There are many persons who indiscriminately condemn all horses that do not possess large leg-bones. Doubtless, good bone is a great desideratum in the horse; but persons are apt to form their conclusions solely from what bone he exhibits below the knee, and hind leg below the hock. A horse that is termed "tied in below the knee" is bad-one is so weak from the hock downwards in a general way; but much depends on the shape and symmetrical proportion of both. For instance, a leg long in the shank and tied under the knee, will be far weaker than one in just proportion, though in point of measurement larger than another. I do not recollect an instance of a horse breaking his leg when ridden, though I have known such instances occur (particularly in frosty weather) when going down hill in coaches. But in my experience I never saw one instance of a leg yielding, so far as bone went, from being light in that particular. I could quote many instances of horses, light in bone, carrying heavy weights brilliantly. Blue Ruin carried his master, Mr. John Warde, who walked twenty stone; when I knew the horse first, he carried the huntsman. He was, in Byron's words,
Robust but not herculean - a mere strong hunter, as all Warde's horses were.
Look at our Life-Guards' horses; many of them would be considered light in bone as hunters, to carry (say) thirteen stone; yet do these horses manage to get along with twenty-two (I believe about the average weight of a Life-Guardsman with all his accoutrements). It is true they do not cross country, but they often go considerable distances to a review, and bear that weight for many hours. We all know that an egg, properly poised, will bear an immense pressure; three tobacco-pipes, placed in a peculiar position, will sustain the pressure of a large pailful of water. Thus I hold that where light-boned horses are capable of carrying heavy weights, the attribute arises from a proper position of the bones and joints, irrespective of their size. We frequently see it thus with small-armed men; they are often the hardest hitters, the sharpest bowlers, and the longest throwers, and frequently can lift great weights from the ground with one hand (or rather arm). It may be said all this is acquired knack. Granted; but all feats, where activity joined to strength is wanted, require knack. We may call carrying eighteen stone with hounds knack. It is so in a great measure. Where mere animal strength is required, knack is not necessary. I am not prepared to affirm (though I have heard it done) that the bone of the thoroughbred horse is as strong as that of the cart-horse. So far as the mere bone is concerned, I should be tempted to doubt it, though I am quite aware of the great difference of texture between the two, which renders the bone of the former far stronger in proportion than that of the latter.
The best judge in the world cannot say what weight a horse is equal to till he tries. A peculiar way of going enables some horses to carry weight another stronger horse would make a very bad flight of it with. Horses learn this in time, and will very much alter their way of going to this end. Many horses at the beginning of a season show but very indifferently under high weight, that carry that weight with comparative ease to themselves at the end of it; the fact is, they have learnt how to save themselves, and to go in a form that renders the weight they have to carry manageable. The carpenter or blacksmith may be physically as strong as the miller or coal-porter, but they could not carry sacks of coals or flour with the same facility; nor could the coal-porter or miller wield the sledge-hammer as can the blacksmith.
To show how we may alter a horse's way of going by light or heavy weight, we will first instance the hack and hunter. I believe every man who knows anything of horses will concede to me, that the step of the hack should be light and quick; but, such step not being natural to all horses, let us suppose that we have a favourite who has it not. Such failing may certainly be a good deal altered by urging him in his paces, and at the same time holding him, to show him it is not the going faster you want, but quickness of step. Riding him by the side of a horse quicker in his walk will also tend to improvement; but all this is a long job, and perhaps will not completely produce what we want, after all. Doubtless some persons will be surprised at the mode I should adopt to bring about what I want. We will suppose the hack to have been accustomed to carry twelve stone; of this we will suppose him perfectly master, so that he can walk, trot, or canter in such way as he pleases, and is natural to him. Put eighteen or twenty stone on him; he will find with this weight he cannot, as it were, lounge along quite at his ease. What! I think I hear some reader say; put twenty stone on a horse to quicken his motions! Even so, gentle reader; but perhaps you have always been too aristocratic in your habits ever to have carried anything heavier than, perchance, a small enamelled leather (not portmanteau, for it would not hold a cloak, but certain little indispensables for some purpose or other). With this you stepped along, quite at your ease; but let me clap a trunk of a hundredweight on your shoulder-you would find the easy lounge wonderfully altered, and also find yourself compelled to go "à petit pas," so as to enable each leg to come to the relief of the other in the quickest time possible, Weight acts on the paces of the horse in a similar way.
It may seem at first a singular statement to make, but it is a true one: a horse inclined to be unsafe with a light weight, will often go perfectly safe with a heavy one; the fact is, he is to a certain degree alarmed at the unusual weight on his back, steps short and quick, and minds his business. Of course I do not mean that such would be the case with a horse under any infirmity; the weight might have a prejudicial effect in this instance, though it does not absolutely follow that it would be so even in this case. We rarely see a hunter make a mistake with a heavy weight on him: the fact is, he feels conscious that, though he can recover himself after such a mistake or blunder, with ten stone on him, he could not do so with seventeen; so, either at fences or over rough ground, he is careful. A horse with a light weight will go striding carelessly along over all sorts of ground; but with a heavy one he feels, in the first place, obliged to collect himself, and in the next, as it were, to pick his way. It is having learned this that enables horses accustomed to carry weight to do so in a manner that often astonishes us, and which, from their appearance, we should never conceive them capable of doing.
I had the question mooted to me by a very sensible man, and a good judge of horses, though in no way a racing man, "Whether I did not think race-horses would feel less the effect of weight when they came to run, if accustomed to be exercised with nine stone on them instead of five or six?" I have no doubt but they would, and if all races were four miles, carrying twelve stone, the idea might be a good one; but my friend forgot that with the racehorse we want a different style of going to what is desirable in the hunter; we do not want the racehorse to carry great weight, or go over rough ground, consequently we do not want to accustom or teach him to collect, but to extend himself. We know quite well that a racehorse could not live four miles with eleven stone on him, going in the form of a two or a three-year-old for a mile, or a mile and a half, with eight, often in handicaps with six; but by the time the "old horse," that is, one four or five years old, contends for stakes at high weights, a little "leather flapping" has most probably taught him, like the hack or hunter, that difference of weight requires difference of action or form of going.