I have suggested that raising one or more colts yearly would be practicable; since horses must be maintained to do the work of the farm, and since men and teams, in many cases, spend four to five months of the year in comparative idleness. Often a fairly good brood-mare is already at hand; and what better use can she be put to during the winter than nursing a colt, and what better and pleasanter work for the boys than caring for and "breaking" colts?
One illustration of the results which followed acceptance of advice similar to the above may be given. A young farmer living from "hand-to-mouth" secured a mare which had many of the characteristics of motherhood. She was bred four successive years to a smallish, symmetrical, dark-colored Percheron stallion. The result was four colts. Being large, symmetrical and strong, they were used at light work as soon as they had passed the age of two years. One pair was sold when the colts were nearly four and five years of age for three hundred dollars cash at the farm. The next day after the sale the two younger colts were harnessed, and in a week they were doing the work of the pair sold. Here, with no great effort or expense, nearly six hundred dollars' worth of horses had been produced in five years, and the net profits realized were more than the net profits on all other products of the little farm for that period. This man dropped his hoe and leaped into the saddle, and ever after was a more intelligent and a broader man.
But the profits are by no means the chief consideration in such an enterprise. There are boys on the farm, or should be, who have paramount claims. John will not remain contented between the plow handles many years if he has no colt upon which to try his courage and skill. Unless some means are provided for recreation and an outlet for his restless energy, and opportunity for gratifying his desire to exhibit his courage and skill, do not be surprised if some day you find the plow standing idle in the furrow and the boy standing on the front platform of an electric car, uniformed and numbered. These unknown and unappreciated farm lads, with their nascent pride and repressed nervous energy, are humiliated, shamed, when seen in public with that rough, old, overworked farm-horse hitched to the carriage. Nearly every farm boy now has a carriage - and a best girl. Deprive him of a good young horse, - one which has spring and mettle, one which it takes both hands to manage, - and he will take to the bicycle and the town and leave the farm, carriage and the girl behind, - and leaving the girl behind is the worst of all. When his hands have become soft and white in town, he may be ashamed of the virtuous, natural, nut-brown girl in the farm home. If he could remain on the farm a little longer, his better and riper judgment would enable him to discriminate between solid and enduring, and showy characteristics which fade when tested under the strenuous conditions which sooner or later always come, both in city and country life. The strength, courage and patience which come from rural life will then be worth more than the lily-white complexion.
The wood, with its multitude of wild animals to hunt and trap, is no more; the evening social function at schoolhouse and farmhouse has passed into dim remembrance; even the inspiring winter revivals in the country church have gone out of fashion. If he has no colt to drive, there seems no place nor time left for the farmer's boy to secure relaxation and recreation but to find it by scouring the country on the Sabbath days by means of back-breaking, bowel-curling bicycles. The boy does secure a change by his Sunday wanderings; but he is likely to secure much else in country inns, fruit plantations, and association, in too many instances, with those whose characters are the reverse of the girl's he has left at home.
It will be seen by the most casual reader that my objective point is the boys and girls on the farm, while the horse is treated as a means to an end. Only yesterday I saw this boy and girl, as I stopped at their home to get a drink of milk. Large-headed, muscular, clear of eye, alert and hanging on every word from the outside world. Already a little ashamed of their work-day clothes, and already, for want of opportunity and experience, imbibing something of the false notion that fine clothes and soft hands are sure indexes of respectability, virtue and learning. The three things most prized by the children in this faraway, semi-mountain home, were the colts, the flowers and the chickens. I stopped long enough to look them all over, and received instruction.
The old custom of presenting each son with a colt or young horse on arriving at his majority was most excellent, and might well be revived. If father will not present you with a colt, raise one for yourself; if he confiscates it, raise two more, but raise good ones. A poor horse may be made to increase your efficiency in production five-fold, but a good one not only gives pleasure but may be made to increase your productive power more than ten-fiold. Then, too, a good horse may be one of the truest, most helpful and appreciative friends you will have in your boyhood. No boy can be said to be ignorant who has learned how to breed, rear, feed and drive a good horse.
My young lads and lasses, I have laid aside for a time the discussion of scientific and practical horse-breeding for the pleasure of having a familiar chat with you; and if you believe the half of what I have said as to the beneficial influences, pleasures and profits which may be derived from a love for and the breeding of the horse, you will read the next chapter, which gives directions somewhat in detail, as well as some of the principles which should be observed, if the breeding and rearing of horses is to be added to the general farm operations already established.