Until a person has by practical experience become acquainted with the evil results of bad breaking, it is impossible for him to estimate the importance which attaches to the proper handling and preparing of horses for whatever their future mission in life may be. Of course, as different varieties of horses have to be put to different work, and as tempers and constitutions vary very considerably, each class of animal has to be treated separately in matters of detail, though up to a certain point there is a similarity in the methods applied to the breaking and preparation of all horses.
Thus, for instance, the man who is entrusted with the responsibility of preparing a horse for whatever purpose will, if he is wise, endeavour in the first instance to master all the details of the temper, constitution, and peculiarities of the animal. He will satisfy himself of the condition of the teeth, digestion, wind, eyes, limbs, and general state of his pupil, and will use his best endeavours to strengthen any weaknesses which may exist in these before the preparation commences, or, if possible, so to shape his system that it will adapt itself to the peculiar infirmity of that particular horse. Any inattention to such preliminary considerations as the above will be certain to be associated with failure and disappointment, as it cannot be too strongly impressed upon all those who have transactions with horses that no two animals are identical in all respects, and therefore that a course of treatment which will prove beneficial to one may prove worse than useless if applied to another.
The great mistakes which many persons make in breaking, schooling, or preparing horses are the over-application of the whip and the adoption of a loud bullying tone towards the animal when he makes a mistake, or does not immediately respond to the requirements of the breaker. Even the Duke of Newcastle, in his sumptuously illustrated folio work on equitation which was published so far back as the year 1743, expressed himself very strongly upon this subject. In attending to the whip, he says "it is oftentimes of service, but I wish it were more sparingly used", and assuredly these words of wisdom should be written in letters of gold in every saddle-room in the kingdom. There is, too, a very general tendency towards the employment of unsuitable bits on horses of all varieties, young and old, light and heavy, and upon this point again the old Duke of Newcastle is to be credited with the delivery of most excellent advice. He writes: "But, above all, this rule is chiefly to be observed, to put as little iron in your horses' mouths as possibly you can". This advice is so admirable that it needs no comment, and may be sincerely commended to all horse-owners in the present day. Over-bitting, unnecessary flogging, and the intimidation of nervous horses by the shouting and bullying of loud-voiced trainers are indeed most fruitful causes of inglorious displays in public on the part of animals which, had they been properly treated, would have rendered far better accounts of themselves. Therefore the most scrupulous attention to their comfort and well-being in other respects will certainly be neutralized if the natural tenderness of their mouths and their individual peculiarities are not also most carefully considered.
In training and preparing horses for hard work it is perhaps unnecessary to state that the methods which obtained in days gone by have been greatly modified in many respects; but even nowadays considerable difference of opinion exists amongst trainers as to what is beneficial and what is not good for a horse. Some men are keen believers in a system which involves an almost merciless amount of hard work being set any animal which can endure it, whilst others advocate a life of comparative laziness for the aspirants for future honours, both parties being more or less indifferent to the fact that, after all. the individual temperament and strength of each horse should be considered by itself, and every case be permitted to stand on its own merits.
Most probably, however, the views of trainers differ more strongly from each other upon the subject of water than they do upon any other point. In America it is not generally considered necessary to restrict the supply of fluid to any very appreciable extent, and great was the astonishment of English race-goers when they first saw the American racehorses indulged with a drink from a pail of water before proceeding to the post to fulfil their engagements at Newmarket. Mr. John Splan, one of the most successful trainers and drivers of trotting horses, is emphatic in his opinion that plenty of water should be supplied the competitors in a match, as he writes that a drink may be given "before the race, in the race, after the race, or at any time the horse wants to drink"; but on the other hand, he is not an advocate of a constant supply being always beside the animal in the stable.
A very important point in connection with the preparation of all horses is to secure the services of a thoroughly reliable and competent man to attend to the grooming and other details of stable management, as no one can possibly calculate the number of horses which have failed in their preparation in consequence of the carelessness of those who have them in charge. Proper grooming is, in short, only of secondary importance to food and exercise, and yet many an owner or trainer will trust a valuable animal to the care of an inexperienced lad, or an unsteady man, simply because the wages paid to such people are lower than those demanded by a thoroughly competent groom.
The Stable accommodation for horses in training should, of course, be warm, yet airy. The admission of a plentiful supply of fresh air is consequently a necessity, though, on the other hand, the presence of draughts will assuredly affect the well-being of the horse. In stating that the stable should be warm, it is not implied that the temperature should be unnaturally high, or that any approach to stuffiness should exist. If the ventilation be defective, so that the ingress of fresh and the egress of foul air is rendered impossible, the horses are pretty certain to sutler in their respiratory organs, and indeed in their general health and stamina. Avoid overclothing a horse in training; rather treat him as you would yourself, by giving him an extra rug when the night promises to be cold, and relieving him of a superfluity of woollen blankets when the weather is mild.
Above all things, the person entrusted with the responsibility of preparing a horse, whether it be for work or show, should endeavour to act by system. It is his duty to make himself familiar with the peculiarities, constitutional and otherwise, of each individual animal, and to lay down the method of treatment for each. By adhering to the general regime he has determined upon he will soon discover whether it is adapted to any particular horse, and if it is not, he will be enabled so to modify it as to meet the requirements of the animal. On the other hand, if there is no method in force, the trainer cannot possibly tell in which respect his plans have failed, and the horse goes back in condition for the lack of that inspiration which the trainer vainly looks for in the dark.
Of course the best English oats and sweetest upland hay should form the staple food of all horses which are undergoing a preparation, the addition of clover, carrots, beans, and the like being regarded more in the light of adjuncts to the diet than as ordinary fare. For soft food many trainers prefer boiled oats to bran, which some ironically refer to as being as beneficial to a horse as saw-dust; and it is better to feed a horse four times than three, adding a sufficiency of chaff to the corn to ensure his masticating the latter properly and not bolting it so that it will pass through him undigested. Never give hay at the same time as the corn, is a good rule to follow, else a gross feeder will be liable to gorge himself, whilst a shy doer's stomach will revolt at the sight of so much food.
Finally, it must be remembered that some horses pine if kept in an isolated box by themselves, and that such socially-dis-positioned animals will therefore rest better if kept in a stable where they can see and hear other horses. Others fret and worry themselves if near their stable companions, and should therefore be kept apart, as it is of the highest importance to the well-being of all horses in training that their long hours in the stable should be passed as comfortably as possible.
The above are perhaps the most important of the general rules which should be attended to by the amateur who is desirous of getting his animal fit; references to the details of schooling the various breeds will be found in the succeeding chapters; but the reader may once more be reminded that no hard-and-fast rules can be laid down for training, as the constitutions and tempers of horses so widely differ from each other. The chapter on Training the Trotter contains many suggestions on special treatment which may be read with benefit by those who contemplate the preparation of other breeds of horses.