There can be no doubt that a perfect hunter should be a perfect horse, combining in himself the qualities of speed, strength, endurance, and good temper; with excellent action, to ensure safety and certainty in going over broken ground, and in overcoming high or wide obstacles. In outline and build, as a whole and in detail, his conformation should be faultless, and that which secures velocity, vigour, stability, and promptitude in movement; while his intelligence and docility should be highly developed, and be associated with that very precious characteristic of a well-trained horse - a good mouth.
As has often been remarked, there is little difficulty in buying what is called a "made hunter," if the buyer has the money and is willing to expend it in obtaining such an animal. But though a "made hunter " can be bought, and, indeed, is so in the great majority of instances, yet it not unfrequently happens that, notwithstanding his jumping and galloping qualities being all that are desirable, he has a "hard mouth," and is not easily controlled in the hunting field. So serious is this fault sometimes, that a horse otherwise an excellent hunter is positively dangerous. When in view of a fence, for instance, he will seize the bit between his jaws and rush wildly at the obstacle at the rate of twenty miles an hour, in spite of his rider's attempts to moderate his pace and steady him. Well may a hunting man exclaim: I should like to know what pleasure can be derived from riding such a brute! It takes all a man can do to moderate the animal's pace; it requires two hands on the reins to turn him from side to side; and the rider has the pleasant prospect, in the event of a mistake at a fence, of his horse not being able to recover himself, the almost inevitable "spill" being the result. Besides, his mount requiring all his attention, he is quite unable to enjoy the hunting; that is to say, he is unable to watch the working of the hounds, and his day's hunting (so-called) is really nothing more than a modified steeple-chase, with none of its accompanying pleasures.
As has been said, a perfect hunter is a perfect horse; and he may be of various degrees of breeding - quite thoroughbred, nearly so, or half-bred. It is difficult to obtain a thorough-bred competent to carry more than twelve stone; but under that weight, in counties where pace counts for much, and the fences are not too close - as in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire - there can be no doubt that, if he possesses the other necessary qualities, and price is not an obstacle, a thorough-bred is the best. Breeding in the hunter is very necessary, and, provided the country is open, there can scarcely be too much of it; but over twelve or fourteen stone, and especially in a close or cramped country, a three-parts or half-bred horse is to be preferred, as he can be obtained larger and stronger, and better adapted for difficult and frequent jumping than the thorough-bred. His less excitable temperament conduces to this end; while the thorough-bred, unless exceptionally formed, is not good for going over rough ground and high obstacles, his breeding and training through many generations being with the view to high speed on level ground.
The various definitions of a hunter all tend to show that he is not an easy horse to find, if he is to possess all that is considered necessary to establish his claim. One of these descriptions gives him the outline and shape of a cob, the spirit and blood or breeding of a race horse, the size and scope of a carriage horse, and the manners and action of a park hack. B 2
A good, high, and sloping shoulder is absolutely essential in a hunter, and no less are good limbs and joints; but the first, being that conformation which is most necessary, is that which is always so eagerly sought for. It is often the point which is most difficult to obtain, from the fact that more frequently than not, one of the parents has had heavy or upright shoulders, and these are reproduced in the foal - either the thorough-bred sire or the harness mare to which he is put having had this drawback. The hunter's loins and hind quarters should be wide and strong, and thighs long and muscular; while his "wind" should be without check or stint. It is scarcely necessary to add that a hunter should be stout-hearted at work and after it; he ought always to feed well and rest well, and give other indications of a good constitution and a placid temperament.
Made-hunters of first-class quality and appearance are expensive to purchase, especially if they are up to weight; and two, three, or four hundred guineas are sometimes paid for them. But good half-bred horses may be bought for much less, and especially from farmers who breed and ride them straight to hounds.