The Nineteenth Century Horse Doctor: A Pennsylvania Dutchman's Practical Guide to Treating Horses

In The Nineteenth Century Horse Doctor: A Pennsylvania Dutchman’s Practical Guide to Treating Horses ($11.95, 132 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-121-7), Ned D. Heindel and Robert D. Rapp translate and analyze over 100 veterinary recipes in a number of popular early 19th century Pferdartz from the Moravian and the Pennsylvania Dutch traditions. Anyone who loves horses and is interested in the history of medicine will be fascinated by this window into the dark ages of equine veterinary medical practices.

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There is an old German proverb that brings home the importance of the horse to the farmer in pre-industrial America: “The wagon rests in winter, the sleigh in summer, but the horse, never.” For these hard-pressed tillers of the soil in rural Pennsylvania, a horse was a prized possession; it provided transportation, motive power, companionship, and fertilizer. Few crises on a farm were more worrisome than an ailing horse. Just as every household had a “domestic physician” book packed with home remedies for human diseases, so most farmers owned a “Pferdartz” (horse doctor book) to care for their animals.

These folk medical cures involved herbs, minerals, poultices, bleeding techniques, and even mystical incantations. Some were bizarre in the extreme. How to treat a mad dog bite? Press the bloody carcass of a freshly killed pigeon into the bite to absorb the poison. How to kill bot flies? Wash the horse with a suspension of gun powder and pepper in a mixture of rum and urine.

What attracted Dr. Heindel to this project? “Topsy, Red, Bucky, and Cheyenne never pulled a plow, but they faithfully carried me over woodland trails for five decades from age twelve,” he says. “My horsey friends recovered from their share of sprains, bots, founder, and  barbed-wire cuts, but then we always had the money to pay the bills of the skilled professional vets who treated them. Thirty-five years ago at a farm sale I bought my first weather-beaten copy of a Pferdartz and discovered the myriad of bizarre home remedies impoverished Pennsylvania Dutch farmers once used to treat their livestock without the services of trained veterinarians. I’ve been collecting and analyzing that literary genre ever since. Somewhere in horsey heaven, Topsy, Red, Bucky, and Cheyenne are whinnying in gratitude that I never washed their bot infections with a slurry of gun powder, and pepper shaken up in rum and urine.”

Ned D. Heindel’s ancestors were Pennsylvania German farmers and cigar makers in York County, Pennsylvania. His Pennsylvania German-speaking grandmother knew many of the old country remedies, the curative chants, and the pow-wow therapies and was especially good at curing childhood hiccups. Ned took his B.S. in Chemistry at Lebanon Valley College (Annville, PA), his doctorate at University of Delaware (Newark, DE), and his postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton University (Princeton, NJ). His research interests are in medicinal chemistry and folk-healing techniques. He is the author of the book, Hexenkopf: History, Healing and Hexerei, and of over 200 technical articles on drug development. He is currently the Howard S. Bunn Chair Professor of Chemistry at Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA) where he has taught since 1966.

Robert D. Rapp was born to a Pennsylvania German family in 1930. He spent his childhood in a rural Pennsylvania German community near Reading, PA. There, at an early age, he became acquainted with the local German dialect, because his neighbors were Pennsylvania German farmers and craftsmen. After a stint in the U.S. Navy, he matriculated at Tufts University (Medford, MA) and obtained a B.S. in Chemistry in 1955. Bob worked as a chemist in industry and as a clinical chemist in the Reading Hospital before entering graduate school at Lehigh University where he was awarded a PhD in 1967. He then served as Professor of Chemistry at Albright College (Reading, PA) until his retirement in 1992. His research interests are in natural products and in medicinal chemistry. He is currently a Visiting Scientist at Lehigh University.

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