Farriery and Horses at the Edward Worth Library

Farriery and Horses at the Edward Worth Library


An exhibition curated by Ms Michelle White, Fourth Year Student,

Wake Forest University,

North Carolina,



The Experienc’d Farrier by E.R. Gent


E.R. Gent, The Experienc’d Farrier (London, 1720), title page.


While Edward Worth’s copy of E.R. Gent’s The Experienc’d Farrier is a fourth edition printed in 1720, the text was originally published in 1678 as part of a slew of farriery books that rode the coattails of John Halfpenny’s success with his The Gentleman’s Jockey and Approved Farrier (London, 1672).[1] Many of the authors of these farrier books, including the anonymous E.R. Gent, used the same structure and similar content as Halfpenny’s text, and publishers issued them over thirty times before 1719.[2] Several decades before authors argued that knowledge of farriery and equine medicine was knowledge that all gentlemen should possess, authors like E.R. Gent argued that this type of knowledge was vital for racers and jockeys.


During the Restoration of the English Monarchy, horse racing was established as the sport of English kings, with King Charles II (1630-1685), directing his enthusiastic patronage to races at Newmarket.[3] As equine sports designed to be drills for military skills declined, equine sports that reflected the elite standing of the horse’s owner began to emerge.[4] Once a sphere where individuals could test or prove their manly and martial qualities, equestrian events and sports became a realm of showing off wealth and privilege. Particularly in the racing world, gentlemen rode their own horses less and less, allowing that privilege to be undertaken by hired jockeys. Additionally, in 1671, new laws opening up previously restricted lands for the gentry to use for events such as hunts, expanded equine sports to those who had not had such opportunities due to their lack of land access.[5] The need and desire for athletically gifted horses sparked an expansion of breeding in England and the surrounding countries. Tudor and Stuart monarchs ‘took the lead in improving the quality of the stock’ by importing Barbs, Turkomans, Neapolitans and other foreign horses with the intentions of improving the royal stud and producing more magnificent equine athletes.[6]


E. R. Gent, The Experienc’d Farrier (London, 1720), ‘To the Reader’, Sig. A2r.


While the general increase in the equine population in Europe certainly was motivation for the creation of specialized equine medicines and texts like E.R. Gent’s, the development of a specialized and extremely costly equine culture furthered that demand. The value of horse care increased as equine sport became a common part of the English social calendar in the eighteenth century and as the pedigrees of horses grew more impressive.[7] During this same time period, however, being a farrier or an individual who was responsible for caring for horses was seen as a lowly profession. E.R. Gent and other comparable authors were among the first to address the issue that many horse owners desired equine medicine worthy of the elite, but only had common farriers to care for their horses. This propelled a movement of authors claiming to be gentlemen who wrote for a gentlemen audience and encouraged the gentry to become involved in farriery and equine medicine.


Using ‘Gent’ as a surname, a handful of authors, including E.R. Gent, A.S. Gent, F.M. Gent, and G.L. Gent, presented themselves to their audiences as fellow gentlemen. In his The Experience’d Farrier, E.R. Gent claims that his text has been ‘put into a better Form and Method than ever any before printed’ and that any horseman should ‘be glad to be acquainted with such Methods to preserve’ the equines in his charge.[8] He presented the information in his treatise as being improvements upon previous knowledge published by farriers and requested that his readers judge his book without partiality.[9] It is important to note that E.R. Gent, much like other authors of farriery and equine medicine at the time, stressed the superiority of their texts over the ones that came before. This is emblematic of the gradual shift of the practice of farriery and equine medicine from a low-ranking occupation to one higher up on the social ladder.


E. R. Gent, The Experienc’d Farrier (London, 1720), Part  I, p. 1.


Andrew Snape, The Anatomy of An Horse (London, 1686)


Andrew Snape, The Anatomy of an Horse (London 1686), Image of horses “In Fields nor Pasture”.


Andrew Snape (1644-1708), a sergeant farrier to King Charles II (1630-1685), published The Anatomy of an Horse in 1683 (Worth bought a 1686 edition). The first book specifically on equine anatomy ever to be published in the English language, The Anatomy of an Horse combines an ‘exact and full description of the frame, situation and connection of all his parts’ with forty-nine copper plate illustrations of the equine bodily structure. While the copper plates are primarily taken from Carlo Ruini’s (1530-1598) book on the anatomy of the horse, Anatomia del Cavallo (1598), the text of the book is a culmination of observations of equine dissections and Snape’s assertions of each body part’s function, bolstered by citations of the seventeenth-century human physicians Thomas Willis (1621-1675) and Helkiah Crooke (1576-1648).


From Snape’s perspective, the role of the physician and the role of the farrier were on almost entirely equal levels of significance, despite the difference in the type of patient. In his treatise, he stresses the importance of describing equine anatomy in an easily accessible and understandable language so that all individuals who have horses in their charge might adequately give them care. Particularly in the early modern period, the horse was representative of an individual’s standing in society so it is understandable why a farrier to the king would emphasize the proper education and favorable recognition for those individuals who cared for equines. To find out more see the Worth Library Book of the Month for August 2018!


The Farriers New Guide by William Gibson


William Gibson, The Farriers New Guide (London, 1725), title page.


Initially published in 1720, The Farriers New Guide was one of William Gibson’s (1680-1751), forays into a movement of eighteenth-century British surgeons determined to transform the then distasteful and low-ranking practice of farriery into a field that was dominated by the attentions of genteel writers and educated men. A trained surgeon, Gibson served with Colonel Tyrell’s Regiment of Foot and, later, with the 16th Dragoons under Colonel Charles Churchill.[10] It was during this time that Gibson had the opportunity to ‘observe the difficulties mounted troops had with diseases and injuries of their horses.’[11] Despite the fact that taking up farriery meant taking a step down the social ladder, Gibson seems to have anticipated the struggles of being an ageing ex-army surgeon in a world where there were more surgeons than surgery and therefore willingly entered the field of farriery. Gibson’s decision occurs during and marks an important transition period in the professionalization and specialization of veterinary medicine. Up until Gibson’s time, no medical man in England would risk the stigma of writing about animal disease, let alone actually participate in its practice.[12]


William Gibson, The Farriers New Guide (London, 1725), Tab. V, facing p. 70.


The title of Gibson’s text was not just an implication that his knowledge and methods were superior to those that came before, but were, in fact, a new style of farriery that was ‘more dependent upon medical practices and anatomical and physiological knowledge’ than old farriery.[13] In fact, Gibson dedicates an entire chapter and a large portion of his preface to pointing out that errors were made even by the most prominent and celebrated equine authors. He notes that, ‘Solleyfell, who is deservedly reputed the best Author, was even faulty in these Respects’ and informs the reader that he has remedied such errors in The Farriers New Guide.[14] Gibson assures his audience that ‘our Meaning in this was not to find fault; but in order to their Amendment.’[15] It is obvious throughout his text that Gibson was disappointed with the manner in which veterinary medicine, once esteemed and progressed by ancient societies, had fallen into decay and had been taken up by those not entirely prepared or worthy to do so. From the Middle Ages onward, the care of horses was laid upon farriers with ‘hands more accustomed to lifting the feet of horses than to holding aloft the torch of scientific inquiry.’[16]


William Gibson, The Farriers New Guide (London, 1725), Tab. VII, facing p. 98.


The Farriers New Guide was atypical in the sense that it contained departures from the traditional veterinary standards for equines and from the usual style of farriery treatises at the time. Gibson’s Guide was the first work in English on the diseases of the horse that contained more than a fleeting attempt at equine anatomy, even though it was a simple abridgement of Andrew Snape’s Anatomy of an Horse.[17] Furthermore, Gibson’s Guide made a point of disagreeing strongly with some common equine practices and did not simply republish cures and treatments for the sake of custom if they were not useful. For instance, Gibson chastises those who would let the blood of a healthy horse in an effort to prevent disease or because it is a certain season.[18] As bloodletting was an incredibly normal precaution and treatment during this time period, such advice was certainly exceptional. Gibson also excluded a collection of medicines and chemical remedies from his work, a component that would usually occupy a large portion of earlier farrier treatises. Instead, he chose to publish an entirely separate text for such contents.


Beginning with his The Farrier’s New Guide, Gibson’s four published texts became some of the most influential books on eighteenth-century farriery and equine medicine. His influence found its way into almost every farriery text up to the beginning of the nineteenth century.[19] However, The Farrier’s New Guide, in particular, remained as one of the public’s favorites, with eight editions published before Gibson printed his New Treatise in 1751.[20] Edward Worth’s copy of Gibson’s Guide is a third edition, printed in 1725.


William Gibson, The Farriers New Guide (London, 1725), Frontispiece: A Table of Diseases.


The Farriers Dispensatory by William Gibson


William Gibson, The Farriers Dispensatory (London, 1721), title page.


Published in 1721, The Farriers Dispensatory was William Gibson’s (1680-1751) supplement to his Farriers Guide. The second of his four published texts, the Dispensatory was a welcome successor to the incredibly well-received Farriers New Guide. This treatise was dedicated to Sir William Hope of Balcomie (1660-1724), a prominent equestrian and a translator of Jacques Solleysel’s (1617-1680) The Compleat Horseman (London, 1696). Sir William Hope believed that Gibson’s work was monumental and enlightening, going so far as to say that, ‘But be that as it will I am mightily well pleased that I can truly say, Britain has now a Gibson, as France formerly a Solleysell.’[21]


William Gibson, The Farriers Dispensatory (London, 1721), epistle dedicatory.


Gibson firmly believed that, at least at the time, those ‘endeavouring to make their Books compleat Systems, have not only rendered them much more perplexed than otherwise they would have been, but so tedious in many Place, that they are enough to deter any unaccustomed Reader from the least Perusal of them.’[22] In an effort to keep The Farriers New Guide from being unnecessarily complicated, Gibson chose not to include a collection of medicines and ‘receipts’ in his first text, but rather to publish an entire separate text to address such treatments. The Farriers Dispensatory, composed in three parts, contains a ‘Description of medicinal Simples, commonly made use of in the Diseases of Horses….,; the Preparations of Simples, Vegetable, Animal, and Mineral….; a Number of useful Compositions and Receipts suited to the Cure of all Diseases….;’ and ‘a compleat Index of all the Medicines contained in the Book.’[23]


Gibson specifically chose to structure his book as a dispensatory because it was the most extensive style of text and because he believed that it would be best suited to those who did not have the leisure or ability to read many books.[24] He also argued that his particular version of dispensatory guards ‘against all such Errors and Defects as have been already hinted at, by explaining the Nature of every Medicine, whether simple or compound, so far as is needful to the right Administration thereof, having also laid down the necessary Cautions, with a particular Observation of all such symptoms as require a Change or Alteration….’[25] It was vital to Gibson that his dispensatory improved upon the medical knowledge published and practiced by other farriers and authors. He claimed that many similar books took their prescribed medicines from books of physic for humans, but that the authors had little acquaintance with the study and did not properly adjust the recipes for equine use. Gibson warned that other farriery treatises recommended useless and insignificant cures, did not give proper doses or warnings, and suggested cures that, when mixed with others, reduced the cure’s effectiveness.[26]


William Gibson, The Farriers Dispensatory (London, 1721), p. 1.


Administering and mixing remedies was the most lucrative aspect of equine medicine during the eighteenth century. Predominantly in the late seventeenth and the eighteenth century, the gentlemen who became involved in the practice of farriery created a new specialized field of farriery that was far more medical than its predecessor.[27] As the market for drugs for human consumption began to develop at a rapid pace in the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, so too did the market for equine drugs.[28] Pills, potions, balls, and other mixed medicines brought great attention to the effects of the foods and medicines that horses consumed on a daily basis. This increased emphasis provided an opportune moment in history for Gibson to delve into a third book concerning equine nutrition and ingestion, The True Method of Dieting Horses.


William Gibson, The Farriers Dispensatory (London, 1721), ‘Just Published Advertisement’.


The True Method of Dieting Horses by William Gibson


William Gibson, The True Method of Dieting Horses (London, 1721), half title.


Originally published in 1721, The True Method of Dieting Horses was William Gibson’s third installment in his series of wildly successful treatises that portrayed farriery and the care of equines as a specialized medicinal field that was worthy of a gentleman’s practice. Gibson was praised for his efforts by prominent noblemen and equestrians, such as Sir William Hope who asserted that ‘The Bridge is now drawn up, and there is none to come after you’ and that ‘if Farriers and Gentlemen would bestow but half that Pains in studying your useful Books, which you have taken to perfect them, we should have finer Stables of Horses….’[29] It is evident in his success and his received praise that Gibson’s efforts provided a new model for farriery and changed the way in which authors wrote about equine medicine.


While the themes of anatomy, disease, and pharmacy were developing within the realm of equine medicine, Gibson believed that the diet and preservation of the horse was in need of attention. He asserted that no treatise concerning such important matters had ever been attempted in the English language or by any individual who was truly well-instructed in the ‘true Means of their [equine] Preservation.’[30] Gibson proposed that there are two great ends obtained through the knowledge and practice of equine ‘Physick’. The first being the ability to restore health when it is lacking and the second being the ability to preserve the horse’s body in a good state by ‘preventing the manifold Accidents whereunto it is exposed, both from Things external and Things internal.’[31] For Gibson, a proper diet and program of care that catered to certain characteristics of the horse, such as age, breed, gender, and what their owners used them for, fell into the second great end that could be achieved through the practice of equine medicine.


William Gibson, The True Method of Dieting Horses (London, 1721), p. 1.


The True Method of Dieting Horses was written with the intention of correcting the errors of feeding and exercise suggested by other authors, to dissuade from the use of ridiculous and irrational methods among ignorant grooms, and to encourage a more learned approach to the care of horses rather than trusting persons trusted to the charge of horses for no other reasons than that of mere ‘Rote and Custom.’[32] Throughout the text, Gibson endeavours to live up to these intentions and points out inaccuracies in traditionally held ideas and practices in the field of equine medicine and care. For instance, while he does not dismiss the idea of humors, Gibson does argue that the notion of a predominant humour determining the colour of the horse is absurd.[33] In another section, he argues that certain vices of the horse that should not be considered a vice, but should rather be taken as sign of illness or insufficient diet, such as a horse eating its straw and clay bedding out of hunger or to deal with an acidity issue in the gut.[34]


William Gibson’s The True Method of Dieting Horses was significant in the sense that it brought dieting and exercise into the medical sphere. An increased knowledge of all possible aspects of equine medicine and the factors affecting a horse’s health would allow gentlemen to take the first steps into the world of farriery and veterinary practice. While the farriers and authors of the time, including Gibson, presumably wrote their texts with the expectation that the reader would actively use its information, there were some who seemed to understand that the stigma of physical labour and farriery might prevent the practice from becoming one that gentlemen were anxious to enter. These authors bridged the gap by presenting texts about farriery as books that would provide gentlemen with the skills and knowledge needed to oversee the individuals who cared for their horses and ensure a high level of care.[35] While it is not certain whether Gibson wrote his True Method or his other treatises for this purpose, their contents would have been immensely helpful for either gentleman or practitioner. Evidently Edward Worth (1676-1733), agreed as he collected these three books by Gibson!


William Gibson, The True Method of Dieting Horses (London, 1721), index.





Peter Edwards, Horse and Man in Early Modern England (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007).

Michael Hubbard MacKay, “The Rise of a Medical Specialty: The Medicalization of Elite Equine Care C. 1680 – C. 1800” (PhD Thesis, University of York, 2009).

J.F. Smithcors, ‘William Gibson, Surgeon-Farrier, On Fevers,’ Medical History 2, no. 3 (1958), 210-220.



[1] Michael Hubbard MacKay, “The Rise of a Medical Specialty: The Medicalization of Elite Equine Care C. 1680 – C. 1800” (PhD Thesis, University of York, 2009), pp 41-42.

[2] Ibid., pp 41-42.

[3] Peter Edwards, Horse and Man in Early Modern England (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007), p 116.

[4] Ibid., pp 126-127.

[5] Hubbard MacKay, “The Rise of a Medical Specialty”, p. 19.

[6] Edwards, Horse and Man in Early Modern England, p. 9.

[7] Hubbard MacKay, “The Rise of a Medical Specialty”, p. 19.

[8] E.R. Gent, The Experienc’d Farrier, or Farring Compleated., Fourth Edition (London: Edward Symon, 1720), Sig. A2r and B1r.

[9] Ibid, Sig. A2r.

[10] J.F. Smithcors, “William Gibson, Surgeon-Farrier, On Fevers,” Medical History 2, no. 3 (1958), 210.

[11] Ibid., 210.

[12] Ibid., 212.

[13] Hubbard MacKay, “The Rise of a Medical Specialty”, p. 27.

[14] William Gibson, The Farrier’s New Guide, Third Edition (Ship and Black-Swan, 1725), Preface.

[15] Ibid.

[16] J.F. Smithcors, “William Gibson, Surgeon-Farrier, On Fevers”, 212.

[17] Ibid., 214-215.

[18] Gibson, The Farrier’s New Guide, p. 11.

[19] Hubbard MacKay, “The Rise of a Medical Specialty,” p. 45.

[20] Smithcors, “William Gibson, Surgeon-Farrier, On Fevers:”, 214.

[21] Hubbard MacKay, p. 46.

[22] William Gibson, The Farriers Dispensatory (London: Ship and Black-Swan, 1721), pp 1-2.

[23] Ibid., title page.

[24] Ibid., p. 5.

[25] Ibid., p. 4.

[26] Ibid., pp 4-5.

[27] Hubbard MacKay, “The Rise of a Medical Specialty”, p. 27.

[28] Ibid., pp 213-214.

[29] William Gibson, The True Method of Dieting Horses (London: Ship and Black-Swan, 1721), Sig. a2r.

[30] Ibid: p. ii.

[31] Ibid., p. i.

[32] Ibid., p. iii.

[33] Ibid., pp. 2-3.

[34] Ibid., pp. 84-85.

[35] Hubbard MacKay, “The Rise of a Medical Specialty”, pp. 87-88.

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