Marsh horseshoes

Artefact of the month - June 2019

Every sandpiper praises his own swamp.

In terms of marshland area, Finland comes sixth in the world. A third of the original marshland remains. There have also been efforts to restore drained marshlands into carbon sinks in their natural state. Over time, marshland has yielded a lot of produce for the Finns. Marshland provided berries for picking and was transformed into fields and forestry areas and used for peat extraction. Marshland also used to be an important source of hay.

Before the cultivation of hay became more common, hay was usually collected in natural meadows where wild hay, grass and sedge grew. Natural meadows included everything from watery and boggy to dry meadows. Moist, peat-based meadows provided the best soil for growing hay. Enough hay had to be collected to ensure that there was sufficient fodder for livestock throughout the winter period when no food was available outdoors. In a livestock-based household, hay was truly a necessity: a workhorse consumed eight kilos of hay per day and a cow could consume four to eight kilos. Because of this, a large part of the summer was spent collecting fodder for livestock.

Hay was cut with a scythe and heaped up to be carried away by a horse. Before tractors became widespread, mowing machines required a horse to pull them. Without marsh horseshoes, a horse’s hooves would easily sink deep into the watery bog. Besides bogs, marsh horseshoes were also used in soggy fields during clearance work in the spring, for example.

Marsh horseshoes were similar to snow shoes in that they prevented the hoof from sinking deep into the soggy, watery soil. In some cases, only two marsh horseshoes may have been available, so they were likely attached to the back hooves. Shoes could also be attached to each hoof. We can assume that it took some time for a horse unused to walking with marsh horseshoes to learn the trick.

Marsh horseshoes were made of pieces of board, a few centimetres thick and rounded at the front. A groove shaped like a horseshoe was often carved in the middle of the shoe. The marsh horseshoe was attached to the hoof with a metallic iron bar, the tightness of which could be adjusted to fit the hoof. Furthermore, an iron peg in the board would keep the horseshoe in place.

Marsh horseshoes look very much home-made, yet they could be purchased as well as crafted at home. The mechanism of attachment is often similar, and even if the wooden part were home-made, the metal part could be bought ready-made.

Marsh horseshoes are known to have been used at least in Europe and the United States. W.H. Bordner registered a patent for the method of attachment of the marsh horseshoe in the United States on 10 May 1898. The patent related to the quick attachment and detachment of the shoe.

The marsh horseshoes donated to the Finnish National Museum in spring 2019 used to belong to Matti Nevalainen (1870-1962), born in Eno in eastern Finland. From 1916, the family with seven children lived at the Riihinkangas farm, subject to land tax and bought by Matti in the municipality of Kiihtelysvaara at Heinävaara’s Törisevä. Marsh horseshoes are known to have been used in the early 20th century.

Leena Furu-Kallio


Pesonen Hannu 2007. Liinaharja: Suomenhevosen taival. Helsinki, Otava.

Ranta Sirkka-Liisa 2006. Hellettä, heinäpoutaa: Heinänteon kulttuurihistoriaa. Helsinki, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.

Website Google Patents: read here (referred to on 3/5/2019).

Hevosen Suokengat
Marsh horseshoes (K12044a,b) Photo: Timo Ahola.