The size of the horse is sometimes an important factor in determining price, or rather the amount which can be realized for him. Large horses, other things being equal, usually command a higher price than those of medium size, and those of medium size more than small ones. But the largest types of horses, be they draft, coach or roadster, are more difficult to produce, and when produced are more in danger of becoming unsound than medium-sized ones. As these pages are for the farmer, and not for the professional breeder, the advice is not to attempt to produce monstrosities or even the largest types of any class of domesticated animals. Good profits are seldom secured by rearing horses which weigh a ton, or cows which tip the scales at sixteen hundred pounds, or pigs which weigh half as much as horses do. One escapes a multitude of disappointments by holding on to a little good "horse-sense."
It might be thought that judging and selecting horses would be an easy task, since, unlike the cow and sheep, the horse is prized largely for his stored energy; but the conditions under which he must exert his powers are so varied; the first cost and the keep of a horse are so great; he is so liable to become unsound, so utterly useless when incapacitated for work, so disappointing if bad tempered or without temper; that the judging of horses becomes exceedingly difficult. It seems that some directions "as to how one may be least cheated when purchasing a horse" should be given.
Horses naturally fall into a few groups. The draft-horse of laborious work, the coacher, the roadster, the runner (thoroughbred), the saddle-horse and the children's horse or pony. Some of these groups overlap each other, and, while a good roadster or thoroughbred may make a tolerable saddle-horse, they cannot be first-class in their own group and also first-class in another group. There is still another class of horses, which does not belong to any group. They are nondescripts, that is a mixture of unknown blood or mixed blood in unknown quantities; careless breeding seldom produces valuable animals. An animal with no marked or striking characteristics in any direction never attracts a good horseman.
In judging a horse, one should first classify him - that is, think of him as belonging to some one of the groups; for an animal may be good if used for one purpose and very poor if used for another. However, there are some characteristics which all horses should have in common; therefore our first discussion may be along general lines.
It is desirable that all horses should have good eyes, sound limbs and feet, good temper, and be free from serious blemishes and vicious habits.
It is far easier to detect some blemishes and some objectionable traits if the animal be examined when he is quiet. First notice the horse in the stable. If he stands with one front foot at ease, that is, pointed to the front, he is unsound somewhere in his front limbs or shoulders, or in both. Sound horses invariably stand with their front feet in such positions that the weight will be borne equally, or nearly so, on both feet. Not so with the hind limbs; for a horse often stands with nearly all his posterior weight thrown on one leg while resting the other, and, while he may be unsound, such habit is usually not proof of it. A horse may be sound and yet be so awkwardly put together as to greatly reduce value and price. The purchaser, after having examined the horse in the stable, should have him led out quietly into an open space. Here the eyes should be critically examined. If the sunlight is bright, the hat may be held above the eye to cut off the dazzling rays of the sun while the eye is being observed. It is usual to wave the hand in front of the eye as an additional test; but the rapid movement of air in front of the hand may cause even a blind horse to wink. A better method is to approach the eye with the hand, in a nearly horizontal position, and with all the fingers, except the index finger, closed.
Fig. 51. Cow hocked.
Fig. 52. A pointer.
Before proceeding farther, it may be stated that defects and blemishes should be classified as major and minor. Many little imperfections are to be found in even the best of horses, but these may not seriously reduce values or usefulness. The ear may be a shade too large, the forehead a little too narrow or the nostrils not so thin and open as desired; but these all sink into insignificance beside curby legs, calf hocks and poor feet. A slight thickening of the skin, small round puffs and even more pronounced blemishes may be ignored, if they are not located at dangerous points and have the appearance of being quiescent. While a critical examination of all parts of the horse should be made before purchasing, it is believed that even the boy on the farm will be able to distinguish between major and minor defects, now that attention has been called to them.
Hazel-colored eyes are believed to be better than dark ones. Bright, prominent open eyes are better than those which appear flatfish and dull. If the opening for the eye has the appearance of a narrow slit cut bias, the horse is said to be pig-eyed. If, in in addition, the eyes be set too near the butt of the ear and too near together by reason of a narrow forehead, the horse is likely to be an untrustworthy "lunkhead." Though technically sound, horses that have the appearance of the photos, Figs. 54 and 55, are to be avoided, as it would be safer to walk than to ride behind them.
Fig. 53. Reversion to original type.
The ears and their position on the head may serve to assist in determining the disposition and some other qualities.
They should be neither too close nor too far apart, neither lopped nor too sharply pointed backward.