By reason of long domestication, intelligent care and training, the horse has become more tractable and intelligent than he was in the time of Job. While neither men nor horses can inherit an education, they may inherit what is better, - the power to acquire it easily and rapidly. The colt, nevertheless, still retains enough courage, strength and fierceness to furnish opportunity for the use of the highest skill and courage in transforming him into the safe, well-trained, efficient horse. The Honorable George Geddes once said that the use of improved farm implements had been such a potent factor in stimulating thought and in giving dexterity to the hand of farm-boys, that, if they had been of no other economic benefit, the education secured through their use would be full compensation for their cost.
The training of the American boy through the universal presence of the horse and the skill required in his use in operating farm implements and in ministering to pleasure may not be a full equivalent for the cost and maintenance of horses, but it is certain that these have been most potent factors in the intellectual development and manual training of the rural populations.
"The horse, by nature, is far from being an intelligent animal. I know this is contrary to the general conceded belief as to the ability of horses to receive education. I use the word 'education' in the general sense, meaning the power to reason from acquired knowledge. The horse is one of the least responsive animals, so far as mental training is concerned. Ordinarily, a horse is required to know but little, and this little is drilled into him, and his obedience is the result of habit rather than of intelligent comprehension.
"For common farm use, the training or 'breaking' requires very little time and pains. Once 'broken' he then is ready to be trained. By the most painstaking effort, long continued, he may acquire certain habits which may remain with him, and usually do, through life, but such habits are in no way an indication of high intelligence. The horse used on a milk-wagon, for instance, which makes frequent stops, for ever after retains this habit. It often requires weeks and months to develop a 'trick' horse.
"Some writers on the subject declare that no reliance can be placed on the effect of sounds when educating the horse. However, any sound which has been long used to indicate a particular performance, in time enforces obedience to such sound and establishes a habit, as, for instance, the bugle blast of cavalry or the fire alarm of an engine-house.
"The marvelous feats of some trained horses are simply enforced habits, and are usually guided by some motion of the attendant rather than by sound. So markedly is this the case, that a good horse-trainer gives commands in a single word, as a command to stop, to start, to rear or to lie down. The horse cannot learn to receive two commands at the same time.
"The surface nerves, rather than sound of the human voice, are used almost exclusively for training horses. The slightest pressure or touch may be the command. The ranch-horse obeys a touch of the rider's leg far more certainly and quickly than he does any vocal command. In fact, so true is this, that the expert horseman seldom speaks to his animal, but restrains or cheers or guides him simply by utilizing the surface nerves of his body." l
It is the intelligence of the man, after all, rather than the intelligence of the horse, which determines use and performance. The intelligence of the horse, whatever it may be, his response to the driver's wishes, his courage and endurance, depend somewhat, perhaps largely, upon the blood of his ancestors - inheritance - breed. However, characteristics and disposition are greatly modified by climatic conditions. The very air he breathes, the temperature in which he lives, the elevation above sea-level and the humidity of the climate, are all important factors in modifying both the physical and mental peculiarities not only of breeds but of individuals of a breed as well. The Clydesdale horse brought from his native country to the dry district bordering on the Rocky mountains loses some of the abundant long fetlock hair - "feather"; and his offspring reared in this dry climate loses still more of this peculiar and apparently useless appendage. The "wind" of the lowland horse and his sluggishness are improved, in time, when he is taken to mountainous districts. The horses of the low coast districts of North Carolina and those of the mountains are much unlike in endurance and temperament. Both are largely of the same warm blood on their sire's side and of mixed and warm-blooded dams. It might be possible to place Clydesdale horses on the Shetland Islands and preserve their size and general characteristics by providing suitable and abundant food and as warm and comfortable quarters as are found in the valley of the Clyde. However, it would appear to be wiser and more economical to choose breeds of horses which have already become adapted to climate, use and environment, rather than to change food, environment and use to suit the breed.
1Author of this quotation not known.
Those who have had much experience with horses are often greatly disappointed in them at times. Sometimes they appear to learn rapidly, and then again they seem to lose all their education and become semi-maniacs. It is no uncommon thing to drive a horse for years, trust him implicitly, assert that he would not run away even if the harness broke and the wagon ran against him, and then to find that the horse has suddenly forgotten all his education and will lose his self-possession and run away even if so much as a leaf flutters down before him. A splendid driving mare which had been used by the family with great pleasure for years, without any provocation whatever, on a level road, began kicking and did not cease until she had freed herself from the carriage and had seriously and permanently injured the two occupants. One old horse which had been used by two generations of children to transport them to school over a quiet road went crazy (perhaps this is too strong a term), ran away and caused great damage because a rooster flapped his wings and crowed beside the road.
Without denying the fact that some horses have shown great sense, have apparently learned to reason and appear to be always trustworthy, yet it often happens that a horse trusted because of his previous good behavior seems all of a sudden to become a fool. It is wiser, therefore, never to put oneself in jeopardy by too implicitly trusting in an animal much stronger than oneself, and one which too often is lacking in good sense. The pistol that is not loaded is always the one that goes off and kills somebody.