When buying a horse never take any one's opinion about shoulders, and do not trust to the judgment of your eye. The only sound test is to get on his back, jump a fence, and gallop down hill. Some horses have apparently beautiful shoulders to look at, but cannot use them, and this you will speedily find out when you gallop down a grass field.
Several years ago I bought a horse which I hoped would carry me hunting and win me a race at the end of the season. I remember many good judges remarking on his beautiful shoulders, and on the strength of their opinions I rode him across Leicestershire with the utmost confidence. I began to think this confidence was rather misplaced after he had given me about half-a-dozen crushing bad falls, and that his shoulders were not quite as perfect as they looked. He was a very clever horse, and would not come down if he could help it, but when he did fall I never knew what had happened for a few seconds. I invariably found myself facing the fence I had come over, and generally with a collar-stud burst, two signs which I look upon as indicating a bad kind of spill.
After a series of tumbles out hunting and between the flags I came to the conclusion that the horse did not suit me, and I therefore sold him to go in harness ; but before parting with him I asked a friend who had considerable experience to get on his back. That friend gave his opinion before he had been in the saddle five minutes, and it was—" He is the worst shouldered brute I ever rode, and I would not hunt him for a hundred pounds." This was a horse that men who had not ridden spoke of as having "beautiful shoulders".
The horse with a perfect shoulder and a natural balance is hard to find, but it is what you should always aim at getting in your search for a hunter. When you are fortunate enough to secure this luxury, make the most of him and don't part if you can afford to keep.
The leg from the knee to the fetlock joint should be short and flat, with big strong joints. Pasterns that are extra long show a weakness, but the other extreme is as bad, because pasterns are the natural springs to lessen the jar of jumping, and a horse with very short ones is certain, sooner or later, to become injured in legs or feet. A man who jumps any height will be considerably shaken if he lands on his heels, but he will save nearly all jar by letting his toes first touch the ground. The straight and very short pastern joint of a horse gives the same result as a man landing on his heels.
Do not buy a horse that is light of bone : I mean by this one that has not bone in proportion to the rest of his body. Whether the animal is capable or not of carrying your weight is a question you must decide for yourself, but his limbs must first of all be strong enough to carry his own carcase. I think you will generally find that a seller has a greater opinion of his horse's weight-carrying abilities than any one else.
A hunter must have a large proportion of thoroughbred blood, and I would always prefer a clean-bred one if he had the necessary substance to carry me. The advantage of riding a fast horse to hounds is that you very seldom have to gallop, and he is only cantering when the hairy-heeled sort are going at their best pace. In hunting, however well you know the country, you are always coming upon the unexpected, and when a horse is cantering his limbs are under control, so that he can change a leg or put in an extra stride to avoid a difficulty at the last moment.
In steeplechasing your object is to get over the fences as quickly as you can, and be first past the winning - post; but please remember that hunting is a sport and not a race. Cast out the spirit of emulation, never mind what your friends are doing, and think only of hounds. Your aim and object is to be as near the pack as possible without over-riding them, and then to see the fox killed.
There are occasions out hunting, when you get a bad start or are otherwise in a hurry to make up lost ground, on which you must take chances and gallop over a fence ; but the proper pace to ride at any obstacle, be it timber or hedge, is a canter. The horse at that gait is in the position to put forth his greatest power for jumping, and being collected can recover his balance if he happens to make a mistake. A horse, when fully extended in galloping, has no reserve power left to meet any new contingency which may arise at the last moment.
I have remarked before, steeplechasing and hunting are two entirely different things. Hunt meetings are generally pleasant social gatherings, but as a rule they are farcical imitations of a race, and are an insult to hunters. There is a great deal of nonsense talked about a " natural country," and making the fences bigger to enable the genuine hunters to have a chance, but you will find that the confidential animal which has never made a mistake in the hunting-field, usually comes to grief at an obstacle that the chaser — who has never seen hounds—sails easily over.
The chaser must gallop over his fences and the hunter ought not, so that when the latter is brought out between the flags, you are asking him to do something which is entirely opposed to his previous education. I admit that many horses which have won races make excellent hunters, but they must have some further training before they become safe mounts with hounds.
Any horse that is fast enough and has sufficient strength to carry weight, can be made into a steeplechaser, but he must be properly " schooled." When a horse has once learnt to rise at a fence and the right moment to take off, the act of jumping is very little more exertion than galloping.
The moral of all this is, when you go a-hunting don't imagine you are steeplechasing, and when you are performing between the flags, don't think you are riding to hounds. In a run, if you want to make up lost ground, go as fast as you like between the fences, but take a pull before you have to jump.