Whenever I venture an opinion on any subject, I neither do so as considering it incontrovertibly right, or presuming to think others will hold it as such: in fact, it will be admitted I at all times candidly state what I conceive may be brought forward antagonistical to my view of the case. My readers can thus draw their own conclusions from what is said on either side.
In the spirit of such feeling of what is fair and proper, I will state certain opinions that are quite at variance with my own; but at the same time I must, in justice to myself, premise they were opinions current before I was born, and refuted and shown to be fallacious very soon afterwards. There were scores of low sayings among grooms and such persons showing the favourable opinions entertained by them in favour of horses carrying large carcases-and, in sooth, such opinions were also entertained by many who, had they exercised their reasoning power, would have seen how erroneous such predilection was. "I like a horse that gives me something to kick against." "He's the right sort; he carries his bread and cheese cupboard with him." "I like a horse that, if you feed him well, brings some of it home again." Sundry such sayings seemed to imply that people wished a horse to carry a store of food in his stomach, as the camel does water-which, though a great advantage to the animal, and sometimes even to his master if crossing the desert of Bilma, would be anything but a desirable attribute in a horse crossing Ashby pastures.
How far this said carrying "his bread and cheese" with him, as a store, might serve a horse when hunters, like day-labourers, began their work at six in the morning, and finished at six at night, or when, at all events, nine hours was but an average time for a day's fox-hunting, I am not prepared to say : rarely, if ever-thank the sylvan deities!-having taxed my horse's powers of endurance, or my own patience, to such extent. Many persons have, of course, heard of hounds being at the covert-side by daybreak, and, from what they judge of the time occupied in killing a fox who flies from his kennel at eleven, they possibly conclude our ancestors had got their work or sport over by what we hold to be breakfast hour. No such thing. Foxes were rarely in those days run into; they were hunted till the endurance of the united pack, relieving each other, out-lasted that of the fox single-handed, who,prior to being come up with, might oftentimes be seen hardly able to raise a trot. Now we run into him often when going something bordering on twenty miles an hour. Where would be the "bread-and-cheese" carriers on such occasions? I am not prepared to say but that a pot of porter, and something like a pound of beef-steak, would, to a cormorant who could take them, as he probably would say, "stand by him," if he was obliged to walk thirty miles at the rate of three miles an hour. But Charley Westall would find them lie something heavy on the stomach, in doing the same distance at the rate of six miles and a half in the hour, or more.
Nothing can be a greater mistake than concluding that a horse's having a protuberant carcase is proof of the goodness of his constitution, of his hardihood, or of his capability of enduring work. I would only ask, if a postman was wanted, a porter, a messenger, or, in fact, any man that required the slightest activity, would any one select a little or big pot-bellied fellow to do the work? The inference to be drawn on such a man presenting himself would naturally be that he had never been employed in such work, or that he was incapable of doing it. Had he been so engaged, the pot-belly would, soon have disappeared. We do not usually see letter-carriers in such a state.
I have heard many men say "they detested a horse showing a middle-piece like a shotten herring." So do I; but this is even preferable (to carry on the simile) to a horse with a belly like a herring filled with roe to his very throat.
I am no advocate for "drawing horses over fine," even as racehorses, though some of the old ones cannot live the lengths they have to go unless they are so. There is no occasion whatever for a hunter to be in the same state as a racehorse when brought to the post; but look at a fair-constitutioned racehorse six weeks before, when in regular work, but not the severest he will have to encounter, I should say he was about in the condition and state a hunter should be, intended to cross a fast country. You will find his crest firm to the touch, his muscles just developed and springing beneath the hand if pressed from shoulder to flank, his carcase nicely rounded, neither showing like the shotten or the over-loaded herring. A favourite term with grooms of late years is, "a carcase as straight as a gun-barrel." It is well if a horse towards the end of a season shows this; but, to begin with, I should like a slight deviation from the straight line, and will allow a little handsome fall behind the girths; but this must depend on the natural tendency of a horse as to form, and many very light-carcased ones can go through as much work, and take their turn with their more robust-looking partners. I will here, for instance, state that no power on earth could make me carry carcase. From habit, I believe I eat and drink less than one man in twenty, yet few men have undergone severer bodily exertion in every way. I am not, therefore, so much alarmed at "shy-feeders" as many persons are. I have rarely found your gluttons (and consequently horses that show they are such) brilliant performers. Carcase and paunch are quite different things; a horse having a good carcase from having long back ribs, and not an undue space between the last rib and his hip-bone, I grant indicates strength. This is bone and muscle, not distended abdomen, in fact, entrails. I have said a horse should not have an undue space between his last rib and his hipbone; but let me observe, he should not be what is still more objectionable-too short in this particular, that is, too much "tied up." A horse so formed may (like one narrow across the hips) look very level and pretty, and, for a mere park hack, neither are objectionable: but a hunter, or any horse destined to great feats, wants good wide hips-if somewhat protuberant no matter-he also wants good space to work them in. There is a vast difference between pretty horses and handsome ones. I have seen many beautiful ones very distinguished on the turf and in the field, but they were beautiful from symmetry and proportion. It is quite possible for a horse to be merely pretty without possessing either in any eminent degree.
I have remarked long, or, in more common terms, deep back ribs, as a perfection and proof of strength. I am not aware that a long rib is a bit stronger than a short one; but the former has the advantage of additional corresponding muscle supporting it-hence, I conceive, its strength. Many first-rate racehorses are in this particular very deficient-in fact, made like a greyhound. Bay Middleton was one, yet "he could go;" nor for the Derby length, or that of some of the good things in racing now in vogue, does it matter; for a horse must be a wretch indeed that found his back ache in carrying about eight stone for a mile and a half. But the hunter has to carry on an average say twelve stone, and that for several hours: consequently a good strong back and body are indispensable in his case, but he wants little more absolute belly than does the racehorse.
In a future article I will endeavour to point out the origin and causes of overgrown carcases; for, as I will also endeavour to show, they are not natural to the horse, or, indeed, any quadruped.
There can be no doubt that domestication and art have in many particulars improved the breed of most animals under the care of man. It has also improved in many respects their capabilities, as regards their utility to ourselves; but I am by no means certain but our treatment renders some animals less useful to themselves.