I of course mention these in contra-distinction to small feet, the subject of the two last articles. As I have attempted to show that small feet are by no means always to be held as indicative of ailing ones, so must large feet not be regarded as proof of being sound ones, for, as I have remarked, the heels of such feet are just as subject to contraction as those of the naturally narrowest foot that can be seen on a horse. Personally, I have an antipathy to large feet; and, owning this, that my prejudice may not influence others, let us look to the advantages, and their reverse, that pro and con arise to the horse from this peculiarity.
On the principle that snow-shoes enable a man to walk on snow, when with ordinary ones he would sink in, persons are apt to come to the conclusion that large feet are highly advantageous to the horse's progress on soft and yielding ground. There can be no doubt but that, to a certain degree, and that a very small one, the advantage of an extended surface meeting the ground is a consideration, but, as I state, a very inconsiderable one; for, referring to the analogy of the snow-shoes, be it borne in mind they are perhaps about five times the width of a natural foot, or rather a made shoe; so the resistance they offer to sinking in on any yielding surface would be great to the man; but in the case of the horse, an extended surface of three quarters of an inch on each side makes the difference between a very small foot and a very large one in the riding horse. I leave it, therefore, to my readers to judge how far an inch and a half of opposing surface can be efficacious in preventing the weight of a horse sinking into soft ground; it would barely be perceptible in the case of a man. I must, therefore, with deference, differ from those who consider large feet as advantageous on the snow-shoe system. Allowing some advantage to be gained in this respect, it is so infinitesimally minute as to be hardly worth mentioning, and, in my opinion, not at all worth consideration.
Such ideal advantage is the only one I ever heard brought forward in favour of large feet; and even this falls to the ground altogether in the case of horses used on the road only. To the racehorse they would be objectionable in effect and odious in appearance; he rarely goes on soft ground, and if he did, with the force with which he goes, I will venture to say the footprint of a large or ordinary-sized foot would not (so far as sinking in goes) be perceptible to the eye any more than any advantageous difference would be felt by the animal.
Let us now look to the hunter, the only horse with whom the anti-sinking effects of a large foot could be advantageous. I think I have stated how far this goes; against this we have several objections. We will pass over appearance; for, as regards the hunter, he is the only horse (save the racehorse) in whom and about whom we regard looks as a secondary object. Be it recollected a large foot requires a large shoe, and, though the specific gravity of the foot itself is something, it is not a matter of consideration; but the difference of weight in shoes is very considerable. Persons may say that a foot an inch or two wider than another only requires a shoe an inch or two larger. This is true as regards circumference; but a large foot requires a proportionable degree of what is technically called "cover," that is, a shoe made wide, so as to cover a certain portion of the sole of the foot. This, with the additional circumference together, makes the shoe very considerably heavier than one for an ordinary foot. Those who have taken off a heavy shoe and put on a light one, may judge of the effect of weight attached to the feet, and can therefore readily consider the impediment a heavy shoe is to a galloping horse. The difference in point of weight between a very heavy shoe and a light one amounts very nearly to that between an ordinary hunting shoe and the plate of the racehorse. Nor is it enough in very many cases that the shoe for the large foot is made to afford proportionate cover to the sole with that of the small one. Large feet are apt to be more or less flat ones. That is the very reverse of the mule foot. Flat feet again are apt to be thin in the sole; hence why such feet require more than proportionate covering. The sole of the ordinary, or somewhat mule foot is not only usually stronger, but is, to a certsin degree, arched from the ground, and consequently less subject to bruises from round stones, or cuts from flinty ones.
But this arched sole, when compared with the flat one, has another advantage. It is quite certain that the support of the weight of the horse must ultimately end in the feet: this is divided between the internal parts of the foot and the outward crust or wall. Without entering into any lengthened pathological definition of how one part presses on and is supported by another, it is quite clear a portion of the ultimate pressure goes on to the sole; and I think it is equally certain that the sole somewhat arched is capable of sustaining with impunity a weight the wider and flatter feet or sole could not, without yielding to its influence. I have seen large thin feet with the sole actually pressed down till they had become to a certain degree convex; this cannot last-the horse must, in the nature of things, become incurably lame and decrepit.
I do not remember ever to have seen but one racehorse with unsightly large feet; this was brother to Gilbert Gurney; he could not, as it is termed, "run a yard." He was to be sold, and, being a particularly close-made and powerful horse, I pointed him out to a friend of mine as one likely to carry his welter weight as a hunter; he liked the horse, but his big feet were a choker. "My good fellow," said he to me, "it is quite enough for any horse to have to carry my weight on his back, without having to move a pair of feet each a stone and a half, with a hundred weight of iron attached to them."
My father had for many years a big-footed one, a good horse, and very perfect leaper, as regards safety; but his gallop was like that of the chargers we see in old prints in fêtes and tournaments. He jumped in a slovenly manner; his trot was laboured, heavy, and slow; his walk the same; it seemed as if his great feet militated against any activity. It was only astonishing how he lived with hounds, but he did; and though never in the van, always contrived to be "there or thereabouts." I held him a most superlative brute.
I have known many horses with large feet good goers, and some of them fast; but I never saw one do anything neatly: like my father's horse, they thunder and blunder along somehow. But a horse, in my idea, to be what he ought to be, should in all his paces and in leaping induce you to mislead yourself by the idea that he was going on an India-rubber surface. It is the elastic movements of horses that render their motions pleasant, or the reverse. Many horses will, by sheer effort and strength, clear large leaps; but you can always feel when this is the case that brute force is alone employed. You feel the effort, and also feel aware that it is a severe trial of the powers of the animal; while, on the other hand, some horses have an elasticity somewhere that gives you the idea of their taking off from a spring board. These are the leapers for me; that when they have once taken off, figuratively speaking, make you wonder where, when, or if ever, you will come to the earth again. I need scarcely say such are not your big-footed ones.