I feel certain that the reader I am addressing is not the sort to ill-treat dumb animals of any kind, and I am sure he will understand that when in charge of a horse the responsibility for its welfare is upon his own shoulders. Cruelty to animals is more often than not the result of thoughtlessness, at least I believe it is with boys, if not with men. If you will forgive me for preaching, I should like to point out that it is worse to be cruel to animals than it is to human beings. The Creator has put the animals in our power, and therefore under our protection. Horses have to work for us, and cattle have to die for us, but that is no reason why we should inflict any unnecessary suffering.
After considerable experience with animals of all sorts, I have come to the conclusion that each and every one has a distinct individual character. Bear this in mind, and study the characteristics of your pony or your dog. If there is any sympathy in your nature you will understand them better, and they will look on you as a friend.
Whatever you may do in after years, I hope now you will look upon the whip as an instrument of punishment or a goad to further exertions, and when not required will allow it to repose quietly in the bracket. The smart coachman, or the man who considers himself an expert driver, always carries the whip in his hand, and would consider any one a duffer who did otherwise. I am in a minority, and therefore it is natural to suppose I must be wrong, but I shall still adhere to my opinion. I consider that the whip should only be used when the voice fails, and that a horse should always have the chance of responding to the voice before the lash is applied. The lazy and thick-skinned may not object to a stroke or two with the whip, but it is an insult to a high-spirited and willing horse. If a schoolmaster hit a boy to make him get on faster with his lessons without first speaking, that boy would feel justly aggrieved.
In discussing these details we have passed the time away whilst driving, and we now arrive at the spot you had chosen for the picnic. The last half-mile you drove quite slowly, so that the pony should not be too hot when you stopped. I ought to have added, before making a start, that the pony should have had a good strong halter underneath the bridle, and a feed of corn inside the cart.
You are captain of this outfit, so that you will have to give orders, but the welfare of the pony must be your care. We will suppose it is the afternoon, and the long drive has made you ready for a cup of tea. One of your friends can help you take the pony out, the others you can send to collect sticks for the fire and get the kettle to boil.
The first thing to do is to tie up the reins to a ring on the pad, and after you have unhitched the horse you will take a double overhand knot in them, so that they will not drag on the ground. Then unbuckle the bridle from the bit on one side and slip it out of his mouth, take the halter in your hand, and lead him down to water. There may be a pool or stream handy, but, if not, you will have to find a pump or spring, and it was for that reason I advised you to bring a bucket. When the pony has quenched his thirst you will select a tree, and tie him securely to it with the halter, but he must be able to feed off the ground without being able to get a leg over the halter. Give him the feed of corn and then superintend the fire.
This is not a treatise on camping out or picnics, and if I write any more my editor will be calling me to order, but before I leave you to enjoy your outing there are two wrinkles I can give which may be useful. The first is, get a big log of wood and put on the weather side of your fire. The second is, your kettle should be over the fire and not resting on it.
Good " hands " are quite as important in driving as riding, and it requires an artist to make a horse really show himself to advantage. Driving with the bent wrist is considered the correct style, and it has this advantage—you can get a more delicate feel of a horse's mouth ; but the average driver is much too heavy-fisted to appreciate why he does it.
For ordinary driving there is nothing better than a plain snaffle-bit, and if the pony cannot be held with that he is not fit for a young driver.
Driving-reins are much too heavy to get a really delicate touch on a horse's mouth, and for that reason I recommend an easy bit.
No one with any consideration for a horse ever thinks of using a bearing-rein.
A few final hints on horsemanship, and I have done.
Riding is an art that can only be attained by constant practice, and the man who tells you he felt quite comfortable the first time he was on the back of a horse, you may put down as a perverter of the truth. No one need despair, however hopeless he may feel in the saddle, and he may be certain others have felt equally awkward in the same position. Like everything else, it is much easier to acquire when young, but any one with determination and nerve can learn to ride, even if he has reached middle age.
Riding is not natural to the human being any more than swimming, and a man is as much at sea for the first time on a horse as he is in deep water. The boy acquires the knack of doing both without much trouble and without knowing how he does it, but the adult must apply great patience and determination to overcome his fear of the strange position.
The bravest man, if unable to swim and thrown into the water, or put in the saddle for the first time, would show signs of fear. You ought therefore never to jeer at others for their evident nervousness in doing what may seem easy to you. In some other emergency they are likely to show greater bravery than you, and if it came to a tight place would save the situation by presence of mind where you might fail. Never put any one down as a funk because he fears a thing you do not. Some day you will meet something that frightens you, and then you will feel sorry for having laughed at that other man.