T HE writer does not imply that he has usually slept
over a stable, or lived in a caravan, but he has been compelled to spend most of his mornings, and the whole of many days, either on or behind a horse. He therefore now puts together some of his ideas about horses, and some of his experiences with them. The fascination of golf, the charm of fly fishing, and the delights of fox hunting, have, in common, their open- airness, but in the last are the further pleasures of rapid movement, pursuit, and motion with another animal.
There is no question that riding for several miles is really hard work—grooms who exercise at a trot grow thin, to the satisfaction of their mounts. Coachmen who exercise at a walk grow fat and stately, to the satisfaction of their masters.
Fatigue is said to be " a massive pleasure," and that is what a riding man feels when, after a good dinner, he goes to sleep in the drawing-room to slow, or other, music.
Driving or being driven through country roads and lanes is considered "lotus eating" by those who live in cities. But one fails to see why drivers put on so much " side," sitting very upright and trying to look like demigods. The young farmer who wants to sell his cob puts the whip in the socket, his hat on one side, a hand in a pocket, occasionally shaking his reins. Translated, this means that "this cob is much too good for a plain man like me, and would suit a rich man like the buyer."
Turnpike gates were an affliction in their day. To dismount on a wet night and kick his front door till the keeper of the gate woke and came down to open the gate meant a damp saddle. Other trying circumstances arose from the way in which tolls were collected. For instance, the payment of a single toll enabled the driver to pass that special gate any number of times between midnight and midnight. The effect of this was that much heavy carriage was done at night, and with no lights. A waggoner paid a toll at a gate at midnight and then composed himself in the bed of the waggon to sleep. He was driving three horses in an empty vehicle to the coal pit to be filled, meaning to return the same day. After he had gone to sleep, the horses took two wrong turnings towards their home ; the road they chose ended in a ford which crossed a river obliquely. About two hundred yards below the ford was a dam, which had been built with a view to raising salmon. The horses, instead of turning up the bank of the ford, went along the stream-bed until the water was up to their necks ; then they stopped, and the waggoner awoke to find himself surrounded by water. When he had clambered on to the bank, he looked round for a lighted house and, having found one, made his way towards what proved to be a window of a large country house. A son of the house, afterwards an important member of the Govern- ment, went back with the man to the waggon, climbed over the wheeler's back, detached the leading horse, and rode him up the bank. He treated each of the wheelers in the same way, and conducted them and the helpless frightened waggoner to the house stables, where all were sheltered until it was light enough for them to resume their journey.
A horse generally behaves well at night, often telling his rider that another horse or carriage is coming. This should be in the past tense, because the period has gone in which night lamps were not compulsory. A horse perceives an object lying in the road long before his rider sees it.
A horse is afraid of the upper half of a man for seen above a deep ditch, it suggests to the horse that the whole man is trying to entrap him. Another of the instincts of horses which are so wonderful, is seen in cases where they seem to remember that there is a thing on wheels behind them. A well-known corner in the Frome and Bath road is much leas than a right angle, yet four horses once took a coach safely round this corner, having left the driver behind at the last village. Their stables were in a lane off the high road, and they were quite justified in taking this sharp turn, but not in the absence of the coachman.
Of course the horse usually ignores the wheels behind him; blinkers are to be blamed for this ignorance. A young horse in a high gig was frightened and bolted. Coming to a shut turnpike-gate he tried to jump it, but failed so far as to leave the gig on one side and get a nasty fall himself on the other.
How much superstition is shown in the management of horses! Bearing reins are more than a superstition, they are cruelty begotten of pride ; blinkers are monuments of human ignorance. The two bits so often used for hunters are generally needless, and much too heavy for well-bred horses.
Many horses with the lesser degree of broken wind, known as thick wind, are fed on the usual three meals a day of uncrushed oats. If people could sympathise with a horse short of breath, they would give the poor beast some cooked food. Barley soaked in boiling water sometimes makes a new animal of him. After a trying journey many a thoughtful horseman gives his beast his cup of tea in the form of some hot gruel, and his substantial meal later on.
The writer's horses have almost entirely been stalled in loose boxes, an arrangement which pleases the master and the animals rather than the grooms. An old and ill-tempered groom suffered badly from entering a stall in which a vicious or irritable horse was tied up in the usual way. Resisting the groom's efforts to put on the collar, he " shouldered " the man against the wall until he fell, and then the horse trod upon him. The groom survived the accident, but was crippled for life.
What is really nervous fear is often attributed to bad temper, as was the case with two horses who declined to pass into culs de sac, such as a farmyard with no visible outlet.
The habit of turning round suddenly when meeting any carriage coming fast in the opposite direction makes a horse -very difficult to sit. The cowboy's saddle must be useful in such a case, and is easily imitated by the horse-trainer's roll. A coat, cloak, or even a small sack is made into a firm cylinder, which is bent over the pommel of the saddle and made fast by straps. When the horse turns, the rider finds his knees pressing against a pad which prevents his being thrown. Small or light horses can shy or stop dead more quickly than larger ones, and on this ground the writer con- sidered that his children were safer on fifteen-hand horses than on ponies.
The writer has been singularly favoured in his purchases of horses. The first, bought of an honest gipsy dealer, was about fifteen hands high—a good height for most purposes. Was it not Chifney who said if you heard of anything wonderful being done by a horse, he was about that height? One of the fastest Derbys was won by a chestnut named " Kettledrum," about fifteen and a half hands high. The writer had the pleasure of seeing him in the paddock after the great event. He was utterly unlike the conventional race- horse of the illustrated papers and framed engravings.
But this is a digression from the mare "Judy," an excellent servant for fifteen years, who carried master, or mistress, or children with equal safety. More valuable still was a bay mare " Joan," who spent fourteen years in the same stable. Other horses "might come and horses might go—but these went on "—not for ever.
Both of these were straightforward purchases, as were many others.
One black horse ridden for about two years was bought of a " gentleman." (A great horse buyer gave it as his opinion that if you bought of a "gentleman " you were sure to be taken in.) It is painful to know that this horse must have been dosed with opium when he was bought, for when tried in saddle and carriage he went well ; but the day after, the new owner, watching him as he was put in a carriage, saw him rear and plunge, and seized him by the bit just in time to prevent a smash. " Why, sir," said a man who had horsed the mail cart, "you have bought a horse who kicked the cart to pieces twice while I had him."
One of this horse's performances was immortalised by du Manner in Punch. Three girls on horseback met the writer on this ill-tempered beast, and he declined to leave their com- pany for some distance. The great artist must have heard of this from a mutual friend, and a sketch of the incident appeared in Punch some months later. But the picture is a libel on a rather smart horse. One day he, having been tied to a pump, pulled it down and galloped away with a large piece of wood hanging on his halter. He treated a small gate in the same way, in another place.
Another bad one would not go in the saddle without a com- panion, and in harness would not go with another horse. The purchase of "Paddy " was an excellent instance of horse dealing. The dealer brought the beast to the house with a long wet coat, thoroughly tired, and, perhaps, drugged. He went well in harness and saddle, and an arrangement was made for a veterinary surgeon to meet the buyer at the horse's home on a certain day. When examined the horse was pronounced sound (the veterinary overlooked a serious fault), so the buyer asked for a saddle. The dealer said he had lent his, and an appeal to a neighbour, of course, produced no
results. A lad placed on the horse's bare back very soon rolled on the grass. But the horse was bought, and on the second attempt to ride him (alone) he first "shouldered" tin rider's leg against a wall and, failing to dismount him than way, tried a sudden rear, which was more successful. He WSJ a useful carriage horse for seven years.
The reckless way in which dealers and breakers will treat grooms is shown by an account a first-class rider gave of a
deal in which he had acted a fool's part. His story was this : " I went to Bristol market to look for a hunter. I did not put my leg over him, as I saw him ridden by a groom ; but next morning he would not let me mount at all. Fray, the breaker, put his rough-rider on the horse, who reared and fell back with him five or six times—so the brute is no good to me."
The breaker's lad, by order of two men, had to attempt the same dangerous feat five times. There would be more good- tempered horses if colts were always trained by good- tempered men. It is a good thing that as this word " breaker " has gone out, the character of men who once bore it will in future be changed so as to deserve the new title of "horse-trainer."
Horses have very small brains, but very large memories, and are often as affectionate as dogs. The owner of "David Copperfield " told me that in the horse's old age, when too old
to do any more steeplechasing, he was used as a hack. When Mr. M— went on the Downs to watch the galloping of his
lot of youngsters, "David Copperfield" would stand about, or crop the grass for a reasonable time, but when he considered that Mr. M— had spent time enough in feeling the joints, or observing the breathing, of these "hobbledehoys" (as David doubtless thought them), he would come to Mr.
push him with his head, and begin to make a great show of going home without him; but he always returned to his master.