The remarks on this subject are especially addressed to those who are beginning to ride and hunt. They are written, as is the following chapter, with a primary view to the horse, not with any idea of teaching the arts of equitation.
It is assumed that the rider commences with his horse properly bitted and saddled: which means that he has a bridle and saddle to suit; that the former is the proper length in the head-piece, and that the curb (if one is used) and throat lash are moderately loose, the former to suit the horse's mouth, the latter to be so loose as to allow the horse's head to' be well bent in, with little or no pressure on the throat.
There are various kinds of bridles used for riding and hunting, and most hunting men have different ideas as to the kind of bit they think horses go best in. The following are the bits chiefly used for hunters. The ordinary bit and bridoon, double bridle, plain or twisted snaffle, gag snaffle, chain snaffle, Newmarket snaffle, ring snaffle, secundo, etc., etc. In Ireland two ordinary bits on one head-piece for pulling horses are greatly used, and they have been highly spoken of as being effectual in stopping "pullers" to a great extent.
A bit much employed in Kildare, and which is highly approved, is the thick, smooth, ring snaffle, with a single rein, and used with or without a martingale, as the horse may require.
A "secundo" is a severe bit, and is used chiefly for horses that pull very hard, and which are apt at times to take charge of their rider; as well as for horses that are given to running out at their fences. A friend used one in India for some considerable time on a favourite horse used for steeple-chasing; he was very ready to run out; but with this bit the rider was always able to keep him straight at his fences, and after a time he got out of the habit of running out, and the use of so severe a bit was discontinued.
A bit much favoured in Ireland is a chain snaffle, of which a very high opinion has been expressed for hunters, either for those which are given to running up to their bits or light-mouthed horses. That is, provided it is used by men who have got some idea of hands. As the chain snaffle can be made either the lightest or the most severe bit of the snaffle kind, it certainly is the lightest for a horse to carry, and were it more used it would become the most popular bit for hunters in Ireland.
The universal opinion about bits in Ireland is that if a horse can be got to go at all in a snaffle of any kind, it is injudicious to use a bit requiring a curb - the supposed reason being that any bit with a curb deprives a horse of that freedom about the head requisite for jumping banks, etc., safely. There is another kind of chain bit, made of large links with a flat, broad, solid link in the centre, which makes a severe bit for hard pullers, and which is very effective for horses with hard mouths. But if a horse is given to turning off at his fences, nothing is so effectual in keeping him straight as a bit and bridoon, or, better still, a "secundo."
A very essential requisite in every man, in order to become a good horseman and rider, is the quality known as "good hands;" without this, most bits on awkward horses are ineffective. Good hands with almost any kind of bit, providing the horse gets a good amount of work, will generally have the effect of making him go quietly in time; of course, there are horses that are incorrigible as hacks and hunters, in spite of all the skill and efforts that it is possible to apply in the way of bits and hands, and it is useless to keep horses of this kind. A friend had a horse at the beginning of last season that he was obliged to get rid of for vice; the animal bored and pulled so hard as soon as hounds began to run, and galloped so blindly, that he gave his rider three falls in one day in a run of not more than ten minutes' duration; this was the first day on him. The next day he was ridden in a chain snaffle, with which his pace could be regulated to any extent; but when he found this out he suddenly stopped and would do nothing but rear; he was never hunted again, but sent to a dealer to be sold.
The saddle should, as a rule, be about four or five inches behind the highest point of the horse's withers; the girths fairly tight. And when the rider is in the saddle, he should have room enough to put at least two fingers between the gullet arch of the saddle and the top of the withers; otherwise there is a danger of the saddle coming down on the withers and giving the horse a sore back. The stirrup leathers should be simply buckled, and left out of the keeper part of the buckle, so as to be convenient for altering the length of the stirrup if required; while the spring latches of the stirrup bars should be left down, so that in the event of an accident the leather is almost sure to slip off the bar, and thus prevent the rider from being dragged more than a very short distance.
Breast plates (shoulder straps) are required for some horses, especially towards the end of the hunting season, when they get light in condition, and the girths, as well as the saddle, slip back; it is therefore most important that this article of equipment should always be at hand. The experience of many hunting men goes to show that not unfrequently they have lost a good day's sport through neglecting to have one put on. It is surprising what a hard and long day's hunting will do sometimes, in the way of making a horse so tucked up that, although he may never previously have required such a thing as shoulder straps, he will most likely have to wear them till the end of the season, if kept in regular work. Other horses with light back ribs will require this article of saddlery throughout the season.
During a recent hunting season a horse was sold on account of his having such a light waist that, even with shoulder straps, there was great difficulty in keeping the saddle forward; the horse was afterwards seen running in a steeplechase with a lead cloth under the saddle and no breast plate on; needless to say the saddle began to slip back as soon as the horse commenced to gallop, and long before half the distance had been traversed the saddle was on the horse's loins, the lead cloth half-way down one side, and altogether the position of the rider was a most unenviable one. But for this oversight in saddling, probably the horse would have won the race.