In my experience I have found that the inflexions of the human voice are more readily appreciated by animals than particular words. By this I mean they know at once if you talk to them in harsh or scolding tones, and equally understand when you speak kindly. There are some men who have no intention of being rough or unkind, but they happen to have harsh and discordant voices that grate on a sensitive ear. These people are seldom successful or popular with animals, and should never attempt the breaking-in of young horses.
1 The more I watch wild birds, especially at the breeding season, the more I incline to a belief that some species, small and large, have a considerable language of their own, and that words in bird land sometimes vary in meaning according to the manner and circumstances in which they are uttered.—Ed.
Some grooms get into a very objectionable habit of shouting at their charges for no reason at all, and the result is the whole stable become nervous. It is unnecessary to raise the voice above a whisper ; as I have already said, a horse's hearing is very quick. If you were to shout in angry tones at a servant in your employ, you would be aiming a blow at his nerves, even though the words used were harmless, but if that servant, or, let us say, a delicate woman, happened to be afraid of you, the nervous system would receive such a distinct impression that your voice would always afterwards give a severe shock when raised above its ordinary pitch. If the voice has this effect on a human being, how much more will it jar on the sensitive hearing of a horse ?
I have dwelt rather long on this subject because I consider it one of great importance to horse-owners, and as you are young it is easy for you to begin on the right lines. However, do not accept my conclusions as correct without first reasoning the matter out for yourself and forming your own opinions on the subject.
Grooms are a very conservative body, and do not even deserve the name of " progressive," which is, I believe, the title adopted by Tories with Liberal ideas. There has been very little change in English stable management for the last hundred years, and any alteration that has been made has always had its inception from outside sources. The result is that we find Americans far ahead of us in their treatment of horses. At least that is my opinion, my view being that their methods are more humane and more sensible. Across the Atlantic the voice plays a very considerable part in the working and management of horses.
American trainers who have come to England have been repeatedly successful in making animals quiet that in other hands had been unmanageable, both in the stable and on the racecourse. The English trainer and his satellites employ methods because they are hallowed by age, whilst the American is not afraid of making any new departure if it appears to him to be dictated by common sense. That is why I say to you, reason things out for yourself, and use your common sense. You may make mistakes, and get laughed at for departing from the beaten track, but a little laughter will not hurt you, and you will soon find out when you are wrong. At the same time it is just as well to make use of other people's experience in forming your own judgment, and my idea in writing this book is not to give you a complete manual of directions, but to give you hints, and then incite you to think for yourself.
The man who wants to control horses must first of all learn to control his own temper. Now I imagine we all or most of us have a temper of some sort, and there are very few of us who have not allowed that demon to get the upper hand at some period of our lives. To lose control of one's temper is a sign of weakness, and, like all other weaknesses, can be overcome by force of will. It is bad enough to lose one's temper with a fellow-creature, but to lose it with dumb animals and inanimate objects indicates a mind that has lost its will power, and is swayed by passion. If the heat within you must find vent in an ebullition of temper, pick out a boy bigger and stronger than yourself, and on him pour out your pent-up wrath. When you have expended your energy in trying to hit him and he has given you a good pommelling, you will realise that a temper is liable to get you into trouble if you allow it to become your master.
Horses are very trying, I admit, sometimes, and it is much easier to sit here laying down rules about keeping one's temper than to do it in reality. I am sorry to say I have very often lost my temper with a horse for refusing a fence, but have always felt sorry for it afterwards, and, thinking it over in cold blood, realised I have made a fool of myself.
The old hunter you have ridden several seasons knows your peculiarities better than you do yourself, and will forgive an outburst of temper, because he is aware from previous experience that you will be kind again when the fit has passed. I would, however, have you remember that we gain our power over horses entirely by the superiority of mind over brute strength, and that a loss of temper is an exhibition of weakness which brings us down to their level.
Whatever you may do with older horses, you must never allow yourself to get irritated or angry with young ones under any circumstances, and if you have not sufficient control over your temper, you had better leave the task to others.
The natural instinct of a horse is to fear man, and that is one of the first things you have to overcome. Most of those disconcerting tricks to which young horses are liable are the outcome of fear, and they really become vices by improper handling.
The qualities that go to make a perfect horse-breaker are useful in every phase of life. He must be cool ; his nerves and temper must be under absolute control; there must be no vacillation or indecision in his composition, and he must not know fear. Lastly, he should be rigidly firm, unvaryingly kind, and always patient. This may sound to you rather an alarming catalogue of virtues, but if your health and nerves are good, all the rest is merely a question of will.