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HORSES, AND THEIR PROPENSITIES.
There are certain peculiarities incidental to all living creatures, from which even the human race is not exempt; and they are produced by various causes, some of which are evidently inherent. This faculty of inheritance may, in some instances, appear to be doubtful, inasmuch as various idiosyncracies sometimes lie dormant in the parents, but are capable of being traced to more remote progenitors. The temper of the horse is not totally exonerated from these influences, though it is capable to a very great extent of being controlled by treatment, or in more appropriate language, education. I come to these conclusions from personal experience and observation, and will therefore, as I proceed, illustrate my argument with examples. To these I will introduce, by way of preface, the opinion expressed by "Stonehenge," in his excellent work," British Rural Sports," where, in the chapter on Brood Mares, he makes use of the following remarks: "The temper is of the utmost importance; by which must be understood, not that gentleness at grass which may lead the breeder's family to pet the mare, but such a temper as will serve for the purpose of her rider, and will answer to the stimulus of the voice, whip, or spur. A craven or a rogue is not to be thought of, as the the mother of a family; and if a mare belongs to a breed which is remarkable for refusing to answer the call of the rider, she should be consigned to any task rather than the stud farm. Neither. should a mare be used for this purpose which had been too irritable to train, unless she happened to be an exceptional case; but if of an irritable family, she would be worse even than a roarer or a blind one. There are defects which are apparent in the colt or filly; but the irritability which interferes with training often leads to the expenditure of large sums on the faith of private trials, which are lost, from the failure in public, owing to this defect of nervous system."
Temper is a property, a virtue it may be aptly termed, deserving the utmost attention of breeders, not only with reference to docility, but in a more extensive sense, in connection with the nervous energy of the system and corresponding physical power. This energy is affected by the amount of nervous excitability of the brain, in conjunction with the nervous system, influencing the muscles of locomotion. If that be in proportion with the physical power of the animal, he will be capable of manifesting great superiority either on the race-course or in the hunting field, providing his physical powers are in a healthy state, and cultivated by proper work or training.
Extreme irritability or impatience of reasonable control, in the hunter or race-horse, by over-powering the muscular system, will occasion prostration of strength, and the animal will be found incapable of endurance. On the other hand, if the muscular powers are greatly in
excess of the nervous energy, the horse is of little value except for purposes in which sluggishness is unimportant. Racing is the ordeal or medium of discovery, and breeders cannot be too circumspect in investigating the characteristics of the animals they intend to introduce into the stud. The fallacy of judging from external appearances is easily explained. The nervous energy proceeds from the brain, and is transmitted through the spinal-marrow to the nerves in connection with the muscular system or locomotive powers, all of which beautiful and wonderful machinery is entirely hidden; therefore the most skilful judges cannot pronounce upon the merits of a horse until they are put to the test on the race-course.
In corroboration of the transmission of this propensity, I will instance a case which came under my own observation, and an infinite number of similar events may be confirmed by observing the habits of horses on the race-course. I had it on the authority of Mr. E. Jones, now of Ropley, but formerly of Prestbury, who trained Valve, a daughter of Bob Booty and Wire, that she was gifted with a very irritable temper, so much so as very materially to affect her running; indeed, with the exception of one race in Ireland, she never accomplished the task of getting her head first past the winning-post, out of some seven or eight attempts. She was the dam of Vigornia, a mare whose temper was as readily excited whenever a repetition of any preliminaries induced a reminiscence of previous performances. When in training, a fresh route to the exercise-ground was selected, with as many variations as circumstances would permit, and everything carefully studied to avoid alarming her. The usual, and in many instances unavoidable, custom of walking her about on a race-course or its vicinity, was certain to disarrange her nervous system, and her defeat was an inevitable result. On one occasion she won, with the odds 20 to 1 against her, by this simple device. She was saddled in her own stable, about four miles from the course, ridden by the boy who looked after her, to the startingpost, where the head lad was put up, to perform the duties of jockey; and without even a canter to occasion any reminiscences, she was started, when she won with the most perfect ease. Pussy, her halfsister, inherited a similar failing, although she won the Oaks and several other races. Griselda, own sister to Pussy, inherited the characteristics of her family; and Captain Pops, a half brother, although less irritable, was by no means exempt.
This extreme irritability of the nervous system is not confined to the turf. Many years ago a horse called Sir Sampson, the sire of a numerous progeny of first-rate hunters in Shropshire, was noted for this propensity. It was, however, in most instances, capable of modification, and very superior hunters they became, providing they were fortunate enough to fall into good hands, and received kind and proper treat
It becomes a matter worthy of much coasideration what effect this constitutional irritability has on the temper, as well as the utility of the horse. I am not disposed to insult and scandalize the species with the accusation that they are by nature prone to vice, but I feel convinced there are certain individuals in whom the constitutional nervous propensities are excessive, and that they are more readily susceptible of impressions which establish vice. It is not vice originally,
though such animals are very susceptible if ill-treated. The exuberance of spirits natural to young animals highly kept, not unfrequently tends to produce uncontrollable tempers, which the ordinary race of colt breakers are not calculated to subdue. Even at that early period of life, when the foal is running by the side of its mother, an indiscriminate person sometimes places his hand unceremoniously upon its quarters: in all probability the little creature kicks at him, not from vice, but from fear. On a subsequent occasion, when approached, and without being touched, the same impulse is produced, and the young animal kicks again; thus the vice may be established. This, however, does not happen if the foal be properly handled and caressed, so to speak, from the time of its birth. The neglect of early fondling and association with mankind is the most prolific source of obduracy in the horse. Much of the disposition which characterises the animal at a mature age, is established in his youth. The seeds of rebellion, obstinacy, and strife are readily sown by the hand of ignorance and indiscretion; like noxious weeds, they thrive more vigorously than those of obedience, docility, and cheerfulness. As that of the child, the education of the horse should commence at an early age, and both should be treated with kindness. Pleasure should be associated with early lessons, obedience inculcated by firmuess, not by brutal severity. But when we look through the large circle of the human race with whom we may be acquainted or otherwise in the daily habits of intercourse, and contemplate the sadly mistaken principles they constantly adopt in the government of their children, little surprise can exist, that our noble, useful, and faithful companion, the horse, is in many instances improperly treated. One fond mother ruins her child by submission to its wayward propensities; another austere parent treats her offspring with cruel severity; and each, by opposite means, sow the seeds of obduracy and disaffection. Few there are, who adopt the happy medium. In the horse, a dogged, sullen, spiritless submission may be enforced by the cruel brutality to which the breaker too frequently has recourse; but that prompt and eager response to the rider's will, that manifest alacrity to accord with every wish, and which gives to the horse so much of his value, can only be founded on habitual confidence and attachment.
Instinct is a faculty with which all animals are gifted, and the horse possesses that attribute very extensively. Somerville beautifully expresses himself on this subject :
"Nor will it less delight th' attentive sage
Pleasures and pains are two of the principal sources which may be said to cultivate instinct in the brute creation. It is therefore a natural consequence, that if the presence of man affords pleasure to the horse, by a repetition of those acts, through the agency of which it is conveyed, the animal will become attached to his benefactor. On the other hand, if pain is an attendant, the poor animal naturally shuns the source from whence it proceeds, and if he has the power, will remove himself away. But he is generally prevented either his head is fastened to the wall of his stable, or he is held by the bridle. Thus he
is coerced to submit to any severe treatment his master or attendant may think fit to inflict. Under such circumstances it is not surprising that he should rebel when he finds an opportunity. Numerous instances occur of horses being perfectly tractable with one person, and untractable with another. A pusillanimous coward is almost invariably a tyrant, whenever he has an opportunity of exemplifying his tyranny; and of all others, he is the individual under whose treatment the horse becomes ungovernable, or his value deteriorated by hard work and starvation.
The force of instinct being so great, horses that have contracted such vices as biting or kicking will sometimes be effectually cured by their own acts, providing those acts cause them pain, of which I have known several instances. If by kicking at a hard and solid substance the animal discovers that he hurts himself, he will possibly abandon the propensity; but this does not commonly occur. When by kicking he dislodges his rider from his back, he seldom hurts himself. In harness, although he may injure himself more or less, the fragile condition of the vehicle, which he shivers to pieces, does not afford sufficient resistance; and finding that every blow from his heels takes effect, he persists until he frees himself from his trammels, which gives him increased encouragement. These exploits originate from fear; and fresh efforts to reduce the animal to subjection being commonly accompanied with violence, they terminate in favour of the horse.
I once purchased a mare at the Repository at Birmingham, which had been an inveterate kicker, but I was not at all aware of the propensity for some time afterwards, and I introduce the circumstance as an example worthy of notice. When first mounted she would certainly set up her back, but by keeping her head up, without violence or confusion, she soon settled herself, and went with me as quietly as possible. At exercise the boy always rode her in a suit of clothing, which had the effect of keeping the saddle from her back, and then she never attempted to kick. Soon after she came into my possession, I rode her with the Ludlow hounds, and she was recognised by a farmer as having been bred by him, and sold at a low price to a gentleman in Warwickshire in consequence of her inveterate habit; and the breeder was surprised to see her carrying me so quietly. She was, when I first had her, remarkably shy about her head, having been unmercifully beaten about that part, whenever she commenced her antics. A more absurd proceeding could not have been adopted. When a horse offers to kick under the saddle, the only alternative a horseman should adopt is, that of keeping the head elevated; and striking a poor brute on the head with a whip or stick has the contrary effect, besides increasing alarm. I rode the mare during the whole of the season; towards the conclusion of which, passing through Warwickshire, I called on the gentleman who had sent her to the repository at the time I made the purchase, who informed me that he had lent her to a young friend, who had endeavoured to cure her by hard riding and severe beatings, but all in vain, and that on one occasion when he mounted her himself, she immediately kicked him over her head, and hurt him seriously, which induced him to send her for sale at any price that might be offered. I was minute in my inquiries, and ascertained that the saddle was usually placed on her back only a few minutes before she was brought out to be
mounted, and in all probability the pannel of the saddle was damp and cold, if not absolutely wet; hence an excitement to kick. In my stable she was differently treated; my saddles were dry, and always placed on the horses' backs full an hour before they were mounted. I have no doubt the first inducement to vice in this mare was a cold damp saddle; that she commenced kicking to free herself from the unpleasantness, for which she was beaten, and dislodging her rider, repeated her manoeuvres. I take to myself no merit whatever in this case as I have already observed, I was not aware of the mare's habit when I made the purchase, and it was merely the result of ordinary regularity, by placing a dry saddle on her back, and that some time before she was mounted, and refraining from anything approaching to ill usage, that caused this mare to abandon the bad habit she had contracted from treatment quite the reverse of that which she received from me.
An instance of an inveterate kicker in harness also occurred under my notice. An elderly relative, with whom I at that time resided, made a purchase of a remarkably good-looking horse, for the twofold purposes of working on the farm and running in harness. On the following morning he was attached to a plough on the GE. HIO. principle, and when required to "move on" responded by kicking most violently. I was summoned to the scene of action, but for some time he would allow no person to approach him, and struck at those who attempted to go near his head, with his fore feet, as viciously as he did with his hind ones; at length, by strapping up his near fore-leg they succeeded in getting him released from the plough. His gearing was taken off, and replaced by some strong harness, when he was placed between the shafts of a substantial roller, such as is commonly used for rolling the land. When properly secured at all points, a powerful and steady horse was put before him, and he was kept moving in a fallow field till night. He kicked the roller furiously and repeatedly, but in doing so he hurt his own legs, and in course of time, finding he got by far the worst of it, he left off. The next morning his hind legs were very sore, and he was again attached to the roller, but he did not evince much inclination to commence hostilities, and in the course of that day he was put to a gig. I drove him constantly, and he never repeated his vice. It was afterwards discovered that he had been in the possession of a post-master, and that he had kicked the boot of a gentleman's carriage to pieces, for which he was sold as incorrigibly vicious.
A horse which I purchased from a friend at Brighton, when put to in harness, made a practice of rearing up and falling backwards, on which account he was abandoned for that purpose; but as I required his services in that way, I set about to convince him of the error of his ways. When a horse rears in harness the cause is very evident the pressure of the cold collar on his shoulders, which like other incentives to what is termed vice, occasions fear. By attaching a cord to each of the traces, and having him led along the road, following and holding the cords in my hands, occasionally tightening them, he soon gained confidence, and became a perfectly steady buggy horse.
Šir Hercules, the sire of such a numerous family of first-rate horses, when he came from Ireland, brought with him the character of