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The #HorseWordNerd Writing Process

Last week I wrote about the hocks and subsequent ailments thereof. Whilst researching the words I came across a passage from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew in which he lists several horse-related maladies, some of which still make sense to us today and some that don’t.

“…his horse hipped…full of windgalls, sped with spavins, rayed with the yellows, past cure of the fives, stark spoiled with the staggers, begnawn with the bots, swayed in the back and shoulder-shotten…” Act 3, Scene 2.

I then wondered how those issues were dealt with back in the old days before vets became high-tech.

Unable to find a book on horse malaise from 500 years ago I returned to a book I have referenced many times in the last year or so, The Horse: Its treatment in health and disease. This book is only 120 years old, but I thought it would likely provide some interesting insight into how things were done back then compared to today.

The first intriguing term that I came across under the ailment of bone spavin was “a dose of physic”. I suppose, and I’m pleased I’m able to say this, I’m too young to know this term. According to my Penguin Dictionary, physic is “1 a medicinal preparation e.g. a drug esp a purgative. 2 A medical treatment.” 

Not 100 percent sure what purgative means, though, fairly certain, I looked the word up to confirm it is indeed a laxative. This raises the obvious question of why would you give a horse a laxative for the treatment of a bone spavin? There must be another meaning.

So, I went to my old friend and learned that in the 1300s physic simply meant a healing potion. That is a broad term, but I assumed the vets caring for the horse knew the exact correct “potion” that was needed. 

Fairly certain vets were in abundance 120 years ago, but wanting to confirm, I went in search of how long veterinary medicine has been a thing. What I learned was that a form of veterinary practice has been happening since 9,000 BC when herders in the Middle East treated their animal’s rudimentary injuries.

A few thousand years later in Egypt around 4,000-3,000 BC, medical treatment of animals became more common but was still, no surprise here, undeveloped. This was approximately the time when people started to domesticate cats and dogs. 

Around 1,900 BC someone wrote about veterinary medicine in four sacred Hindu texts. Then 1000 years later some archaeologists discovered pieces of an ancient veterinary textbook made of papyrus. But it wasn’t until the 1760s that Claude Bourgelat established the first vet school in Lyon, France.

Satisfied I can safely use the word vet in paragraph six, I returned my attention to the only sentence I’d managed to read in The Horse: Its treatment in health and disease

One second later I came upon the word fomentation. I went to my dictionary and found only foment. Feeling it must be the root word for the aforementioned I read on. Foment means, “1 to incite or promote the growth or development of (trouble, rebellion etc). 2 to treat (a part of the body) with moist heat e.g. for easing pain.” I disregard the first definition for obvious reasons. 

Bear in mind, since I’m a middle-aged woman in constant need of glasses, when I glance from my dictionary to my computer screen there is a period of time in which I’m rendered blind while my eyes take their sweet merciful time to adjust focus. It’s both annoying and time-consuming.  

With my vision restored and a fair grasp of the meaning of fomentation, I returned to The Horse book and read the rest of the sentence, “At the same time fomentations or hot bandages should be applied to the hock until existing inflammatory action is subdued.” 

What on earth is a hot bandage? Is it the same as a sweat? They probably didn’t have cling film back then so probably not. 

Unwilling to presume, I pulled out my 1976 Pony Club Manual only to find no mention of hot bandages, however, I had the mental fortitude to look under fomentations, to which all was revealed on page 222.

And it read, “Fomentation. This is a useful line of treatment where pain and swelling are in evidence, viz. septic wounds, sprains, contusions.

A piece of old blanket or towelling answers well provided it is clean. A square about 24 in. by 30 in. is required. Fold four-fold and hold by two corners. Immerse in a bucket of warm water to which salt, one handful to a half bucket of water, has been added. Lift out and wrap around the injured part. Re-immerse and re-apply…”

Suitably annoyed that I didn’t start with the manual, I chose to forget my oversight and forged ahead. Already at 803 words, I re-evaluated the trajectory of what I’ve written, the general point of what I’ve written and the overall purpose of life. Will anyone even care about this? I care. I find it interesting. And so, I continued, willing to cull all useless words and info once I’ve completed the first draft of this article.

Frustrated, I read what I’ve written so far. I hated it and feel it should be filed away in a folder dedicated to other incomplete posts I’ve written. Annoyed that I was giving in, I read a little more from the book. 

Immediately, I spotted one more word that interested me, setoning. It’s paired with the word firing, which I assumed is pin firing, but of course, more research will need to be done to clarify. I remained focused on the odd word of setoning. My Pony Club manual let me down as did my dictionary.

I checked my spelling and was pleased that I hadn’t misspelled it. I turned to the internet, and nothing showed up. I then opted to remove the ing and searched seton and presto, I found a medical definition from a questionable source, which said, “A skein of cotton or other absorbent material passed below the skin and left with the ends protruding to promote drainage of fluid or to act as a counterirritant.” 

I rechecked we were talking still talking about bone spavins and not maybe bog spavins. But I was still reading under the heading of bone spavin and was perplexed about this setoning business.

I read the rest of the paragraph and it said, “A choice must be made between the operations of firing and setoning…” From this, I deduce that the firing must be related to pin firing and setoning is a different form of treatment but similar. 

Overwhelmed and daunted with the information I decided to have lunch and deal with things later. 

And that is how I write these posts. There is a lot of toing and froing, opening of books, scanning of glossaries and scratching of my head but it makes me feel important and that makes me happy.

I apologize for leaving you with the first-ever #horsewordnerd cliffhanger. I will get to the bottom of this setoning treatment next week.

Sources: of veterinary medicine ; The Horse: Its Treatment in Health and Disease ; The Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship page 222

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