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The Horse Continued

( Originally Published 1918 )

NOW let us say a few words about the horse's coat, the growth of hair that covers its body. This may be of uniform color or of two or more different colors. Coats of uniform color are the white, the black, and the chestnut. The two first do not need any explanation. A horse is chestnut when its coat is of a reddish or yellowish tint.

"Among the composite coats, the following are distinguished. The horse is piebald if the coloring is in large splashes, some white, others black or red. It is flee-bitten gray if the coat is a mixture of white, black, and red, over the whole body, legs and all; but if the legs are black while the body presents a combination of the three tints, the horse is roan. Bay horses have a chestnut-colored coat, that is to say reddish or yellowish, with the legs, the mane, and the tail brown or black. The coat is dappled when it is thickly sprinkled with light spots on a darker background of uniform color. Dappled gray is common. It is dun when the color is yellowish with a brown stripe on the back, a peculiarity rather common in the donkey and mule. A number of other terms are used in describing a horse's coat in detail.

Thus the term white-foot is applied to the white marking sometimes found just above the hoof. A white spot in the middle of the forehead is called a blaze if it is round, a star if angular.

"The horse's mode of progress is called its gait, and may be either natural or artificial, depending on whether the animal is untrained or trained. The natural gaits are the walk, the trot, and the gallop. In the walk the legs move in what may be termed a diagonal sequence, as follows : the right fore leg, the left hind leg, the left fore leg, the right hind leg. If the horse is well formed the hind foot steps exactly into the track left by the fore foot on the same side.

"In the trot the feet are lifted and put down two by two in diagonal pairs, the right fore foot with the left hind foot, and the left fore foot with the right hind foot. This gait is more rapid than the preceding, but is also harder for the rider as well as for the horse, because of the shock sustained when two feet strike the ground at the same time.

`The gallop is of several kinds, the simplest and swiftest consisting of a succession of forward bounds. The two fore feet are lifted at the same time, then the two hind feet, which push the animal with a sudden spring. That is the racer's gait.

"Among the artificial gaits I will mention the amble, in which the legs move in pairs on the same side, the two left at the same time, then the two right, alternately. The horse thus maintains a sort of oscillation, furnishing a gentle and easy motion for the rider. The amble is, however, rapid, for as there is no support on the side of the two uplifted legs the animal keeps from falling only by the rapidity of its motion.

"In galloping a horse covers ten meters a second, or at most fifteen when going at top speed. In trotting it covers from three to four meters, and in walking, from one to two."

"Let me reckon up what that would be in an hour," Emile interposed. "I will take the highest figures." With his pencil he wrote some figures on a piece of paper, and then said : "That would make, by the hour, thirteen leagues of four kilometers each for the horse at its fastest gallop; only three leagues for the horse when trotting; and a league and a half when walking."

"I must inform you, my friend," rejoined his uncle, "that though a horse can keep up a trot for whole hours at a time, it is impossible for it to gallop even one hour without stopping. The speed that would give the enormous distance of thirteen leagues an hour lasts fifteen minutes at the most in racing, after which the animal is exhausted. Note in passing the superiority of the railway engine, the locomotive, in regard to rapidity. This speed of thirteen leagues an hour, which blows a horse in a quarter of an hour's race, the locomotive keeps up and even exceeds as long as may be desired. No comparison, you see, is possible between the iron steed and the steed of flesh and blood.

"Let us turn to the subject of the horse's strength.

A riding horse carries on an average from 100 to 175 kilograms at a slow gait. If the load is a rider of 80 kilograms, the horse can travel seven hours and cover ten leagues of four kilometers each. But its strength is much better employed if instead of carrying the weight on its back the animal draws it in a vehicle. Then an expenditure of energy represented by the weight of five kilograms is sufficient to move a load of 1000 kilograms if the wheels of the vehicle run on a railway track. For the same load on a smooth, level road an expenditure of energy represented by 33 kilograms is needed; finally, if the road is paved with stone the required energy will be 70 kilograms. On an excellent road, stagecoach horses draw each a load of 800 kilograms and cover six leagues in two hours, after which they are replaced by others.

"Let us compare these figures once more with those relating to the steam engine. A passenger locomotive draws with a speed of a dozen leagues an hour a train having a total weight of as much as 150,000 kilograms. A freight locomotive draws at the rate of seven leagues an hour a total weight of 650,000 kilograms. More than 1300 horses would be needed to take the place of the first locomotive, and more than 2000 for the second, if they were used to transport similar loads the same distance at the same rate of speed, using cars running on rails. How many more would be needed with wagons on ordinary roads, where the surface inequalities cause such waste of energy !

"The domestication of the horse goes back to the first communities of the East. After the herd they must soon have had, first, the ass to carry the bag-gage of the nomadic tribe, then the horse, man's valiant comrade in the chase and in war. What is still to be observed to-day shows us how easily this valuable animal submitted to man's domination. The grassy plains of Tartary abound in wild horses, and probably the species originated in these Asiatic regions. The pampas of South America feed innumerable herds of them, mingled with the wild cattle that I have told you about. Both descend from domestic animals brought to the New World by Europeans. Each herd follows a leader of tried strength and courage. If danger arises, if there is 'menace from some ferocious wild beast, such as a wolf, panther, or jaguar, the horses crowd together and press against one another for their common defense. Their haughty look and their kicking are generally sufficient to put the aggressor to flight. But if the enemy charges them, counting on an easy prey, the leader of the herd rears and falls on the beast with all its weight, crushing the assailant with its fore hoofs; then with its powerful jaws seizes the shattered body and throws it to the colts, which finish it and caracole on its body."

"An animal that defends itself like that," re-marked Jules, "must be rather hard to tame into a docile servant.''

"No, the difficulty is not, after all, very great. What happens today on the pampas when it is desired to master a wild horse is of a nature to show us how the ancient horse-tamers accomplished the same object. A herd of horses, skilfully turned aside from its feeding ground and surrounded little by little on all sides, is driven without suspecting the ruse into a large enclosure called a corral. There those of finest appearance are selected. Immediately a dexterous hand throws the lasso, the long leather thong weighted with balls of lead, which catches them round the neck and legs and prevents their moving. A halter is quickly put on the captive. A practised horseman wearing sharp spurs mounts the animal, the fettering lasso is removed by helpers, and there stands the animal, free, but trembling after its misadventure."

"Now the horseman had better look out," said Jules.

"Certainly, the first moment is not without danger. The indignant animal rears, kicks, bounds, and tries to roll on the ground to get rid of its burden; but the horseman masters this rage with the bleeding prick of the spur; he keeps his seat as if he were one with his mount. Then the gate of the enclosure is opened, and the horse darts out and gallops away at breakneck speed until utterly winded. This unbridled run suffices to tame the animal, after which the horseman rides it back, unresisting and already obedient to bit and spur, to the corral. Henceforth it can be left with the domesticated horses without fear of its trying to escape.

"Horses are classed, according to the rearing and training they have received, in two chief groups—saddle horses and draft horses. The first serve as mounts for riders, the second draw loads in vehicles. Among saddle horses the most celebrated are the Arabian, remarkable for their mettle, intelligence, docility, fleetness of foot, and ability to endure long abstinence from food and drink. The Arab steed is medium-sized and has a delicate skin, small head, slender frame, a spirited bearing, finely modeled legs, stomach little developed, and small, polished, very hard hoofs.

"Draft horses, whose function it is to draw heavy loads in wheeled vehicles at a walking pace, have quite opposite characteristics. They lack lightness and mettle, but patiently exert their strength, which is considerable, as might be inferred from their more massive build and from the great quantity of feed that their maintenance demands. They have a stout body, heavy walk, thick skin, large head, wide chest, broad rump, capacious stomach, strong legs, and hoofs of no delicate proportions. France possesses in the Boulogne breed the most highly prized of draft horses. This vigorous animal, usually dapple-gray, plays the laborious part of shaft-horse. Having its position next to. the cart or wagon, it is placed between the two shafts. It is the one to pull the hardest on up-grades, the one that eases with its enormous weight the jolts on street pavements and checks the dangerous momentum of the vehicle on down-grades. Compare these two pictures that I show you here, and you can easily see in the first the horse made for speed; in the second, the horse intended for hard work."

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