’s feet or hooves.

There is an old saying among horsemen, “No foot, no horse.” Despite their size and strength, horses are notoriously fragile animals. Four slender legs and small hooves must bear the horse’s full weight of eight hundred to two thousand pounds. Horses were essential to the economy and society of Shakespeare’s time. British economic historian Peter Edwards, author of Horse and Man in Early Modern England (2007), has written extensively on the importance of horses in early modern England. Not only were they a source of transportation, horses were also essential to mounted warfare, agriculture, and courtly pastimes such as tournaments, hunting, and manège riding (dressage). Therefore, horse owners paid particular attention to the care of their horses’ feet and hooves. Read More…

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