The preparation of the show hunter after the animal has been " broke" is very similar during its early stages to that adopted towards other varieties of horse; but when he comes to be ridden and got ready for the show-ring, both skill and patience have to be expended in the bridling and bending of him. The steeple-chaser, or business-hunter, can be allowed to slip along with his nose forward, but the show horse requires bending and pulling back on his hind-legs to make him go off the ground and flex his hocks so that he may look smart when ridden. The question of finding a suitable bit for the animal is therefore a matter of serious consideration, whilst the hands of his rider also have to be studied. Severe bits are always to be avoided when young horses are under treatment, and, in fact, the less that old ones have to do with them the better, and therefore, when side reins have to be shortened on a colt, the more tender the bit, the better the mouth is likely to be in after-life. In making the show hunter it is necessary to commence with slow work, and work along gradually, teaching him to carry himself as he should do, first at the walk, then the trot, and so on to the canter and gallop, the instructor always bearing in mind the great importance attached to carriage of the head and the tucking of the hocks well under the belly, two points which can usually be greatly improved by judicious handling.
In the hack and harness horse, action is, of course, the greatest of all points to be obtained, and many and peculiar are the devices resorted to to accomplish this. Stories, in fact, are told of tin pots having been attached to the tails of dogs, in order that the antics of the latter and the noise between them might cause the horse to pull himself together. Such tales, however, carry with them the stamp of improbability; but there can be no doubt at all that many persons teach their horses to step high by exercising them over timber or railway-sleepers, arranged far enough apart to permit of the animals finding room between them, and lofty enough to ensure their bending the knee. Others trot them over a long run with furze or straw knee deep, and ride or drive them regularly in practice thus; whilst others rely implicitly upon the efficacy of weights upon the feet. These weights consist of india-rubber tubing filled with shot, and fastened round the fetlocks. No doubt, after wearing the latter the horse feels relieved when they are removed, and is likely to lift his knees higher than before.
Many very experienced showmen, amongst whom is Mr. Alfred Butcher of Bristol, who during the past ten years has probably taken more prizes for harness horses than any six other persons, do not attach any value to such methods as the above for improving the action of show horses. At all events, such an animal, to be successful, must possess natural action to commence with, and must, moreover, have pace as well. If not, no amount of artificial aids to movement will make him a first-rater; whilst, if he possesses these merits, it is contended that he can be improved by more legitimate methods. According to Mr. Butcher, the first great secret to be discovered is the horse's best pace, as every animal has some particular one at which he shows off his action to the best. Then each horse must be shod according to his style of going, it very rarely happening that two animals in the same stable, unless it is a very large one, will be suited with the same weight and shape of shoe. A third and equally important question to be solved is the style of bit which suits each particular horse; whilst, finally, the hands of the coachman have to be considered, as it frequently occurs that horses will move splendidly when driven by one person, and go all to pieces when handled by another, although the two men may be equally good whips. It is a certain fact, moreover, that most good harness horses, and many saddle ones as well, are by no means pleasant animals to handle, and have to be humoured and studied in every possible way when at work, and consequently it is no use trying to win prizes in good company with a horse which is not upon good terms with his driver.
Pace, no doubt, can be improved, and action also to a certain extent, and therefore a reference may be made to the chapter on Training the Trotter, in which information will be found regarding the methods principally resorted to in America for increasing the speed of this class of animal, and preparing him for his engagements. Assuming that an animal is temperate, it is desirable that he should be brought into the show-ring before the judge as fresh as possible; but if, on the other hand, he happens to be of an excitable disposition, a good gallop if he be a hack, or fast trot if he be a harness horse, an hour or so before the judging, will benefit him if it can be arranged for. Time, however, should be left for the animal to cool down in. Above all things, be the system under which you prepare your show horses what it may, always try to avoid conveying an impression of artificiality to the judges. Don't let your horses come into the ring with their mouths full of iron, and wearing martingales and bridoon bits, if you can help it. Many a judge, and very properly so, would hesitate to award a prize to animals treated thus; as he would naturally, if he were a practical man, arrive at the conclusion that they were either useless without them so far as the carriage of their heads is concerned, or else unmanageable beasts which could not be trusted safely without such restrictions being placed upon their liberty. That a superabundance of harness is not in the least degree necessary to ensure success in the show-ring is proved by the fact that it is rarely, if ever, that Mr. Butcher drives a horse which carries even a bearing rein, and yet his successes have been so many as to be almost past calculation.