The art of driving a horse or a locomotive must be learned largely by practice, as both are complex machines. The former differs from the latter in that he is a highly organized living thing and therefore may attempt at any time to act on volition, while the locomotive must be acted upon. Whilethe horse may and should, within narrow limitations, act without directions, he is largely like a machine under the hand of a master. His mental powers should be trained to willing obedience rather than toward originality. Since a well-bred horse has a will of his own, it will require more skill to drive him efficiently and safely than to drive the locomotive.
Horses are usually badly driven and waste much of their power and flesh to little or no purpose. Perhaps some suggestions as to driving may result in easing the burdens of the horse and in making him more efficient. Constant nagging with words or whip soon ruins courage and spirit. The driver is almost certain to get into the habit of nagging when the horse is continuously required to do more than he should. Constant repetition of word and whip, it is true, is the only way to get more service out of an animal than it should perform. Even a horse of high courage will at last fail to resent the cruel treatment of its driver. He soon learns that "It is hard to kick against the pricks."
In ancient times oxen were driven by means of a long stick, or goad, one end of which was provided with a piece of sharpened metal. The animals soon learned that, if they kicked against the pricks it not only increased their punishment but resulted in being pricked again for kicking. Some modern drivers act on the principle of ancient ox-drivers.
If the horse's spirit has not been broken and his powers have been sustained and he has not been overworked, and yet he is not responsive and obedient, what is to be done? There is no way but to energize him now and then with a sharp switch. If this hurts your feelings more than it does the horse, get clear of him and breed one that has more courage and spirit.
Horses become discouraged and disobedient when they are punished for they know not what or are given double commands, as, for instance, "Whoa, back." They get disgusted, - I suppose a horse can get disgusted, - and finally mad when required to back a load several times, when if the driver had cramped or directed the front part of the vehicle at the right angle, it would have been in the position desired by a single effort.
Horses, like men, should receive punishment for disobedience; but, unlike men, they should receive theirs here, and when the offense is committed, or they may escape. There is often great cruelty shown to horses, which is justly condemned. On the other hand, there is much "namby pamby" literature on the subject of kindness to horses. One of the things desired in horses is strict and prompt obedience; failing to obtain this by kind means, intelligently applied, then punishment for disobedience should fall quickly. With brutal drivers, the punishment for disobedience or non-performance of duty is always excessive. Excessive punishment tends to produce viciousness and lack of confidence, and, above all, it is cruel. A single stroke with a light, stinging whip will do more to prevent future disobedience than swear-words and many blows with whip and club.
If the driver is careless and lazy, so will the horse soon become. The light touch on the reins and the firm, kind, cheery voice do much to inspire the horse with courage and obedience. Some men, even young men, are so constituted that they should never be set at driving horses. These I do not expect to reach and benefit. But, discarding this class and do the best we may in educating the youths of the land, there always will be the unenergized and unskilful horseman. Unless one is proud, not vain, of his horse, he can not acquire the nice judgment which tells him when to drive fast, when slow, and when the horse has done enough. Listen to the horse -
Up hill bear me;
Down hill spare me;
On the level spare me not,
But cool me when I'm hot.
Proud enough to drive so that the wheels of the vehicle will be kept in the beaten track and directed away from stones and holes, - which can be accomplished only by watchfulness and by being constantly in touch, through the reins, with the horse. The horse at farm-work requires comparatively little direction; and but little skill, if applied at the right moment, is needed to direct his energies along the most efficient lines, when at slow work.