There are few more unsightly peculiarities in the horse's make than a low or hollow back; it is at all times objectionable in point of appearance, but in many cases I must consider it perfectly hideous. It may be hid in some degree by a very long saddle, with an unusually full-stuffed pommel, both of them very comfortable, both to horse and rider; indeed, unless you go to a first-rate hunting saddler, if you give an unconditional order for a saddle to be made, ten to one but you get one three inches too short, and with scarcely any stuffing, supposed to produce a neat appearance in the pannel, A thin pannel is necessary to a racing saddle, where ounces in point of weight are to be considered. Besides which, they have always one, sometimes more saddle-cloths be tween them and the horse's back; and be it remembered a jockey is very often not over ten minutes on his horse from the time of saddling and mounting till he carries his saddle into the weighing-house. But with all this, horses that run often during the racing season often exhibit sore backs (and eke sometimes sore shins), that it is pitiable to see such good animals as many of our platers here exhibit. Many a time have I lent a silk handkerchief to form a protection to the withers of one of these. But enough of saddles.
Low-backed horses naturally give us an idea of weakness; and I must confess I cannot divest myself of the idea that they are, in point of supporting strength, weaker than others, but not so much so as persons are led to imagine. We are aware that an arch is in itself a tower of strength, independent of any support it may have beneath. But take, we will say, a piece of timber, and be that perfectly straight, or bowed the reverse way to the arch, if it is in this case supported by brickwork or any other substance beneath, it becomes much stronger than the timber would be, depending on its own individual strength, be it in what position it may. Thus if we depended on the strength of the vertebrae of the horse for our support, its being arched, running horizontally, or bowed downwards, would be a matter of vital importance; for I should say, figuratively speaking, the mere spine would not alone carry a torn cat. It is the supporting - ribs and muscles that constitute the strength of the back, and from where the ribs end we may be said to be supported by the muscles of the loins that continue beyond the last rib; but here the upper thigh bones lend their support; so that the spine is supported in its whole length by either bone or muscle, or rather by both conjointly. Thus it need not be a matter of as much surprise as it is to many to see some low-backed horses carrying men of considerable weight, seeing that, though the spine dips considerably, it is, in fact, as much supported by bone and muscle as if it ran horizontally or was arched. I admit it is not in itself individually as strong; but the support it receives renders it quite capable of performing its destined duty.
As some set-off to the objections to hollow-backed horses, they are mostly comfortable to sit on, easy in their movements, and in leaping the rider feels as if sitting on a swing or an easy seat. Horses rising in the spine, technically called "roach-backed ones," are the reverse. They are apt to be somewhat rough in their motions, and are frequently difficult to sit close on at their leaps. A horse remarkably strong across his loins, though an admitted merit, sometimes gives his rider such a cant when leaping, particularly at high jumps, that, unless he sits well back and prepares himself for the shock, he would find himself most unpleasantly forward, if not off. I had one who not only did this, but would sometimes, when fresh, jump half as high again as was necessary. I forgave him this, knowing that, however high or wide the leap might be, he was sure to go high and wide enough for it; figuratively speaking, there appeared to be no limit to his powers. I have often regretted since, I never tried how high or wide he could jump.
From what I have said of hollow-backed horses, it is quite clear I would not purchase one or buy him for a friend; but for a woman I hold a somewhat low-backed horse not to be objectionable-in fact, far preferable to one with the spine unusually elevated. In the first place, the appearance of a low back is (supposing a horse to carry his saddle where he ought to do) nearly hidden by the length of a properly-made lady's saddle. As I before stated, the easiness of all the motions of such horses is a great desideratum to a female, whose attributes as a gentlewoman are not those of a female rough-rider, who may perhaps with truth assert she can ride anything. A lady should be composed and gentle on horseback as we wish to see her in all situations in life. Let her be as perfect, and still more as elegant, a horse-woman as the best instruction can make her; but do not give her a horse that, by make, gait, or disposition, would mar her proficiency.
I should say ladies who ride much on horseback seldom get on their saddle at a weight exceeding nine stone seven, or at most ten stone, consequently they ride, with an eighteen-pound saddle, at most, eleven stone eight. Supposing, therefore, a hollow-backed horse not to be able to carry the same weight as others, he must be a very weak one indeed, and consequently totally unfit to carry a woman, if with her riding, either with hounds or on the road, he is at all incommoded by such weight; in fact, a lady's horse should always be able to carry a stone or two above the weight she rides; this keeps him always fresh, and above his work, on which circumstance his pleasantness and safety in carrying her mainly depends.
I have still another plea, in fairness, to bring forward in favour of low-backed horses, or rather, to mitigate the sweeping objections entertained against them by most men (myself for one). I have remarked low backs to be less likely to get sore than those of which the spine is more elevated. I allude to the part under the saddle; low-backed horses usually have the muscles of the back running higher up to the spine than others. I have seen them, when fat, have these muscles so high and prominent, that the spine bone was actually below them, or, at all events, not higher. A horse with an elevated spine requires his saddle to be stuffed unusually full, so as to prevent the seat of the saddle resting on it. Persons may say that the part of a saddle over the spine consists only of the lining and pig's-skin above it. Granted; but these are quite enough to chafe when the pores of the skin are in a state of perspiration- independent of which, it is not very pleasant to the rider to feel the back as it were like the edge of a board beneath his seat, which will be the case unless the saddle is stuffed purposely for the particular horse.
Low-backed horses, as an objection (at least one in my eyes), are apt to show a little exuberance of carcase: in fact, the body, being lower than usual (from peculiarity of make above), becomes naturally more pendant below: thus, supposing a low-backed horse to have the same length of rib as another, and the abdominal muscles in proportion, they must give him the appearance of a more dropping carcase than other horses. Whether on actual measurement this might prove to be the case or not (for in low-backed ones the spine usually only dips behind the wither), the measurement from the wither to the bottom of the brisket will be found pretty much the same as with other horses. Now, in my opinion, the beauty of the brisket of a horse consists in its running upwards from the back of the fore-legs about a foot or more. Here is the proper place for the girths; from these the body should fall a little, to form a proper and handsomely proportioned carcase. A good carcase is handsome, and desirable in a horse; but this is not belly, which can only be tolerated in a carthorse, and he looks infinitely better the less he has of it. I do not say that low-backed horses actually have this monstrous objection; I merely state they are apt to have the appearance of it.