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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

The Breeding and Management of Horses

The Breeding and Management of Horses.

At the last meeting of the Ixworth Farmers' Club, the subject for discussion was "Breeding and Management of Horses," introduced by the President, E. Greene, Esq., M.P., who occupied the chair.

The President, before proceeding to read his paper, remarked that it had been arranged that Mr. Fowler should, at this meeting, give them a lecture on the all-important subject of steam ploughing, but that gentleman was unable to attend, and rather than there should be no discussion meeting at this time of the year, he (Mr. Greene) had hastily put down a few thoughts on the subject of "The Breeding and Management of Horses." He then proceeded to read his paper:—Amongst all the animals that a kind and beneficent Creator has given us for our use, there is none more intelligent than the horse. An old author says, "There is none which yieldeth more profit and pleasure to man than the horse, for he is stately in triumphs, adroit and bold in the most dangerous engagements, strong and hardy to endure any kind of fatigue or labour." Almost every country in the world has its own peculiar breed, and I may here remark that the Turkish horse is supposed to live longer than any other breed. The head of a horse should be small, narrow, and lean; it is a most essential part for beauty, without the good shape of which a horse can never look well. The ears should be little, narrow, straight, and hardy. An old Latin writer has said, "That by the motion of the ears a man may judge of the intention and design, or courage of a horse, just as one doth a dog's inclination by the motion of his tail." The eyes should be bright, lively, and full of fire, large and full. In the fore-quarter the most page 170 essential point is the shoulder. The back should be firm and not at all hollow, or bending from the withers to the croup, but straight. The ribs should be circular and full; the knees flat and large; good legs and sound feet indispensible. The quarters and gaskins should be muscular, and the hocks (another very important point in a horse) should be clean and flat, and well let down. I have said, "sound feet indispensible," and if time would allow, I should much wish to enlarge more on that wonderful structure. There is scarcely any part of the horse, save perhaps the eye, so richly organised as the foot, for it exceeds in the extreme delicacy of its construction anything that can be possibly imagined. To a common observer the foot may appear a mass of insensible horn, but it is composed of an assemblage of springs, especially when considered in relation to the fore-legs, which admirably adapt it not only to the uses of the animal considered individually, but to the uses of man also. The hoof is a secretion from the horny part of the foot. As the quantity of horn necessary for the defence of the sensitive foot is considerable, a large quantity of blood is distributed to it for this purpose, and is supplied by two large arteries, which pass down each side of the pastern. And I may here remark that when a horse stands in the stable without doing any work, the veins of the fore-leg do not return the blood freely, from want of pressure which work occasions. Mr. Greene made some remarks, in passing, in reference to a good back being of vital importance, and he said his experience had been that a horse whose ribs sprung from the spine, was the horse that would carry the most weight, though to all appearances it might not be the strongest horse. The weight was spread over the ribs, and carried with much greater ease, on the principle that a man would carry a pail of water on each side with ease by means of a hoop. The width of the bone below the hock was another very important point. There was no powerful, good horse whose hocks were not close to the ground, and without he had width in that bone between the hock and fetlock. That was where the animal got his power, his leverage to jump, and to do other work. Good sound feet were highly essential for all purposes, bar perhaps working on the land, and though he was in favour of great legs, you might depend upon it that if you got good sound feet the legs did not, as a rule, go far away. Very often the reason the legs were not good was because they had not good feet to support them. Mr. Greene continued :—Having given you a description of the most important points of this noble animal, I will now say a little on that puzzling question—viz., how to breed a grand well-actioned carriage horse, and a real good weight-carrying hunter, and a cart-horse. It is, I know, a very common thing to hear a man say, "I have bred a nag or two, but I will not do so again, it does not pay." I can from my own experience say the same, but the reason is, we do not go the right way to work; we are too apt to consider it very much a matter of chance, a mere lottery, but it is not so. I am of opinion that the two most profitable animals page 171 to breed are the trotting-harness horse, and the cart-horse, as both are marketable at an early age, and do not require to be broken in before they will command a good price. Not so the hunter; he requires to know his business before he will really do so. I am quite sure it is not wise to breed a nag foal unless both sire and dam are of the same typo, for valuable as the cross with a blood horse is, unless he is made like a hunter as well as the dam you will be disappointed nine times out of ten. He observed that he had bred three colts from a mare such as he had described, crossed judiciously, and all three promised to be good hunters. He did not see how it was possible to breed a horse of the type of a hunter or a harness horse if the sire and dam were not alike. He believed that breeding was a more certain thing than many people thought for, but it was necessary to pursue the same method with regard to horses as they did with sheep. If they wanted to breed good lambs they selected a tup of the best kind they could find, and a ewe of the same sort, and then they got something alike. So in the case of thoroughbreds; often, if the horse and mare were unlike, you got the weak point of the horse in the foal—such as turned-out-toes—and the foal was an animal of no value in the market. Mr. Greene then proceeded with his paper. Now to make breeding a horse a source of profit to the agriculturist, let us consider the kind we should try to breed. First: We have the high-actioned harness horse, so much sought after for the London market. There is little difficulty in producing this animal provided you have got the breed or stock. These are still in the Eastern counties, chiefly roans and chestnuts; but they want cultivating—that is, they are rather coarse and undersized, but they have the fine action and courage so essential in a valuable horse. They have been bred for their action for many years. Perhaps you would suggest the use of a thoroughbred, good-actioned sire to improve their beauty. This would not be desirable to obtain the animal you require, because thoroughbreds are a distinct breed, and have been bred for many hundreds of years for a distinct purpose—viz., fitness for the turf. Very high action is fatal for that purpose, consequently the action of that horse could not be hereditary. The only way to improve this class of horses is to choose the best of that breed, and continue to draft out, year after year, the imperfect animals, until a pure stock is found. We will now consider the other profitable animals for farmers to breed—viz., weight-carrying hunters. Now if you are fortunate enough to be able to breed this kind of animal, it will ever prove a mine of wealth to you; but the difficulty is how to set about it. The demand for this class of horse is very great, and they always command high prices, but I fear the profits that should go into the pocket of the breeder too often find their way into that of the dealer. Now the general plan to produce this animal is to put a thoroughbred sire to a half-bred mare; but the great difficulty is to obtain a sire that can carry fourteen or fifteen stone himself. Rather than use a horse unable to carry weight himself, I should have no page 172 objection to use one with a slight stain in his pedigree. For instance, The Colonel, winner of the Liverpool twice, is the sort of horse I mean; one that can go across the country himself, and a good-tempered one, which should not be overlooked; good temper is a most essential virtue both with man and horse. I have a good colt, by Little Pippin, Mr. Jenning's horse, and also a good one by a son of his belonging to Mr. C. Cooper, and both look like hunters. Let me advise you above all things never to breed from a mare that has not good action and length, and able to carry fifteen stone. We will suppose you have been fortunate enough to have found a sire and dam calculated, in your own mind, to produce what you desire—viz., a weight-carrying hunter, and that he has safely passed his infantine days, and is weaned. I cannot too strongly impress upon you the great importance there is in feeding him well. Mr. Greene stopped reading to express his belief that the great secret in all young animals was to feed them as highly as you could in the first winter after they had been taken off the mother, but after that time he considered it undesirable to force a riding colt, as you were apt to make it grow too fast and to throw out ring bones and side bones. He continued: I am a great advocate for early handling a colt, accustoming his legs to be lifted, and let him learn in his youthful days to look on man not as his enemy, but as his kind friend and protector. At three he should be bitted and have the dumb jockey on his back, and the best of the kind I know is that made by Mr. Blackwell, in Oxford Street. His mouth should be as nearly perfect as is possible before mounting him, which should be done early the following year. It is the usual custom in England to put a rough rider on a young horse, and send him out with hounds, to "learn his business," as it is called. I confess that I am entirely opposed to that plan, and far prefer to lunge him over small fences until he is quite perfect; he learns to jump in cold blood; he is not bustled, nor is his delicate mouth sawed by the hands of a man who in all probability does not know how to use them. The Irish horses are the best fencers in the world, and are eagerly sought for as hunters. The reason is—first, that when they are following their dams they are obliged to jump over the various banks and ditches that the mares choose to go over from one pasture field to the other. They get over places that I should have thought their small limbs would scarcely have surmounted. And, secondly they are always most carefully lunged in the manner I have described, and made as near perfection as can be before they go with hounds. The opinion in Ireland about liking what is called "flippant horses," or one that rather dwells at his banks, is varied. I confess myself to like the latter. It will, I well know, be said by many that there is nothing to be brought forward, either for or against fox hunting, that is not well-known to most of us who take any interest in the subject; but at the same time the various opinions of the well-known tillers of the soil in this and surrounding counties will, I am sure, be extremely interesting to hear, and should I put page 173 forth undoubted truisms in treating the subject, they will nevertheless call from some of you both useful and pertinent remarks. Of all the sports and pastimes of "Merrie England" in years gone by, no sport was held in greater estimation than that of hunting generally. It is certain that whenever a temporary peace gave leisure for relaxation, hunting was one of the most favourite pastimes followed by the nobility and persons of opulence. Ladies, likewise, were fond of the "chase." A courtier, writing to a friend about Queen Elizabeth, says—" She is well and excellently disposed to hunting, for every second day she is on horseback, and continues to sport long." The citizens of London were permitted to hunt and hawk in certain districts; and in an old ballad called "London Customs," they were much ridiculed. The animals to be pursued at the time were divided into three classes. At the present time the animal that is most thought of, and the most jealously preserved for venery, is the "fox." Nothing, I believe, has caused so much surprise to foreigners as the vast expense we go to both for the preservation and destruction of so apparently an insignificant creature. In order to carry out this national pastime of foxhunting, and to allow thousands to participate in this healthy and manly amusement, there are, I believe, in England alone, about 119 packs of foxhounds; three packs hunting six days a week; three hunting five; twenty-seven hunting four; forty-six hunting three; and forty, two days a week; and as the usual calculation of expense incurred simply and solely for bringing a pack to the cover side independent of the master's own expenditure, is £500 per day—i.e., for each day in the week they are advertised to hunt—I will leave you to judge of the immense sum that is circulated through England by this national sport, and of which much must necessarily find its way into the pockets of the agriculturists, by the great demand it occasions for hay, oats, and straw—to say nothing of the number of men who are employed through-out the United Kingdom to look after the horses of those engaged in this sport. Of all classes of men that enjoy this noble sport there are none more fond of it than the tenant-farmers. They are generally, to a man, good preservers of foxes, straight goers over country, kind, genial, to all they meet in the hunting field; and should the sport lead them to their own homes, none are so truly hospitable. I have hunted in many counties, and, with few exceptions, have invariably found the tenant-farmers keenly alive to the desirability of fox-hunting being kept up throughout England. At the conclusion of the reading of his paper, the President made some extempore observations on the subject. He remarked that since his early days the feeling with regard to cart-horses was very much altered. He apprehended that it was almost next to impossible to find a better horse for agricultural purposes than the Suffolk cart-horse, but from the fact of its being essential to retain the colour in that horse it has been necessary to breed rather closely. There had been a great demand for entire Suffolks to go abroad, and many of the best horses had been taken away, and we suffered a little page 174 in consequence. The characteristics of a Suffolk horse were good—his disposition and his constitution were favourable to him. What he (Mr. Greene) desired to see was that the Suffolk should be developed and brought back again to what he was a few years ago. One means of attaining this end was by retaining in the county the best specimens that might happen to be bred, and for the honour of the county it was well worth doing. Mr. Greene commented on the desirability of getting size in a cart-horse, and he remarked that for a farm a small horse might do, but it was not the one to fetch a good price in the market. There was nothing paid so well just now as a really good cart-colt, and he would say, "breed from the squarest, the widest, and the strongest short-legged mare on your farm, and put on her one of the biggest shire horses you can find, and by that means you will get a colt that will fetch a good price." He saw almost daily, horses brought out of the fens of Cambridgeshire that fetched £90, £100, or £120 a piece. It was a great help to a man if he were able to put a £100 cheque into his pocket for a five-year-old horse. It was seldom that a tall long-legged mare bred a good colt, but a short-legged mare with depth of chest and depth of rib was the sort of mare to throw out a good colt. It was very necessary of course to study soundness, and to take care to get no disease that was hereditary. Side bones were very prevalent in the present day. Thirty years ago it was hardly necessary to feel of the feet, as side bones were seldom seen; but his experience was that 20 to 25 per cent, of the cart horses that now came under his notice had side bones. They were to be found in colts and entire horses, and he supposed that, therefore, they were hereditary. At a small show at a country place where he was staying the other day, he found that three out of four stallions were roarers, and this was, perhaps, wiser than having a side bone. Let them be careful not to breed from animals that had either of these affections.