Horses are carried on land in "floats", railway boxes, and trucks. The first vary in different districts, but the main principle is that of a box on low wheels, in which sick or injured horses may be carried. Entrance to these useful conveyances is obtained from behind, where the door, on being let down, forms a gangway with very slight ascent, along which the horse is led into the float.
The horse-box familiar to most travellers, at least from the outside, is divided into three compartments, every portion of which appears to have been designed with the special object of making the most alarming noises calculated to frighten the inmates.
The same description applies with even greater force to the doors, which open upon the platform, or " dock " as it is called. It is too heavy for a man to let it down steadily, and the traditions of the railway would be altogether violated if it were not allowed to fall with great violence upon the siding. Everything about a horse-box comes undone with a jerk and closes with a bang. Some horses absolutely refuse to enter a box of the kind, and much might be done to render them less fearsome to those unaccustomed to travel.
The youngster is frightened at the outset by the sound of his feet on the wooden frame door, which might just as well be "dead sounded" by an intervening substance that would absorb sound, or an india-rubber floor. The means of securing horses when in the box is also objectionable.
In this connection Professor Axe, writing in the Live Stock Journal Almanac, observes: - "No one having acquaintance with the construction of our horse-boxes during the past thirty years will fail to recognize how very meagre have been the alterations and improvements which have been effected in them during that period; but what is still more important is the striking want of uniformity, and obviously dangerous methods, which continue to be practised throughout the various systems in the fastening or tethering of travelling horses.
" That our railway companies, with all the experience before them, should have failed to develop a reasonably safe system out of the half-dozen methods or more now in vogue is by no means reassuring to the horse-owning public, and so long as such divided opinions and practices exist, so long may we expect accidents to continue, and litigants to press the advantages of, one system in order to fix blame on another.
"In tethering horses in boxes the general practice at present adopted is to engage two stout ropes and a head-stall. The former are tied in various ways, not only in the service of different companies, but also in different boxes belonging to the same company. The more common arrangement is to have an 'upper' and a 'lower' rope. These in some companies have a regulation length of 3 feet for the former and 1 foot 10 inches for the latter, while in others the length of rope to be allowed is left very much to the discretion of the porter. When adjusted, one end of each rope is attached to the right or left side of the head-stall below; the other end, belonging to the long rope, is carried upward to one side, and securely tied to an iron ring immediately beneath the roof above; while the still loose end of the short rope on the opposite side is in some cases attached low down to the partition in front, in others to a ring in the manger-board, and in a third to a ring in front of the manger.
"Another system is to run both ropes from the head-stall through a ring in the last-named position, and then fasten them to the front end of the box right and left of the horse's head. In some boxes only a single rope is employed, in which case one end is attached to the chin-strap of the head-stall and the other to a 6-lb. weight, which keeps the rope taut through a hole in the manger-board.
"It will be seen from this that, in all these methods of tethering, the ropes, in one form or another, are made to rest on or near the manger or manger-board, as the case may be, and consequently within reach of the horse's feet whenever he is disposed to place them there. It is no rare occurrence for excitable and refractory animals to land their fore-limbs in this position, even when the head is tied down within 6 inches of the manger-ring, and by entangling themselves in the ropes, to suffer severe, if not fatal, damage; indeed, this is the great source of mischief in connection with our horse traffic by rail.
"An ingenious and simple device for correcting this unsatisfactory state of things, and one in which I have taken a practical interest, has been designed by Mr. Bartrum, late veterinary officer to the Midland Railway Company, who have already recognized its merits and brought it into use. The appliance consists of a rope, one end of which is attached to a ring in front of the nose-band by means of a spring hook working on a swivel. The rope then passes upward, and over an adjustable pulley-wheel fixed in a slot in the partition between the stall and the coupe. Attached to its other end is a small weight, surmounted by a spiral spring, and confined in a small box (fig. 653). By this arrangement only one rope is engaged in the tying, and that is entirely removed from possible contact with the feet. Instead of the horse being bound down by the head, he enjoys comparative freedom and comfort, and indeed such an amount of liberty as will enable him to recover himself from any awkward position in which he may, from restiveness or other cause, become involved. Another conspicuous and important advantage of the fastenings of this appliance is that, should he fail to free himself, he can be set at liberty at once, through the door of the coupe, by removing the spring hook from the ring in the nose-band. These and other solid advantages are presented by the Bartrum device, which promise to do away with much of that suffering and loss which attend the transit of horses by rail."
Fig. 653. - Bartrum's Tethering Apparatus.
Another serious objection to horse-boxes is that the padding which prevents injury to the skin is not removable for purposes of disinfection or ordinary cleansing, hence the danger of infectious disease, even if the utmost care were exercised. The ordure from the last inmate commonly remains, despite Rule 15 (Transit Order, Animals Act), which requires that the vehicle shall be thoroughly cleansed according to specified directions therein contained. Neglect to comply with these orders carries certain - or, rather, uncertain - penalties, since the railway servants habitually disregard them.
Besides the horse-box there is the ordinary truck, which dealers, ever ready to accept additional risk in order to effect an economy, usually employ to convey their purchases on the often long journeys from fairs and markets. The truck is better cleansed and kept in a much more wholesome condition than the more expensive box, as for some reason the Animals Orders in connection with cattle are more respected, and these conveyances are fre-quently whitewashed and otherwise disinfected.
They hold some half-dozen horses, and the object of the consignor in packing them as closely as possible is to prevent them from kicking one another. In the use of the horse-box there is no rule as to having the hind shoes off, but it is a sort of lex non scripta of the truck, and usually insisted upon on board ship, but not on so-called horse "boats".
There is a special order issued by the Board of Agriculture with regard to watering horses on railway journeys by which the respective companies are made responsible, but owners have been prosecuted for not feeding animals on the journey while beyond their own control and detained on the road by some failure on the part of the carriers to deliver within reasonable time.