I am not aware that we can in general estimation hold one pace of the horse as more safe, or the reverse, than another. It all depends on the way in which the animal does that pace. Some horses are perfectly safe in all their slow paces; others more or less so as regards a particular one; and, again, others are safe in no pace but a fast one. Some persons might recoil at the idea of putting a naturally unsafe horse to a fast pace, and cannot but annex an added dread of coming down to a very fast rate of going. I admit there is cause for apprehension in such case, and, to exemplify it, will borrow an idea from the coachman, speaking as allusive to the consequences of an overthrow of a coach. Compared with a similar occurrence on a railroad, it holds good as to horses and the difference of pace. If a horse comes down in his walk, "Why, there you are!" but, should he come down when at speed, "Why, where are you?" But it is rare that a horse comes down in a very fast pace. Racehorses, who are not usually famed for safety, very seldom come down when at speed, unless from some circumstance irrespective of the pace, or their style of going it. It amounts to about this: with some horses it is whether the rider chooses to run the risk of the very great probability of an unsafe horse coming down in the trot, or going a faster pace where the odds are (say) fifty to one against it, and trusting, should it occur, to where he may find himself.
I think I may with confidence affirm that the un-safety we frequently find in sound horses in a slow pace arises from bad action, or carelessness of going; the unsafety of unsound horses in the same pace arises from their not being able to bear the lengthened pressure a slow pace produces on an infirm limb. Let us judge by analogy: if a man is so decrepit as to be unable to progress without the aid of crutches or a couple of sticks, he walks slowly, as by doing so he is enabled to make his supports sustain the whole weight of his body. But we will suppose him not to be so absolutely infirm as this, yet still has feet he cannot bear to rest upon, he will be seen to take short quick steps, by doing which he releases each foot before the pain occasioned by pressure becomes intolerable. When coaching was in vogue, I have seen horses (particularly in night coaches) so lame that an inexperienced man of humane feelings might have been tempted to remark, "Why do you not let that poor brute work gently in a cart, instead of going ten miles an hour in a coach?" We could not but admire and applaud such expressed feeling; but it would be a matter of doubt whether the pain would not be more to such an animal to walk his eight hours in a cart than to trot one in a coach; the more so as, after he got warmed, he comparatively felt his infirmity at least bearable.
I have made this allusion to show why it is horses will frequently go safe in fast paces that are very much the reverse in slow ones.
As cripples are thus influenced by the dwelling for an undue period on a lame leg or foot, so are sound horses (though, of course, in a far less degree) rendered more or less unsafe from the same cause. This renders the majority of racehorses unsafe in their walk or slow trot. Persons are apt to impute their unsafety to their going near the ground. This does in a certain degree cause them to find obstructions to the advancing foot that would not be so to the horse with more elevated step; but cause them to step quicker, if the obstacles alluded to were struck, the other leg would come so quickly to the support of the advancing one that a little trip, or what is called a false step, would be only the momentary inconvenience; whereas, with the long stride such horses usually take in their step, and dwelling so long on one leg, they frequently come down headlong, before the support of the following leg can be brought to rectify the blunder made by the advancing one.
I think I may say that, of all the different styles of trotting that ordinary horses have, a regular darter is the worst (that is, the most unsafe.) And for the advantage of the quite uninformed as regards pace, I will briefly state, that a horse who darts, throws forward the advancing leg nearly straight. Some are fast that do this; but, if they are, if they come on a rolling stone, or meet with any obstructions in putting the foot to the ground, to revert to the coachman's saying, "Where are you?" Speaking collectively, the horse on his nose, and the rider thrown far beyond it, the crash awful. Yet have I seen many men riding such horses with perfect confidence, from want of knowing their danger.
Many persons, in looking at a horse's trotting action, look merely at that of the fore legs. This may be all very well if we only want fashionable, in other terms, "knee action;" but if we want a trotter, it is as indispensable that he should have action with his hind legs as with his fore ones. This reminds me of the old Irish song" If the coach goes at six, pray what time goes the basket?"
We may safely infer that the basket started with the coach, and kept the same time on the road. So it would be quite useless in the horse having action with his fore legs to do sixteen miles per hour unless his hind ones were gifted with correspondent propelling action. Of the two, I should augur more favourably of a young trotter who might not be quite what we wished as respected the trotting action of his fore legs than I should of one who failed in regard to his action with the hind ones; for it would be found far easier to improve the former by practice than the latter: no doubt, each are to be improved, but not in the same degree.
Trotters should have strong loins and gaskins. So, it may be said, should all herses; but I consider them particularly desirable in the trotter-from them come mainly the propelling powers of the hinder parts. A weak-loined horse, with strong thighs and hocks, has those powers to a certain extent; but if the loins tire, the whole hind part is prostrated. A very strong-limbed man afflicted with lumbago can judge of this. Weak loins certainly do not produce this; but they produce what is to a certain degree tantamount to lumbago-namely, helplessness.
Of all paces, I know of none that, as regards safety, requires a horse to be so well on his haunches as the trot. If the balance of the body has a tendency forwards, a horse thus circumstanced must be more or less unsafe. He may thunder along a great pace; but, anything throwing him a little more out of the equilibrium, down he goes, not merely on his knees, but ploughing up the earth for paces beyond where he first touches it. If we want a wager trotter, we must put up with his style of going, be it what it may, when practice and teachers cannot make it what we wish; but if we only want a good fast-goer, let us show our judgment in selecting one that goes in good and handsome form, and, above all, goes safely-for it would be but an ignominious finale to a man who had triumphantly led the van in our best hunting counties to be killed or maimed by a blundering hack on the road.
Persons riding on the road are many of them apt to get hacks too big. 14.3, with strength, is quite big enough for a road horse; whereas for a hunter, more from the always having ridden them than from any decided opinion of their superiority, I always preferred somewhat big horses. But we do not want a hack to clear ox fences; and if we did not want a hunter to do it, my judgment, such as it is, tells me 15.2 is big enough for any horse.
There is another recommendation to little horses as road ones-they usually step shorter and quicker than large ones; and the reader of this article is aware of what I have said on that subject.