These horses, as a rule, are purchased in quite a different way to hunters. A large number are shown by local people; others belonging to private individuals are sent, perhaps, fifty or a hundred miles to the fair. These horses generally parade the streets, and the dealers in this class have their men stationed on the different roads leading into the town. When a horse comes to the fair of the class the dealers want, either the dealer himself or one of his satellites finds out all about him, and if the price is right they generally buy. When such a man is engaged in bargaining for a horse, no one thinks of going near him; in fact with some men it would be dangerous to do so. There is nothing that touches a man so quickly as his pocket; and if a person were to ask the price of a horse while another was trying to buy it, the seller would hold out for his price on account of the chance of the other purchasing, as well as thinking more highly of his horse, than he might otherwise have done. When purchasing a hack or harness horse in an open fair, after ascertaining the price (which is a most important thing to do, as it is of no use taking any further trouble if the seller wants £60 for his horse and the buyer will only give £35), the age should be known. If the animal is three, four, or five years old off, or even six years old, there is a reason for his being at the fair. At three or four years of age the breeder wishes to get rid of him, and up to five or six years a man may have a horse that he wishes to realise his money on; but after that age, as a rule, in this class of horse, there is some reason connected with the horse himself for his being there. If a harness horse, he has probably taken a liberty with the carriage, either by running away or kicking; if a hack, he is difficult to ride, or has a hard mouth, etc. These are things that the buyer has not much opportunity of finding out; as a rule it is better not to buy a horse over five years old at a fair. There are, no doubt, many horses over that age at fairs both quiet and sound, but there are a very great many that are not.
Action and conformation are the two great points that govern the price of hacks and harness horses; some very good looking horses, with the exception of having upright shoulders, may be worth from £40 to .£60 for harness purposes, which, if their shoulders had been more oblique, would probably have sold for £40 or £50 more as hunters.
As regards action, to command a good price horses of both these classes must step; in the hunter it is not so necessary, he is for galloping. Therefore, when purchasing hacks and harness horses, great attention should be paid to their action. If a horse is a very high stepper, his feet must be carefully examined, as that kind of animal is most liable to laminitis and corns, the result of concussion.
Broken knees, which are not of such great importance in a hunter, are matters for most serious consideration in hacks and harness horses; they not only very much depreciate their value, but it is for the purchaser to consider whether, even if their action was good, and there are no evidences of "brushing" or "speedy-cutting," it is worth the risk of buying. A horse with a slightly blemished knee is bought from a farmer who says he slipped down in a cart, when drawing a heavy load up a hill. The horse's action is remarkably good and clean; he is bought, but he falls twice, and badly, both times in harness, within two years. We have heard of many similar cases to this. On the • whole, we should recommend a horse with blemished knees to be left alone. Splints, sprains, thoroughpins, contracted feet, flat feet, and occasionally side bones, are frequent causes of lameness in this class of horse. Cataracts should be carefully looked for, as if they are large they often cause horses to shy. These horses are generally shown in the midst of the crowding and bustling of the fair, so that there is some difficulty in having a good look at them. Under such circumstances, it is well to get a selected horse into some quiet side street, where the purchaser can take his time in looking over him. It is always very necessary to gallop him, in order to ascertain the condition of his breathing; a large proportion of young horses, comparatively speaking, are either "whistlers" or "roarers."
Occasionally a "rig" has been found in a fair; he is generally full of flesh, with a thick neck; notice particularly if he is quiet when passing other horses. Should there be any doubt, have each hind leg pulled forward, which will expose the scrotum to view on each side; if there is only one scar there, it will show that the horse has not been properly castrated; if there are two, and the horse appears quiet, it may be due to his being recently castrated. However, a thick gross neck is often seen in foreign horses, but in this case the neck is generally short, the shoulder upright, and the head badly put on. Foreign horses are more plentiful at fairs than formerly.
The fairs named for buying hunters are also good fairs for hacks and harness horses. In addition there are the following:
Banbury, Oxfordshire, on the three days preceding the first Thursday after the 18th January; on the first day there is a horse show held and prizes given in different classes; a few hunters are shown here, but they are not of a very good class.
Beverley, Yorks, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, before the 23rd of February.
Kendal, Westmoreland, 22nd February.
Downham, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd March.
Durham, last Friday in March and two preceding days.
Apperley, Westmoreland, 2nd Wednesday in June and two preceding days.
Topcliffe, Yorks, July 17th and 18th.
Ripley, Yorks, 26th August.
Barnet, Middlesex, 4th, 5th, and 6th September.
Peterboro', 6th October.
Weyhill, Hampshire, 10th October.
Newcastle-on-Tyne, last Wednesday in October.
Van, bus, and cart horses are bought in the same way as the former class, but the trade is more developed. There are many dealers in London who entirely confine their business to this class of horses, as there is a constant and large demand for them; consequently, they are always a saleable article. These horses more frequently have side-bones than any other class, and, differing in this respect from hacks, harness horses, etc., they are often in the market up to ten years of age, sound and fit for work; their prices vary from £25 to £50 or £60. Good 'bus horses are worth from £35 to £40, van horses about the same prices. These horses can also be bought at all the fairs previously named, but the following are the best fairs in England for this class:
Cockermouth, 17th and 18th of February; on the first day of the sale there is an auction, and from one hundred and fifty to two hundred horses are sold, principally 'bus and cart horses; sometimes there is a very fine show.
Wigton, 19th February, is also a very good fair; these places are in Westmoreland and follow each other.
Borough Hill, Westmoreland, on the 30th of September, is about six miles from Appleby, and about half a mile from Warcop station on the N.E. Railway. It is one of the best fairs in England for strong horses.
In Ireland, where heavy horses are not generally bred, and those which form the chief produce of the country are hunters and troop horses, the fairs are as follows: -
Athlone (Co. Westmeath), first Monday in September;
Ballinasloe (Co. Galway), a very important fair, first Tuesday in October;
Banagher (King's County), September 15th to 18th;
Banbridge (Co. Down), January 12th and June 10th;
Cahirme, a good fair, July 12th;
Kells, July 13th, September 9th, October 16th, November 8th;
Mullingar, July 4th, August 29th, and November 11th;
Munster (Limerick), July 29th and October 28th; d 2
Tuam (Co. Galway), October 20th and 22nd.
Occasionally at these fairs a good cob can be bought, but of all classes of horses shown at fairs the most difficult to procure is a weight-carrying hunter, or a weight-carrying cob; the reason is that there is a limited number of that class bred, and there is a great demand for them at the same time. Cobs vary in price from £20 to £50, but there are very few at any fair that realise the latter amount.
It may be remarked, with regard to the prices of horses in general, that hunters seldom bring more than £200 at a fair; the reason is that there are dealers in Ireland, as well as in England, and whenever they can find a weight-carrying hunter, with good shoulders and good manners, they buy him, knowing the demand there is for that kind of horse; there is no need to go to a fair to sell him. Hunters at fairs are generally up to from eleven to fourteen stone, and their price will vary from £60 to £130. Hacks and harness horses of the better class average from £40 to £60; match horses, if they have good action, being more expensive. Cobs vary in price according to their size, shape and action; but from £25 to £40 will buy the majority of them. Really good cobs up to weight are scarce, while good prices are difficult to obtain.
In conclusion, it may be stated that it is difficult and hazardous buying horses at fairs; no matter how careful and skilled purchasers may be, they are deceived occasionally.