Many, indeed perhaps most persons, on reading the heading of this article will conclude that by curby-hocked horses are meant those labouring under the direct presence of curbs. It is not so, however. "Curby-hocked," or, in more technical phrase, "sickle-hocked" horses alludes to those having; their hocks so shaped as in a mitigated degree to resemble a sickle with its bowed part standing out behind them. Straight hocks are usually held as objectionable; not as indicating any predisposition to ailment, but I conceive they militate against a horse's spring in jumping, and I can but fancy horses possessing them do not go as well up-hill as others. Now, the curby or sickle-hocked horse shows that his hocks are not so formed as to be able to endure the strain or stress thrown on them by severe galloping, or a frequent occurrence of severe leaps. Whatever deviates much from the proper and natural line, will be always found to be to a certain degree weakened by it. It is thus with the hocks. If that part of the anatomy of the horse stands well, we shall find that if we drop a plummet from the back of the hock, and let it touch the ground, the back part of the. leg, just above the pastern, will be very nearly (sometimes quite) on a level with the hock. When it readies far from it, the hock is exposed to undue pressure on the ligatures and bones forming the joint. We frequently hear of a horse having his hocks "well under him;" they should be so; but that should arise from the formation of the thigh, not from the legs standing unduly beneath his body, while the hocks protrude as unduly behind him-he then becomes sickle-hocked. But from whatever cause curbs may occur, they are a most objectionable complaint in a horse; we must be, therefore, very wrong, or very inadvertent, to purchase an animal with hocks indicative of predisposition, or, in better terms, showing more than usual liability to their occurring. In some proof of which, a friend of mine bought a young horse at a highish figure: he showed him to me, and, as friends are apt to do, asked my opinion of his bargain. "I must first know what you gave before I can form an opinion on the subject; with his figure and looks, if I saw no radical objection to him, I should say, that even with the little practice you say he has had hunting, he would be worth a hundred; but I would not have bought a horse with such hocks, except at a very reduced price-they must give way when he comes into strong work."
For a month my friend rode him, and bantered me no little on the opinion I had given of his horse, till after a day's hunting his groom found, on dressing the horse, a very promising young curb on one of his hocks, and on leading the horse out, found him lame on that leg, and a little stiffish on the other- strong symptoms of a companion curb in prospective. He, however, took the wisest plan, by sending the horse to be fired on both hocks. Here was a little practical experience for my friend. I will be bound to say he never purchased a horse again without closely examining his hocks.
I have heard many Leicestershire grooms profess to hold curbs in very light consideration. I have heard some country farriers express the same opi nion; the first will tell you, "Oh, we never stop a horse for curbs in the middle of a season, unless he gets very lame with them." The appropriateness of these two opinions amounts to about this: the first, in order to please their master, keep the horse going for a time by the application of stimulants; and the master is insane enough, in many instances, for the sake of riding a horse on for a few weeks, to bring him into a state where the chances are he will never be able to ride him again with comfort. The farrier thinks little of curbs, because, if employed, he makes a dozen furrows (for furrows they represent) in the case of an incipient curb, where, probably, a mere blister would have sufficed. Let no man trifle with a curb. If taken in time, it usually yields to mild. remedies; but if the horse is used after, or particularly if used after he is lame on it, from the circumstance of his going sound when he has "been out a bit," the chances are, a lame one he will eventually be, in spite of all invented remedies.
Curbs and spavins, though both taking place on the hock, are by no means to be considered in any way as analogous to each other; at least, I hold them as quite different. The curb may arise from an infinity of circumstances, though all more or less of the same nature, namely, strain-and usually sudden strain; its existence usually shows immediately. Now the spavin, which in a general way (though not always) is the worst disease, is one of slow growth; hence I infer it is more produced from continued hard work than from strain, like the curb. In some proof of which, curbs are very common complaints with hunters and racehorses; but I do not recollect ever in my life to have seen a carthorse with one, though of course such instances have occurred; nor have I found them by any means as common among other draught horses as are spavins. I even fancy, though I do not assert it as fact, that I have remarked curbs to be more prevalent among hunters than even with racehorses, which, if the case, I should attribute to the strain on the hocks of the former from the frequent exertion of leaping.
Now, we all know that harness-work, particularly with heavy weights, and especially in going up hills, severely tests the hocks of the harness-horse; and, as I said before, this constant exertion of them frequently brings on spavins, but it is not like the sudden strain that produces the curb. One thing must be borne in mind. Commoner horses are not watched as are hunters, but are frequently remarked (or quite as often not remarked at all) as going "a little lame." It is thought it will go off, and the horse is worked on till a confirmed spavin is the result. Then, as in the case of the hunter, where palliatives have been resorted to to keep the horse going, nothing short of severe application of the iron is effective, and not always then.
Most of the ailments of horses and men (save those occasioned by age and consequent failing of powers) could be stopped, ere they arrived at a point where they require curing, had we the means in some cases, or the foresight in others, of applying remedies in time; for this reason, diseases of latent origin are found more difficult of cure than those that lame at once-the more insidious the approach of the enemy, the more dangerous he becomes.
Horses are readily cured of curbs, so as to be no more detriment to their service or going than if they had never occurred; but I rarely saw a horse severely fired for them that did not always go a little stilty on them ever afterwards. The severity of the firing shows the vet. (if a proper one) saw nothing short of such treatment would effect a cure; whereas, if taken in time, supposing he held the actual cautery necessary, a few strokes with a fine iron would probably have sufficed. The old idea of firing producing an artificial bandage in some cases, where sinews have been injured (or rather their surrounding parts), may avail; but it is quite a mistake as to its being of any service in that way as regards curb or bone spavin. The veterinary art now ranks so high, and its professors are men of such science in the medical profession, that the name of farrier is lost, and with it we miss numbers of fired horses, that are now cured by more scientific means, if persons will only put them under proper treatment in time.