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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

The Domestic Horse

( Originally Published 1894 )



The Horse has only to be known to be loved, and has only to be loved to become the most tractable, patient, and useful of animals. "In the domestic horse," says Colonel Smith, "we behold an animal equally strong and beautiful, endowed with great docility and no less fire; with size and endurance joined to sobriety, speed, and patience; clean, companionable, emulous, even generous; forbearing, yet impetuous; with faculties susceptible of very considerable education, and perceptions which catch the spirit of man's intentions, lending his powers with the utmost readiness, and restraining them with as ready a compliance: saddled or in harness, labouring willingly, enjoying the sports of the field and exulting in the tumult of the battle; used by mankind in the most laudable and necessary operations, and often the unconscious instrument of the most sanguinary passions; applauded, cherished, then neglected, and ultimately abandoned to the authority of bipeds who often show little superiority of reason and much less of temper." " One who, like ourselves," continues Colonel Smith, "has repeatedly owed life to the exertions of his horse, in meeting a hostile shock, in swimming across streams, and in passing on the edge of elevated precipices, will feel with us, when contemplating the qualities of this most valuable animal, emotions of gratitude and affection which others may not so readily appreciate."

" The beauty of the form of the horse has often been commented upon, his structure is thus admirably described by a writer in "Cassell's Magazine of Art" : "His nature is eminently courageous, without ferocity, generous, docile, intelligent, and, if allowed to be so, almost as affectionate as the dog. In his structure, the ruling characteristic may be said in one word to consist in obliquity-all the leading bones in his frame are set obliquely, or nearly so, and not at right angles. His head is set on with a subtle curve of the last few vertebrae of the neck, which at the shoulders, take another subtle curve before they become the dorsal vertebrae, or backbone; which end, in their turn, with another curve, forming the tail. His shoulders slope back more than those of other quadrupeds, the scapula, or shoulder-blade, being oblique to the humerus, which, in its turn, is oblique to the radius, or upper part of the fore-leg. So, again, in the hind-quarters, the haunch is set obliquely to the true thigh, the thigh, at the stifle joint, to the upper bone of the hind-leg, which at the hock makes another angle. The fore and hind quarters form so large a portion of the entire length that a horse, though a lengthy animal from the front of the chest to the back of the haunch, is, comparatively, very short in the actual back or 'saddle-place.' Then his hocks are much bent, and his pastern joints are rather long, and again are set at an angle, succeeded by a slightly different angle in the firm but expanding hoof, thus completing the beautiful mechanism, which preserves the limbs from jar, and ensures elasticity in every part of an animal destined to carry weight and to undergo rapid and continued exertion-a combination not existing in any other quadruped to anything like the same degree, and fitting him precisely for the purposes for which he was given to man. At present we have said nothing about his head, every part of which is equally characteristic. His well-shaped, delicate ears are capable of being moved separately in every direction, and every movement is full of meaning and in sympathy with the eye. The eye is prominent, full, and large, and placed laterally, so that he can see behind him without turning his head, his heels being his principal weapon of defence; his nostrils are large, open and flexible, and his lips fleshy, though thin, and exquisitely mobile and sensitive. The large, open nostril is essential to him, as a horse breathes solely and entirely through it, being physically incapable of breathing through his mouth, as a valve in the throat actually precludes him from so doing; hence the mouth of a horse, without a bridle in it, is opened only for purposes of eating or biting, but never from excitement or from exhaustion, like that of most other quadrupeds, except the deer species. The lips are, perhaps, even more characteristic; they are his hands as well as part of his mouth, and the horse and others of his family alone use them in this way. The ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the giraffe above all, and, in fact, we believe all graminivorous animals except the horse, either bite their food directly with the teeth, or grasp and gather it with the tongue, which is prehensile, and gifted with more or less power of prolongation; but the horse's tongue has no such function, and, therefore, no such powers, as these services are all performed in his case by the lips: and no horseman, who has let a favourite horse pick up small articles of food from the palm of his hand, can have failed to be struck with the extreme mobility, and also the sensibility and delicacy of touch, with which the lips are endowed."

The quality of speed for which the horse is so justly esteemed has been the subject of extensive culture in which the Arabian horse has contributed no mean share. "Some of the horses first brought from Arabia having been by no means celebrated," says Captain Brown, "the breed had fallen into disrepute, till the descendants of one procured by Mr. Darley from the deserts, and on that account called the Darley Arabian, having borne away the palm for fleetness from all others, turned the tide of fashion in favour of that breed. Yet it is only the progeny of the Arabian horses that excels. The English race-horses are equal, if not superior, to all other coursers. As the extraordinary swiftness of the horse has been most signally displayed in the English race-course, and can also be there most precisely measured, we cannot omit the notice of some of the most remarkable of our racers. The most celebrated of these-and indeed the fleetest horse that ever was bred in the world-was Flying Childers, got by the Darley Arabian. What Achilles was among warriors, and Caesar among conquerors, such was Childers among horses, without an equal and without a rival. He ran against the most famous horses of his age, and was always victorious. He has been known to move at the rate of nearly a mile in the minute. Next to Childers, in fame and fleetness, is Eclipse, so called from having been foaled during the great eclipse of 1764. This horse likewise was never beaten: one contemporary rival alone was supposed to exist, Mr. Shaftoe's horse Goldfinder, but Goldfinder broke down the October before the proposed competition. Eclipse's rate of going was 47 feet in the second.

Childers had a rate of 49. One hundred to one were offered on Eclipse against the most famous racers of his day. Mr. O'Kelly purchased him for sixteen hundred and fifty guineas, and cleared by him twenty-five thousand pounds. He had a vast stride,-never horse threw his haunches below him with more vigour or effect; and his hind legs were so spread in his gallop, that a wheelbarrow might have been driven between them. King Herod, another famous horse, which was generally, though not like Eclipse uniformly, successful, is chiefly celebrated for his progeny; his immediate descendants having gained to their owners above two hundred thousand pounds."

Many marvellous stories are told of the endurance of the horse. Sir John Malcolm says, "Small parties of Toorkomans, who ventured several hundred miles into Persia, used both to advance and retreat at the average of nearly one hundred miles a day. They train their horses for these expeditions as we should do for a race, and describe him when in a condition for a foray by saying that his flesh is marble. When I was in Persia, a horseman mounted upon a Toorkoman horse, brought a packet of letters from Shiraz to Teherary, which is a distance of five hundred miles, within six days." Almost equally remarkable records are held by English horses, but the invention of the locomotive has done away with the necessity for such trying expeditions in civilized countries, and the horse is trained more for speed and strength than for such long distance efforts. M. de Pages in his travels round the world, tells a remarkable story of the endurance of the horse when out of his natural element; he says, "I should have found it difficult to give it credit had it not happened at this place (the Cape of Good Hope) the evening before my arrival; and if, besides the public notoriety of the fact, I had not been an eyewitness of those vehement emotions of sympathy, blended with admiration, which it had justly excited in the mind of every individual at the Cape. A violent gale o1 wind setting in from north and north west, a vessel in the road dragged her anchors, was forced on the rocks and bulged; and, while the greater part of the crew fell an immediate sacrifice to the waves, the remainder were seen from the shore struggling for their lives, by clinging to the different pieces of the wreck. The sea ran dreadfully high, and broke over the sailors with such amazing fury, that no boat whatever could venture off to their assistance. Meanwhile a planter, considerably advanced in life, had come from his farm to be a spectator of the shipwreck; his heart was melted at the sight of the unhappy seamen, and knowing the bold and enterprising spirit of his horse, and his particular excellence as a swimmer, he instantly determined to make a desperate effort for their deliverance. He alighted and blew a little brandy into his horse's nostrils, and again seating himself in the saddle, he instantly pushed into the midst of the breakers. At first both disappeared, but it was not long before they floated on the surface, and swam up to the wreck; when taking with him two men, each of whom held by one of his boots, he brought them safe to shore. This perilous expedition he repeated no seldomer than seven times, and saved fourteen lives; but, on his return the eighth time, his horse being much fatigued, and meeting a most formidable wave, he lost his balance and was overwhelmed in a moment. The horse swam safely to land, but his gallant rider was no more!"

Many remarkable instances are recorded of the exercise of the faculty of memory by horses. Colonel Smith mentions an instance of a horse which he had used for two years while in the army abroad, and which some years later made himself known to his old master with every demonstration of pleasure, though harnessed to a mail coach. "That the horse remembers the scenes and transactions of past times," says Captain Brown, "is proved from every day's experience. It enters familiarly into its usual abode; inclines to stop at its ordinary haltingplace; prefers a journey which it has formerly taken, and falls readily into an occupation to which it has been accus tomed. It seeks the fields in which it has formerly pastured, and has been known long afterwards to repair to the scenes of its earlier days. A horse belonging to a gentleman of Taunton strayed from a field at Corfe, three miles distant from thence. Aftei a long and troublesome search, he was discovered on a farm at Branscombe, in Devon, a distance of twenty-three miles, being the place where he was foaled, although it is certain that the animal had not been there for ten years, during the whole of which time he had been in the possession of the gentleman who then owned him." Horses seem to have a similar sense of locality to that for which dogs are so famous. A horse will find its way home when its master cannot see a yard before him, instances being recorded of parties lost in the snow which covered all tracks, who only saved their lives by letting a horse loose and following him. Captain Brown gives two instances of horses who on becoming ill, found their way to the veterinary surgeon, who had previously treated them, entirely of their own accord. Instances are recorded also of Cavalry horses, who, on hearing thunder while out grazing, have mistaken it for the sound of cannon and who with great excitement have formed themselves into line and "presented the front of a field of war". Old Hunters who have become coach horses have been known upon hearing the hounds, at the moment of "changing" to dash after them with their harness on their backs and riderless and guideless follow the hunt for hours. These are instances of the ruling passion strong in after life, or perhaps more correctly speaking of the force of habit, of which there are countless illustrations. Kosciusko had a horse which he once lent to a young man whom he employed upon a commission, but who on his return declared that he would never use the horse again unless also supplied with his master's purse; for said he, "as soon as a poor man on the road takes off his hat and asks charity the animal immediately stands still, and will not stir until something is bestowed upon the petitioner; and as I had no money about me I had to feign giving, in order to satisfy the horse and induce him to proceed. " Such loyalty to habit, however interesting, is not always convenient, as the following, which I quote from " Anecdotes in Natural History " by the Rev. F. O. Morris will show.

"Towards the close of last century, when volunteers were first embodied in the different towns, an extensive line o. turnpike road was in progress of construction in a part of the north. The clerk to the trustees upon this line used to send one of his assistants to ride along occasionally, to see that the contractors, who were at work in a great many places, were doing their work properly. The assistant, on these journeys, rode a horse which had for a long time carried a field officer, and, though aged, still possessed a great deal of spirit. One day, as he was passing near a town of considerable size which lay on the line of road, the volunteers were at drill on the common; and the instant the horse heard the drum he leaped the fence, and was speedily at that post in front of the volunteers which would have been occupied by the commanding officer of a regiment on parade or at drill; nor could the rider by any means get him off the ground until the volunteers retired to the town. As long as they kept the field the horse took the proper place of a commanding officer in all their manceuvres, and he marched at the head of the corps into the town, prancing in military style as cleverly as his stiffened legs would allow him, to the great amusement of the volunteers and spectators, and to the no small annoyance of the clerk."

Perhaps no more amusing illustration of this force of habit could be found than that cited by Captain Brown of a Scotch lawyer who purchased a horse at Smithfield upon which to make a journey north. The horse was a handsome one and started well, but on reaching Finchley common, at a place where the road ran down a slight eminence, and up another, the lawyer met a clergyman driving a one horse chaise, "There was nobody within sight, and the horse by his manoeuvre instantly discovered the profession of his former owner. Instead of pursuing his journey he laid his counter close up to the chaise and stopped it, having no doubt bat his rider would embrace so fair an opportunity of exercising his profession. The clergyman seemed of the same opinion, produced his purse unasked, and assured the astonished lawyer, that it was quite unnecessary to draw his pistol as he did not intend to offer any resistance. The traveller rallied his horse, and with many apologies to the gentleman he had so innocently and unwillingly affrighted, pursued his journey. The horse next made the same suspicious approach to a coach, from the windows of which a blunderbuss was levelled with denunciations of death and destruction to the hapless and perplexed rider. In short, after his life had been once or twice endangered by the suspicions to which the conduct of his horse gave rise, and his liberty as often threatened by the peace-officers, who were disposed to apprehend him as a notorious highwayman, the former owner of the horse, he was obliged to part with the inauspicious animal for a trifle, and to purchase at a large price one less beautiful, but not accustomed to such dangerous habits."

Of the larger quadrupeds the horse is said to be only second in intelligence to the Elephant, and many proofs could be given of the high standard of intelligence to which he sometimes attains. The Rev. F. 0. Morris says,-"We knew a blind coach-horse that ran one of the stages on the great north road for several years, and so perfectly was he acquainted with all the stables, haltingplaces, and other matters, that he was never found to commit a blunder. He could never be driven past his own stable; and at the sound of the coming coach he would turn out, of his own accord, into the stable-yard. So accurate was his knowledge of time, that though half-a-dozen coaches halted at the same inn daily, he was never known to stir till the sound of his own coach, the "ten o'clock" was heard in the distance." The intelligence of this horse was somewhat circumscribed but it was perfect within its limits. Colonel Smith, as already quoted, says, " Bipeds who exercise authority over horses, often show little superiority of reason, and much less of temper." The way in which horses have preserved masters who have tendered themselves incapable of taking care of themselves is proof of' this. A horse has been known to poke his nose in at a tavern door and shake his master by the shoulder, when he has been lingering too long over his potations. Another horse whose master from a similar cause was unable to keep his seat watched by his side in the road all night, and on being discovered by some labourers in the early morning vigorously resented their attempts to awaken him. Professor Kruger of Halle says, "A friend of mine was one dark night riding home through a wood, and had the misfortune to strike his head against the branch of a tree, and fell from his horse, stunned by the blow. The horse immediately returned to the house which they had left, about a mile distant. He found the door closed, and the family gone to bed. He pawed at the door till one of them, hearing the noise, arose and opened it, and to his surprise saw the horse of his friend. No sooner was the door opened than the horse turned round, and the man, suspecting there was something wrong, followed the animal, which led him directly to the spot where his master lay on the ground in a faint." A pony has been known to leap into a canal and save the life of a child in danger of drowning, and a cart horse to lift a child out of the road and place it carefully on the side walk before proceeding with his load. A remarkable illustration of the intelligence of the horse under circumstances in which most human beings would have lost all presence of mind, is quoted by Captain Brown. " In the month of April, 1794, owing to a strong wind blowing contrary to the current of the river, the island Kroutsand, surrounded by the two branches of the- Elbe, became entirely covered with water, to the great alarm of the horses, which, with some foals, had been grazing on it. They set up a loud neighing, and collected themselves together within a small space. To save the foals that were now standing up to their bellies in water seemed to be the object of their consultation. They adopted a method at once ingenious and effective. Each foal was arranged between horses, who pressed their sides together so as to keep them wedged up, and entirely free from injury from the water. They retained this position for six hours, nor did they relinquish their burden till the tide having ebbed and the water subsided, the foals were placed out of danger."

Horse-play is a term which conveys the idea of rough if not brutal romping, and yet the horse can be gentle in its friendships and considerate in its dealings with weaker animals, and with children to a remarkable degree. White in his " Natural History of Selborne ", tells of a curious friends1rip between a horse and a hen. " These two incongruous animals spent much of their time together in a lonely orchard, where they saw no creature but each other. By degrees an apparent regard began to take place between the two sequestered individuals; the fowl would approach the horse with notes of complacency, rubbing herself quietly against his legs, while the horse would look down with satisfaction, and move with the greatest caution and circumspection, lest he should trample on his diminutive companion." A similar friendship is recorded as between a horse and a sheep, whom circumstances threw much in company. Both gregarious animals and both failing of companionships of their own kind, they found solace in their loneliness in a beautiful if curious friendship. The gentleness of horses in dealing with children has often been remarked, even when within the confined limits of a stable they will use the utmost circumspection as to movements lest they should inadvertently tread upon their playfellows. Mr. Morris tells of a plough horse, who was too tall for his little master to mount and who used to put his head down to the ground and allow the boy to bestride his neck and then by gently elevating his head help him to slide on to his back. Horses have been known to allow liberties to children that they would not allow to their elders, a remarkable illustration of which is given by Captain Brown. A hunter who always violently resented any attempt on the part of his grooms to trim his fetlocks, was once the subject of conversation in his master's house, when the master defied any man "to perform the operation singly." On the following day when passing through the stable-yard he was astonished and alarmed at seeing his youngest child, who had been an unnoticed listener to the conversation the night before, with a pair of scissors, clipping the fetlocks of the horse's hind legs, the horse watching the operation with evident satisfaction. It is, however, as between horses and dogs that the truest affinity appears to exist of animals of different families, and numerous anecdotes are told in illustration of these friendships. Captain Brown gives the follow ing: "Doctor Smith, a practising physician in Dublin, had no other servant to take charge of his horse while at a patient's door, than a large Newfoundland dog; and between the two animals, a very good understanding subsisted. When he wished to pass to another patient without remounting, he needed but to give a signal to the pair, who followed him in the most perfect good order. The dog also led the horse to the water, and would give him a signal to leap over a stream. While performing this on one occasion, the dog lost hold of the reins, when the horse, having cleared the leap, trotted back to the dog, who resumed the reins."

" A gentleman in Bristol had a greyhound which slept in the same stable, and contracted a very great intimacy with a fine hunter. When the dog was taken out the horse neighed wistfully after him; he welcomed him home with a neigh; the greyhound ran up to the horse and licked him, the horse, in return, scratched the greyhound's back with his teeth. On one occasion, when the groom had the pair out for exercise, a large dog attacked the greyhound, bore him to the ground, and seemed likely to worry him, when the horse threw back his ears, rushed forward, seized the strange dog by the back and flung him to a distance which the animal did not deem it prudent to make less."

The horse's sympathy with his own kind must, however, not pass without mention. Horses have been known to masticate food for their toothless companions, an instance being recorded by M. de Boussanelle, a cavalry officer, of a horse belonging to his company who was fed for two months in this way by the horses stationed on either side of him. Whether the horses in the following case were actuated by sympathy or fear, the story deserves to be retold for its extreme pathos. When Sir John Moore's soldiers embarked after the battle of Corunna, orders were given that the troop horses should be shot, rather than that they should fall into the hands of the enemy. "These horses," says Colonel Smith, " witnessing their companions fall one after another, stood trembling with fear, and by their piteous looks seemed to implore mercy from the men who had been their riders, until the duty imposed upon the dragoons who had been intrusted with the execution of the order became unbearable, and the men turned away from the task with scalding tears: hence the French obtained a considerable number unhurt, and among them several belonging to officers who, rather than destroy them, had left their faithful chargers with billets attached recommending them to the kindness of the enemy."



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