The Curious Case of the Horse’s Frog

The frog, that wedge-shaped cushion or pad on the bottom of the horse’s hoof, is nature’s answer to equine traction, circulation, shock absorption and, apparently, humankind’s curious attempt at naming parts of the horse.

Why, of all the nouns in the world, was “frog” chosen to describe something that really has little resemblance to its amphibian namesake?

While researching a story on dressage and war I happened upon, with some delight, an excerpt from a translated version of The Art of Horsemanship written by Xenophon (c. 430–335 BC) who lived during a period when time went in reverse. Xenophon is often referred to as the father of classical horsemanship. A dear friend to Socrates, he wrote about the equine frog 2,500 years ago.

This is how Morris H. Morgan, Ph. D, translated Xenophon’s Greek text in 1893:

As a monolinguist, I was forced to seek out the meaning of some of the keywords in the paragraph. Fourchette, for example, doesn’t mean frog, but rather fork. Visually, the word almost looks like “frog,” but I struggle to see how the frog resembles a dining utensil.

So, I turned once again to my favorite author, Bill Bryson. In At Home: A Short History of Private Life, he mentions that the four-pronged fork that we know, love and eat with today came about in the 19-century. Prior to that, forks were a perilous two-pronged affair. So, if we think of a horse’s hoof as a two-pronged fork, things start to make a little more sense.

The German word strahl was also a head scratcher. I was expecting, foolishly, to find it translate to frog or fork or something similar. Instead, I found the words ray and beam, as in a beam of light. Unconvinced and wholly unsatisfied, I asked my German friend the meaning of the word and she said, “Beam of light. What your eyes do when you see Michael Jung,” and she’s not wrong. How a beam of light connects to the frog I’ve yet to discover. Though my friend did admit she has been known to refer to that part of the hoof as strahl.

Always craving a solid well-founded answer, I searched the interweb until I came upon a website that appears to be a bit of a hoof glossary. This glossary lists some of the different words other countries use for the frog, as we know it.

The Spanish use ranilla, which means frog. Phew. However, Swedish and Danish horse people use the word stråle which means ray, as in a ray of light. The Dutch use straal, which naturally, also means ray.

My best guess: this ray of light business has to do with the triangulation of a light beam, say from a flashlight, as seen on Scooby-Doo.

Others suggest that the horses’ frog got its name due to the lucky properties of frog bones. It turns out, an amphibian’s pelvic bone is a similar shape to the structure in a horse’s hoof, ergo, it’s called the frog. I admit, that isn’t much to go on, but I did want to cover as many facts as I could find.

©Wiki Commons

While we are on the topic of frogs, I came upon another intriguing piece of information from the Kentucky Equine Research (KER) while brushing up on my knowledge of ergots. I may be late to the party, but did you know the frog is 50% moisture and has sweat glands? According to the good people at KER, these sweat glands produce a secretion that may have, in prehistoric times, acted as a way for equine ancestors to mark their territory. Much the same way as wolves, foxes, dogs and pigs, as it happens, can mark theirs.

The long and short of this, I suppose, is that the name given to that part of the hoof stems from something that is shaped vaguely like a frog, a frog’s pelvic bone, a swallow’s tail, a fork and a ray of light. And since the world has accepted this reasoning for thousands of years, who are we to argue?

Sources:

Internet Archive: The Art of HorsemanshipE-Hoof: FourchetteInternational Museum of the Horse: Xenophon, The Father of Classical EquitationButler Professional Farrier School: The Horse’s Frog

The post The Curious Case of the Horse’s Frog appeared first on Horse Network.

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