MOST people imagine they know how to ride when once they get beyond the falling-off stage, but sticking to the pigskin is not a knack to be acquired in a day, and a man cannot pose as a fine horseman when he has not even learnt to preserve his balance. With driving it is different, and any one, who has ever sat behind a horse, may delude himself with the idea that he is a fine whip.
I am not going to write about fancy driving, how to hold your reins and your whip, or the exact angle at which you should be seated on the box; so that if you want to be a smart driver you must go elsewhere for a lesson.
There is, to my mind, too much show and pretence about driving in England. The primary aim has been lost sight of in trying to attain a style which shall please the eye, and this style is not based on common sense. I am an advocate for a pleasing outward appearance in everything, but when usefulness is sacrificed to show, then I consider we are verging on vulgar snobbery.
The first thing is, of course, the perfect control of the horse, and this must be accomplished without causing him any discomfort. This rule is applicable equally to riding or driving, and it is the principle on which you must base all your dealings with the animal.
I can never understand the amusement some people apparently find in driving four horses in London. The club meets in Hyde Park are, of course, to a certain extent, social functions, but they always appear to me very dismal affairs, and the majority of the drivers look as if the elevation to the box seat had brought a grave responsibility on their shoulders. They might be enjoying themselves, but the casual observer would imagine they were on the way to a funeral.
To rattle along behind a good horse at something like fourteen miles an hour is pleasant enough and there is a little excitement in driving, but most amateur coachmen seem content to crawl at a pace of which a coster's donkey would be ashamed.
There are men who can drive four horses well, and it is a pleasure to see them take a team through traffic at a fairly rapid rate, but the average coachman is a slave to a system of driving, which is meant more for ornament than for use. What does it matter how you hold your reins, if you can put your fingers on those you want at the right moment ? Here I must explain, or you will misunderstand my meaning. The beginner will take his lesson from those who have had experience, and he must acquire those methods which they have found best, but remember they are only the means to attain an end. When the pupil has mastered and become thoroughly familiar with recognised methods, he can then rely on his own judgment as to which he thinks best.
Most of us have been to the Wild West show, and there seen Colonel Cody drive a coach round the ring with four rough ponies. There was nothing stiff or laboured in the way he held the ribbons, and yet he did it with an easy grace with-, out doing it for effect. That is my idea of how four horses should be driven. I can recall another excellent exhibition of the art which I once witnessed, equally effective, but in an entirely different style. This was Lord Lonsdale's drive against time, in which he had backed himself, or others had, to do twenty miles under the hour with four different conveyances. The whole thing was wonderfully well done, and was accomplished in about fifty-one minutes, but what impressed me most was" the way in which he handled the four horses. There was no sudden jerk or jumping into the collar by one horse as the heavy char-a-banc started, but every trace drew taut, and in another second the four horses were in full gallop, their hoofs ringing out on the road with the regularity of clockwork.
These are, however, generalities which will not help the beginner, and I do not imagine any one would attempt the difficulties of guiding a team until he had learned to drive one horse.
Before a man thinks of getting on the box and holding the reins, he ought first of all to know how to harness a horse. This, I am sorry to say, is often thought to be unnecessary, and there are many men who know how to drive, but who have not the slightest idea of harnessing the animal, or, when harnessed, joining him to the vehicle.
Men are perhaps a little ashamed of exhibiting their ignorance of these details, but, having everything to learn, a boy need have no scruples in asking for technical knowledge from those who are familiar with the subject in their everyday life. As I have said, in riding let him first of all learn all the usual methods that are employed, and then when he reaches riper years he can alter or adapt them in the way he thinks best.
Having mastered the difficulty of putting on a riding-bridle, you should find it easy to put on the same article used for driving, but remember that the collar comes first. This, I think, is generally the stumbling-block of those who have not previously attempted to harness a horse. The animal's head always appears to be so much bigger than the space through which it has to pass.
You will, of course, not attempt to harness a horse until you have had considerable experience with a pony. The pony you ride will be none the worse for an occasional day between the shafts, and it will keep him from getting too fresh. I always thought that a drive for the sake of driving was very poor fun. To enjoy a drive one wants to have an object in view, besides the mere pleasure of sitting behind one horse or a pair.
Let us imagine you have three or four friends stopping with you, and you know some spot, say six or eight miles from home, where you would like to have a picnic. This is a good opportunity to show that you can harness your pony as well as drive him. I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you not to forget the eatables, but there are one or two things that might escape your memory. Here is a list that may assist you. A bucket (tin) to water the pony, and a feed of corn if you are going any distance. The food you take for yourselves should not be too elaborate, or it will spoil the fun of the thing. A kettle is the chief article, and you can carry the water in wine-bottles, which need not be brought back. A teapot, cups, loaf of bread, pot of jam, tea, and a bottle of milk are absolutely indispensable. A few knives and spoons will also add to your comfort, but the latter articles have a way of losing themselves on these occasions, and it is therefore as well they should not be of any great value. The materials for making and starting a fire must not be omitted, but they will depend a good deal on what can be gathered on the spot, though it is always advisable to take some dry stuff to make a first blaze. See for yourself that a box of matches is included, as they are very frequently forgotten, the cook trusting to the butler to do it, and the butler trusting to some one else. Now then, harness your pony, pack in your things, and off you go.