So many horses that do not belong to the true coach-horse type are called "coachers" and bought and sold as such that it is no wonder the farmer has no clear conception of the true "coacher," which always finds a ready market at long prices. If a horse is 16% hands high or more, long of neck and leg and rather slim in the body, he is at once pronounced a "coacher," although he may be nothing but an overgrown weedy carriage-horse. The coacher should indeed be above the average height and should have longish neck and legs, but there are many other qualities and characteristics which must be possessed if the animal meets all the demands of the intelligent purchaser.
Perhaps a clearer mental photograph of the real coacher may be secured if the work which he is called on to do in the city is considered. It should be remembered, first of all, that coachers are designed for drawing coaches, not light carriages or road-wagons. The coach may weigh from ten to fourteen hundred pounds and the load, six to eight persons, may increase the weight by eight to twelve hundred pounds. The total weight of eighteen to twenty-six hundred pounds is carried on relatively small, rigid wheels which tend to greatly increase draft if the roadway is roughly paved. It is considered not good form to drive the genuine coacher fast; yet it is none of our concern that the coacher is sometimes used as a means of conspicuous display. As the coach rolls through the parks with aristocratic slowness, the turnout reveals to the onlookers the wealth of the occupants, their freedom from harassing financial solicitude and the enjoyable leisure which so often comes to the American as the fruit of a strenuous successful business career.
Modern conditions make demands for two distinct classes of high-priced horses. In a previous chapter the trotter and the roadster have been fully treated, therefore we may devote all our attention to the coacher. Bear in mind that these two classes of horses approach each other closely, and even overlap in their less perfect forms.
The coacher, it has been said, should be above the average height, with long, slim, flexible neck set on the corner of the body and not on the end of it, like a pig's. The neck should be all-embracing where it joins the body, that both beauty and power to hold the head high without fatigue may be secured. Horses with good necks properly set, when moving usually slack the check-rein, if not reined too high, and will carry their heads loftily without being checked up. Many an otherwise fine coacher, if checked high, becomes a "star gazer," especially with an overdraw, - that is, extends the nose upward until the face is nearly in a line with the neck; whereas, in a natural and easy condition, the head should be carried nearly at a right angle with the neck. It is really distressing to see an imperfect neck checked up far above its capacity. This has led to unqualified condemnation of the overdraw check or, in fact, of checks in any form. (For a full discussion of harness, see Chapter XXII (Line Of Draft, Weight Of Horses And Wagon Tires).) If a coacher has the ideal head and neck, many slight deficiencies of body may be overlooked. A tall, longish-necked horse not infrequently has a long, somewhat depressed back, which is objectionable. If the lofty neck, slim and flexible at the throat-latch, symmetrically attached to the shoulder of a selected dam, can be united in the foal with the strong, short back of the sire, much will have been accomplished toward producing a valuable coacher. (See Breeding, Chapter XIII (Principles Of Breeding).) But, "over all," the coacher must have good length, though if it be too great, especially if the back be too long, endurance and spirit are likely to be lacking. The legs, like the neck, should be flexible and long rather than short, with high action rather than long reach. While the old saying that "a coacher should travel with his knees in his throat-latch and his feet in a bushel basket" is so exaggerated as to lose force, still it helps to emphasize the fact that coachers should have high knee and hock action, in which case the reach will not be long. The coacher is not designed so much for speed as for display, coupled with hard work for short periods. The coacher should have courage and staying power, for it will require both if the proud, high, elastic trot is to be maintained for two or three consecutive hours over rough pavements with a load suited to a light pair at a walk.
The coach-horse may be less rotund than the hackney. He is usually kept plump, even fat; but, if he has naturally the rotund pony form, he is likely to become sluggish and unresponsive. There is a vast difference between the pudgy build of most ponies and the longer, graceful lines of a well-formed coacher. Then, too, a fairly long-bodied horse need not of necessity have a long back. It is frequently said that no horse should have a long back. This is only relatively true. What really is meant is that the top line (back) should be short as compared with the bottom line (belly). Then, too, there is a marked difference between a thick, piglike neck and one that is strongly attached to the shoulders. While the neck of a coacher should be rather long and thin, it should have a high, firm seating on the shoulders and taper rapidly toward its intersection with the head. The demand is for smooth, rather long, flowing outlines. Horses of pudgy build or with ragged hips or angular conformation are not wanted. An arched, flowing, full tail, good feet and symmetrical limbs are indispensable.
When all is summed up, color has much to do with the price, and indicates to some extent, it is believed, quality and endurance, although superior horses are sometimes found with faded light colors and undesirable markings. Dark hoofs are, as a rule, tougher and better than light-colored ones. Seal browns, bright unfading bays, with strong well-defined black or dark points, are always in fashion and are to be preferred to all other colors. Blacks seldom hold their color when exposed to sun and rain. It is said that a black horse looks smaller than he really is and a dappled gray larger. Black horses are desirable for undertakers perhaps, but they are too suggestive of that particular trade to be in demand for private use.
Piebald and peculiarly marked animals sometimes sell well, but they are difficult to breed; that is, they are sports rather than the product of a well-defined variety or breed; "Calico horses," and sorrels with light-colored manes and tails, find their best market in South America, where they are especially admired by the Spanish Americans. Most of this class of coachers belong properly in the carriage class, as they are seldom large enough for heavy coaching. As yet, few true coachers are bred in the United States. Many fine carriage-horses and roadsters are produced, and the larger ones serve fairly well for the lighter coaches but they seldom have the size requisite to give the turnout the stately front necessary to prevent the coach from appearing too large and lofty for the team. A large coach with an elevated front seat and a tall driver has the effect of making the horses look smaller than they are. We judge most things by comparison. The expert horseman not infrequently exhibits his horse hitched to a low-wheeled sulky, phaeton or road-wagon, which has the effect of making the horse appear larger than he really is. Animals of all kinds exposed at public auction are sometimes placed on higher ground than the bidders, for the purpose of making the animals appear large. Even the complete lowering of the carriage-top seems to increase the size of the horse hitched to the vehicle.
An outline of the work required of a coach-horse and a brief description of the horse that is likely to bring the highest prices have been given, and it only remains to be said that it is difficult to produce large, symmetrical coachers of the true type with high action coupled with the requisite courage and endurance. For some time to come, the true coacher is likely to be high-priced and difficult to procure in large numbers. Medium and small coachers are more easily produced than the large ones, but they bring less in the market. However, it may be said that they have a far wider range of customers, since the medium and small coachers may serve well for the double carriage, the phaeton or for family driving to either a one- or a two-seater.
Three quite common varieties or breeds of horses are now used in the production of coachers. Among the oldest of these is the Cleveland Bay. Ample material for the discussion of the origin and merits of the Cleveland Bay may be found in the Journals and stud-books. It is sufficient to say here that very little is positively known of the origin or breeding of most of the foundation stock.
The Cleveland bay has many of the coacher characteristics. The best specimens are good-sized, rangey, symmetrical and of good color - bright bay. When first introduced into America, it was said that he lacked staying power. That may have been true once, but probably is not so now. It should be remembered that, after the breed had attained prominence in England and after many specimens had been imported, into the United States, it was neglected, and it was not until after 1865 that the remnants of the breed were hunted up and used as foundation stock for what might be called the improved Cleveland Bay 1
Fig. 14. A good coacher. Permission of F. S. Peer.
If the reader is interested in foundation stock, he may first inspect the horse under onsideration; if possible, find out something in detail of its immediate ancestry. If there is progeny, it also should be critically studied. If the animal under consideration is good, if his or her progeny is satisfactory and if the ancestors for two or three generations are of good repute, one need not be afraid to purchase although nothing of the breeding of the remote paternal ancestor may be known. Other things being equal, a long pedigree is better than a short one; but a short pedigree and an animal of known prepotency is better than a commonplace one with a long pedigree "tailed" by one or two noted animals bred fifty to seventy-five years ago.
1 See Cleveland Bay Stud-Book, "Retrospection Volume," September 1884. For American stud-books, see appendix.
Color, bright bay, may be either light or dark; black mane and tail; black points; usually a small white spot between the "bulbs" of one or more of the heels; size, sixteen to seventeen hands; weight, 1,100 to 1,300 pounds. Head symmetrical, with kindly expression and intelligent cast of face; neck long and arched and well set on sloping shoulders. Back usually of good length and form; legs clean, of good length and symmetrically set on the body; feet and lower part of legs dark-colored, and letlocks free from long hair. Sometimes the Cleveland is too light in weight for high-class coachers.
A printed description of a horse never fully satisfies the young, progressive horseman, although it may serve to assist the beginner in distinguishing one breed from another which is similar. A horse may fill the above description fairly well and yet be so deficient in action and courage and so unresponsive to the rein that all his other qualities fail to redeem him from the common herd. He is simply an unresponsive beauty. The moving, living horse must be studied before an accurate conception can be secured of what style, symmetry, harmonious motion and even-tempered high courage are.