This discussion has rather led us away from our subject, which was on thoroughbreds as hunters, but they have one disadvantage ; and that is, being generally thin-skinned, they do not like facing a thorny place which they have to go through. In spite of this drawback my advice is, get all the "blood" you can. Of course, in countries where plough predominates you will not require quite as much breeding, and then again the question of your weight must be considered.
I am afraid, if my reader has accompanied me thus far, he will be getting rather tired of the purchase of horses which he may not have to make for several years, but I want to get the right theories into his head, so that he may follow them up by his own observation.
We will just run through a catalogue of a horse's good points before we close the subject. Let him be deep through the heart, with ribs that swell and bilge behind the girths; then he is certain to be a good stayer. A strong back and loins will carry weight. Now stand directly behind him, when, unless the muscles of the thighs and quarters impress you with strength, you may be sure that jumping with a weight on his back will be a task beyond his power. Carry your eye lower down, see that the second thighs are full, and then that the hock is clean and flat. Big bone below the hock is a very important point in a hunter, and never buy one with small fetlock joints. The imperfections of the foot may sometimes be forgiven, as we generally hunt on soft ground, but, when the sole of the foot is flat and nearly level with the frog, you will be wise not to purchase.
Unless, however, you are an expert you will be wise to leave all questions of soundness to your veterinary surgeon and content yourself with selecting an animal that is built on the lines you think best. If your purse is not well filled you must try your luck at auction and hope to pick up a bargain ; but unless you are very careful, you will probably be landed with an old useless brute. With a substantial balance at the bank, the best plan is to go to a good dealer, tell him exactly what you want, and ask him to show you a certain number of animals that he can recommend ; then make your own choice after having a ride. If you see one you do not like, give no reason for not taking it; just say nothing and pass on to the next.
All the horses in a dealer's stable are for sale, and it is his business to sell them whenever he gets the chance, but no good man will "stick" you with an animal, if you say at the outset exactly what you require and take it on his recommendation. If, however, you think yourself as clever as the dealer and pit your skill against his, you must not squeal if you eventually get the worst of the bargain. My experience of horse-dealers is that they are quite as straight as dealers in any other article, but I would have you beware of the gentleman horse-dealer.
Our old friend Jorrocks quotes, "Who should counsel a man on the choice of a wife or a horse ? " but if you take my counsel you will choose both those articles for yourself.
A small boy would not often be asked to handle or break in a young horse, but when once he has learnt to ride, it is a task he is quite as capable of doing as a man. You may have heard of the rough and ready methods employed out in the west of America, but if you had much experience with the horses which are thus broken, you would see the result is not often satisfactory. Of course out West the time cannot be spared to do any preliminary handling, so that the animal that is wild one day is saddled and ridden the next. Some horses require very little breaking and are willing slaves from the start, but the average animal exacts all the time and patience a man can give if you do not wish him to develop unpleasant habits later on. Like everything else, the art of taming horses is governed by common sense, and if you reason the matter out you will see for yourself what is the best thing to do.
First of all you have to overcome the animal's natural fear of man and then to give it confidence. Afterwards you must make it understand that you are the master and that, however headstrong at first, it must eventually bend to your will. Absolute quietness is of course essential in the handling of young horses, and a good motto for those who have any animals under their control is, " Be gentle, but be firm".
We are all rather prone to take it for granted that, because animals are denied the power of speech, it is useless to employ the human language in conveying any impression to them, but this is a great mistake, and one that we see committed in the kennel as well as in the stable. You have only to watch horses doing shunting work on railways, or even the slaves in the plough, to see that words can easily be made to convey their proper meanings. The hearing of a horse is more sensitive than that of a man, and there is therefore no reason why horses should not distinguish sounds. They cannot be expected to learn the meaning of every word in the English language or to understand a long sentence, but they have quite sufficient intelligence to know what is required of them when certain words are used.
The average horseman seems to think the only words that can be understood by a horse are "Whoa!" and "Come up!" and he uses these to attain a variety of ends, so that it is no wonder the poor animal gets confused.
The general idea of "Whoa !" is that it is an order to stop or come to a halt, and yet people are continually using it when the words " Steady !" or "Gently !" would be more applicable. If you wish to be successful with horses every word you use to them should have its distinct meaning, and that meaning should never be varied.
Although we can make horses understand in time what we require them to do when we use certain words, we ought not to blame their intelligence because they appear slow in taking these in, as sounds made by the human voice are unnatural to equine ears. With all our superior brain power, no one has yet discovered the meaning of one word in any animal's language, the reason being that our ears are not sufficiently quick to distinguish the difference in sounds.1