These, after all, are the most important kinds of horses in agricultural and trading countries, and their value from an economical point of view cannot be disputed. Of late years great attention has been paid to their improvement, and particularly to the breeds known as Clydesdale and Shire horses.
The Clydesdale horse is, though comparatively large, more active and handy than the Shire horse, and is, therefore, more used where strength and speed are required in combination. He shows more breeding than any other of the cart-horse kind, and his type is more fixed and definite. The prevailing colours are bay and brown; black and grey are less common. His height is about sixteen hands, or a few inches more, and his breeding is manifested in the neat, handsome head, good forehead, and symmetrical body, which is deep in the girth, round, and short. The legs are short and muscular, with large bones; formerly the legs were rather long, but this defect has been corrected by judicious breeding. The hair on the back part of the legs, toward the fetlocks, is made a special feature in this breed; at one time it was curly, but now the fashion is to have it long, straight, and silky. The face and legs are often white, which rather detracts from their otherwise comely appearance.
A noted Clydesdale belonging to Colonel Lloyd, of Lockinge Park, Berkshire, measured seventeen hands high, seven feet six inches in girth, eighteen inches round the fore-arm, and ten and a half inches below the knee.
The value of good Clydesdale horses is remarkably high, the prices given for them, even when yearlings, being greater sometimes than for many thorough-bred race-horses of distinguished pedigree. It is not at all uncommon for stallions to fetch £500, and even more; indeed, we are informed that thorough-bred Clydesdale sires have been let out for the season for £500.
The Shire horse is described as a true cart-horse which is not a Clydesdale, a Suffolk Punch, or a dray-horse, but is at times a blood relation of all three. He appears to be of no particular stamp, colour, or breed, but a mixture of choice county horses, resulting in a large, well-built, powerful animal, more placid and stronger than the Clydesdale, though less valuable as a sire, inasmuch as he is less certain in transmitting his good qualities. Moreover, his pace is slower, and he does not excel in anything beyond a smart walk.
The head is generally large and heavy, without expression, though showing good temper; the body is large and roomy, some horses girthing eight feet; the hips wide, and the loins broad and muscular; the fore-arms and thighs are long and powerful, and the hocks broad and deep. The legs are very hairy, the hair (which should be rather silky) falling thickly over the hoofs.
The largest of these horses are bred on heavy land, where plough work is very exacting; and the strongest and best-looking of them are selected for drawing heavy loads at a comparatively slow pace in towns. It is stated that on a moderately good hard road one of these horses will take two tons as his ordinary load; while nothing will equal them in starting and shifting railway waggons. "Less handsome specimens are purchased for road waggons. The mild temper of these horses adapts them admirably for large teams, where a long waiting pull is required, or to guide good-temperedly to the voice or whip, without rushing into the collar, as hotter-tempered horses are so prone to do. Three of these brood mares can take a double-furrow plough even through heavy, stiff land, and they are taught more easily than any other horse to go gently, and stop at roots in wood land, or amongst other obstacles."
The dray-horse might be truly designated a Shire horse, as he is bred in Lincolnshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Herefordshire, and Yorkshire. He is usually an immense beast - a mammoth horse, in fact, "slow, ponderous, and stately, weighing from fifteen hundredweight to a ton, and standing from seventeen to nineteen hands high, capable of drawing and backing - a pair of them - from three to four tons in a two-wheeled dray, and from six to seven tons in a four-wheeled one when three or four of them are yoked in it." Their colours are various; those held in most esteem are perhaps red and blue roans.
The Suffolk Punch or cart-horse is not much in use out of that county, and has changed much of late years. Formerly he was about fifteen hands high, short and compact in build, with thin legs, and low, thick shoulders. The colour was always chestnut, running through five shades - from light sorrel to dark chestnut. Now, however, he is bred larger - from fifteen hands two inches to sixteen hands, but the colour is the same. The popular notion is that, though excellent for farm labour, he does not do well at road work; but nevertheless, for harness, when he is well-shaped and a good stepper, he realises a large price.
Considering the large and important share draught-horses take in labour, and that they are perhaps more profitable to breed than any other kind of horse, a most essential point to bear in mind in their production is their freedom from hereditary defects and predisposition to disease, and especially such as will militate against their usefulness. Soundness in them is of much moment, and particularly soundness in wind, legs, and feet. It is in the two latter that these horses most frequently fail.
Next to soundness, as Reynolds observes, and far more desirable than perfect symmetry, is the possession of good action; for without it an otherwise excellent animal is C incalculably depreciated in both value and usefulness. Good and true action is very frequently, but not invariably, associated with perfect symmetry; but the possession of it may be accepted as evidence of fairly equal conformation; for defective or slovenly action can only arise in a sound animal from an unequal distribution of physical power, or from want of stamina or pluck. In many horses, good bold action is an evidence of power, and the heavier the horse the better he should move in both walk and trot.
An educated ear can distinguish a horse possessing good action, the same writer truly remarks, when the animal is travelling on a hard road, by the regular succession of sonorous thumps made by its feet - one, two, three, four. In a walk, which is essentially the draught-horse's pace, each of the four feet should be brought down perfectly flat - the heels, toes, and quarters reaching the ground at the same instant, the fore ones with the toe and heel in a line with the body, neither turned in nor out, the hinder ones perhaps slightly turned out. Straight and full extension of the fore limbs is desirable, rather than excessive elevation of the feet by high knee and shoulder action. The movement of the hind extremities should be free and loose, the feet being carried far under the body by perfect flexion of the hocks, which, in advancing, should, in turn, have a slightly inward tendency; while the toe, at the same time, should be as slightly turned outwards. Defective and wide hind-leg action, usually arising from malformed hocks possessing only limited mobility, is most especially to be guarded against; horses with round bowed-hock action always wear unsatisfactorily. Following the extension of each limb in turn, the corresponding foot ought to be boldly and firmly planted upon the ground.
The least sign of weakness, faltering, or unequal movement during progression may be regarded with grave suspicion; and it is much safer to refuse an animal where such reasonable grounds for it have been aroused than to run the risk of effecting an unsatisfactory purchase. Whenever practicable, a trial at work ought to be insisted upon before a purchase is completed, not only for the purpose of ascertaining that the power and temper of the animal are suited to what is required from him, but also that any symptom indicative of defect or unsoundness, particularly of the respiratory organs and spine, may be surely detected.
Good action in all horses generally coincides with symmetrical and definite proportions, and these the experienced eye of the horseman can quickly discern; while from them he can arrive at a tolerably satisfactory conclusion as to what the horse he may be scrutinising is capable of doing in the way of work, and also, to some extent, as to the animal's action. This is the case with heavy draught-horses no less than with others. It has been recognised that a horse required to move heavy weights must be himself weighty, and also be endowed with great muscular power, evidenced by large muscular development all over; he must also be near the ground - that is, have comparatively short, powerful limbs. He likewise should possess "strong, sound feet, broad back and loins, deep chest and ribs, prominent shoulders, wide between his forelegs, and wide from croup to hocks; he should stand firm and square, with his fore-limbs well outside him, the fore-feet in a direct line with the body, the hinder ones very slightly pointed outwards; the pasterns should be sufficiently oblique to indicate elasticity and freedom in action, without being too slanting; all joints and sinews should be well-defined, and the limbs clean and proportionate. For the purposes of heavy draught, the necessity for excellent conformation of the hind limbs is of far more importance than the symmetry of the anterior extremities, and although the perfect form and position for a horse's hind-legs are familiar to every experienced man, the difficulty of describing them is extremely great. Horses required for lighter c 2 and quicker work in pair-horse vans may be more upstanding, but they should possess depth of rib, plenty of heart-room, and all essential qualifications for usefulness."
It has already been remarked, that perhaps no description of horse pays the farmer better to breed than the heavy draught-horse, and for the simple reason that this animal can be put to work younger than any other, as the pace is slow, and on farm land the legs and feet do not suffer as in travelling on hard roads. A riding or harness horse cannot do much Labour under five years of age, whereas the draught-horse can go in "the chains" at two. Besides, a trifling injury (such as a scratch on the knee) may so blemish a riding or carriage horse as to diminish his value by more than one-half; or a slight unsoundness may develop before he is fit for the market, which may diminish the price to a painful degree. The usefulness of the draught horse is not impaired by such trifles, and their presence does not give rise to any apprehension of danger or loss of service; therefore his value remains unaffected.
The price of draught-horses does not fluctuate much, and they are less under the influence of "fancy prices" than any of the other kinds, with the exception of the pedigree stallions, perhaps, which sometimes realise large sums. The limits of price might be set down at £36 and £80 or £90, the high limit being that given for really fine dray horses. Good horses are purchased for £50 or £60. The fairs at which they are shown will be alluded to in the next chapter.