There is a saying among horsemen, that "They go in all shapes." This is quite true, and many do go better than common, still owning very queer shapes; but though it may please nature at times to produce such lusus naturae, both as to shape and action, such circumstance in no shape warrants us in being careless as to shape or the usual indications of capability in the animal. Such cases as I allude to are merely a departure from general rule in particular horses, whereas perhaps nineteen in twenty owning the same drawback will be found to prove what a judge would anticipate, namely, that, comparatively speaking, they cannot go at all.
I am induced to take up this subject from a circumstance that occurred lately; walking with an acquaintance, he remarked a horse, led by a servant, and observed, "What a particularly fine shoulder that horse has!" It would have been uncourteous to say, (though perfectly true), "On the contrary, he has a very middling shoulder;" and, being a mere acquaintance, I did not think it worth my while to enter on a long explanation to convince him he was in error; but it struck me that some persons may form equally erroneous opinions respecting any peculiarity of shape they may remark in horses. Hence this article.
The peculiarity in the horse in question was having a singularly high wither. All judges will, I believe, agree that a handsomely-turned one, of a moderate height, set well back under the saddle, and coming well before it, to the setting on of the neck, is a beauty in a horse, and in most cases it may be considered as indicative of a good shoulder; but this is by no means always the case. So a judge would look scrupulously to the shoulder itself, before he permitted himself to be guided by the wither in his estimation of the shoulder altogether; for it is quite possible for a horse to have as fine a wither as ever was given to animal, still possessing a very indifferent, and, in some cases, a very bad shoulder. Some persons will, I am aware, be much astonished on seeing me assert that the wither alone has nothing at all to do with the shoulder. Before persons indicate their doubts or dissent on what I state, let me recommend them to look at the skeleton of a horse; they will then see that the wither of the horse is composed merely of upright bones of greater or lesser height-in fact, is analogous to the chine of a pig. These bones spring from the vertebrae, and are, in point of fact, quite guiltless of any influence on the increased or diminished powers of speed or action in the animal. Many persons, I doubt not, imagine the wither to be the vertebrae of the horse, and a low or high one to proceed from how much or little those vertebrae are curved to form the arch the wither more or less exhibits. If this was the case, perhaps the motion or powers of the animal might be actuated by such curve: but the height or lowness of the wither is, as I have shown, totally irrespective of the spine, and arising solely from the upright bones springing from it being longer or shorter, consequently have no more influence in themselves on the action of the shoulder beneath than has the tail, or any other part of the anatomy.
The beauty and goodness of a shoulder depend mainly on its obliquity: its action upon the general freedom of motion of the limb, and the not being incommoded by superabundance of flesh to impede its action. The want of the obliquity mentioned produces the straight shoulder, with which, though a horse may be a very good one in harness, he is very rarely safe or pleasant to ride, and I think I may say never speedy in his gallop.
Some persons think that a high wither indicates that such horse will carry his saddle in a handsome place. This is, however, not to be confided in. A horse may have a somewhat low wither, and still carry his saddle in the middle of his back; or he may have a very high one and always carry his saddle, in technical phrase, "on his shoulders." The place in which a horse carries his saddle depends on the fulness of the muscles that run up to the wither, not the wither itself; and further, on how far back these muscles are carried. Thus it will be seen that any wither is high enough for such muscles to rest on. An unusually high wither is, as we may term it, greatly in the way; for, unless the muscles that sustain the saddle in its place are very full and go far back, such wither is continually getting galled. It is true, we may get a "cut-back" saddle, but they are hideous, and with a very high wither it has the appearance of, as it were, growing out of the pommel of the saddle. Many horses that have uncommonly high withers labour under the defect of the muscles of the shoulder running no higher up than the vertebrae of the horse's back-consequently, on each side of the wither is a hollow in which, in low phrase, "you might hide a hat." Such horses are usually inclined to be weak ones, thin between the legs, and consequently unpleasant to sit on; you have no grasp of them unless you are a second Tom Thumb. They are also commonly narrow in the chest: this, however, may be passed over, as many such horses are very speedy, and, when tolerably big in the girth, are not objectionable; but, unfortunately, we rarely find them so.
I have heard many old horsemen, particularly huntsmen, say they liked their saddles placed tolerably forward on their horses, giving as a reason that it threw the weight on the strongest part of the animal. It does this, I admit; but they forget that it leaves a great portion of the chief sources of propelling motion, namely, the loins, gaskins, thighs, and hocks, comparatively unemployed, that is, not contributing their fair share of impulse to the going. We might, by parity of reasoning, load a waggon and throw three-fourths of the weight on the fore-wheels, as being the strongest. We do so; but it is the hind ones that are the long-lever and propellers, and we should find by the straining of the horses that we had apportioned the load contrary to reason and the rules of draught.