Care should be taken to fit and adjust the harness to the horse. This is particularly true of the young horse when he is first put at work. His shoulders and mouth, the places likely to first show abrasion, are tender. Then, too, if he be somewhat fleshy when put to severe work, the collar, which was none too large at first, becomes too large for the neck after a few weeks.
In this chapter, the care, management, etc., of moderate-sized horses put to light work is treated; in Chapter XIX (Care Of Draft-Horses And Farm-Horses), the driving and care of draft- and plow-horses will receive attention.
After the collar, the bridle is of next importance. First, the length of the headstall should be so adjusted as to bring the bit in mild contact with the bars of the mouth, so that there may be quick response to the slightest pressure of the driving reins. If the headstall of the bridle is too short, the bars of the mouth soon become sore and finally unresponsive; if too long, the horse becomes careless of the driver's wishes.
A good-sized straight bit, covered with leather, if the mouth is tender, cannot be improved upon except in a few special cases when a more severe one may be required. "Pullers" are frequently cured of their disagreeable habit when the change is made from a severe bit to a straight, mild one. With the severe bit, the horse was in constant pain and hence nervous and excited. Being excited, his only desire was to go. With a bit that gives pain and a driver a little afraid of his horse, it is no wonder that the horse pulls. The horse, at one end of the lines, soon discovers the qualities of the man at the other end.
The crupper becomes necessary if no breeching is used on the harness. The modern fad of driving without breeching is to be condemned. If the horse is reined high, the crupper is almost indispensable. But horses should not be reined high. If the crupper is used, care should be taken to have it fit and to keep it clean, lest it abraid the tail and produce a disagreeable, if not a vicious horse. Last of all comes the check-rein, with or without the over-draw attachment. Two radically different practices prevail in the use of the check-rein. Some drivers over-use it; some do not use it at all. Is not a happy medium between these two practices best? The over-draw rein, if worn tight, is nothing less than cruel. (Fig. 83.) It makes the horse hold his head, not only in an uncomfortable, but in an unsightly position, If no check-rein is used, most horses become slovenly and careless in their habits, and, when not moving, the temptation to eat grass or earth becomes too great to be resisted. The feet, too, may get entangled in the lines and the collar fall half-way down the neck.
Fig. 83. A rein cruelly used. (Also see page 298.)
It is the abuse of the check-rein, not the use of it, which is to be deplored. Horses should always be checked up mildly, for it is the business of the horse when in harness to attend strictly to his duties. Without a check-rein he seldom does. I imagine that a check-rein on some people who walk with heads bent low and rounded shoulders, or sit on their backs instead of their buttocks, would be beneficial. Happily, many of our young ladies are learning to walk erect and keep their heads perpendicular to their spinal column. Perhaps the high, stiff collars have had something to do with this improvement.
Shall, or shall not, blinders be used? Again we have a wide diversity of opinion. Here, too, as with the check-rein, extremes should be avoided. A horse should be directed by contact with his nerves of sensation and by spoken words. He has no business to be looking backwards for orders. If he does, he soon imagines that he is "bossing" the job himself. Strict and prompt obedience is best secured when the highest intelligence directs. A small projection, not a blind, attached to the headstall of the bridle, does not keep the eye hot nor obstruct the side or front vision, while it does prevent the horse from looking backward, thereby conserving his vision and attention for the objects in his pathway. The breast collar is admissable when the load is light.