I have no doubt many of my readers have found a horse, or seen one, in technical term, "buck" on coming to a (say) large white stone on the road, without its appearing to have attracted his attention till close upon it. I have no hesitation in giving an opinion that a horse in the habit of doing this is near-sighted. If, on the contrary, he cocked his ears and raised his head on seeing the stone at a distance, I should infer his sight was confused, and that the stone was magnified to his view, or appeared what it was not; but the sudden start on seeing it, as it were, under his feet, clearly shows he had not seen it till close on it-then he starts, often producing an almost electric shock to the rider. I have seen a horse thus start so suddenly and violently, as almost to bring himself on his nose. Depend on it, no horse will do this but under the influence of defective vision.
The attempt to cure a failing the result of an in firmity must prove abortive, unless we could cure or palliate the original cause of it.
I have already mentioned the different causes that occasioned shying and starting: there is, however, another cause-this is nervousness, which will frequently cause horses to start on hearing any unusual sound or noise; some carry this to such a pitch that, figuratively speaking, we might be led to suppose that Mr. Pine, the celebrated acoustic apparatus maker of the Strand, had applied one of his instruments to the animal's ears, so that sounds unheard by other horses fell with unusual loudness on the tympanum of his ear. Such horses are in many cases extremely dangerous. We can use our own eyes and judgment if we see anything approaching likely to cause the horse alarm; but a gun fired off, a drum struck, or a simultaneous shout often takes place without our having notice of its vicinity, consequently we have no notice to enable us to guard against its effects. In all situations a nervous horse is more or less dangerous.
One bit of advice I unhesitatingly give: never, under any circumstance, strike a horse for starting or shying. If he does so from imperfect vision or timidity, a moment's reflection must show any man the folly, and, in fact, cruelty of doing so. If it arises from habit, it will not prevent the sudden act, but will occasion such agitation on the part of the animal as will cause him to become so unruly through fear, that the rider will have great trouble to pacify or reassure him. I have seen many a horse who had been punished for starting or shying, start off before the rider was aware of the intent, or jump and throw himself about so violently as to render it difficult to remain on his back-a sure indication of his having been ridden by a bad, or at least hasty-tempered man, and one whom we could not compliment on his judgment.
There is a most mistaken measure people often practise with horses, which is-if a horse shies at any thing stationary, to force him up to it. I have seen an ignorant groom thus battle with a horse till he drove the animal almost to desperation; and, even if such practice succeeds so far as getting the horse up to it, what is gained by it? It will be found that, so far from being reconciled, and his fears removed, as regards the object of his alarm, he will, the moment he is permitted to do so, retreat from it with increased fear, from the fact of its having been made to him what his fears suggested, namely, an object likely to produce hurt and annoyance to him. He will again shy from it or its similitude.
A horse seldom shies in passing an object without giving some hint that it is probable he will do so. The moment we find this to be the case the wisest plan is to stop him, and, while we encourage him, let him stand and gaze at it. Finding it not attempt to harm him, and that he is encouraged, he becomes collected and reassured. He at first, probably, snorts -then timidly or mistrustfully regards it-then sees it without alarm-and, lastly, quietly walks up to it on the slightest indication of the rider's wish that he should do so. If, on approaching it, he stops, let him do so, and have his stare out. He then, most probably, will go up to it. Let him stand some time; for, if you turn him away either quickly or before he has become quite in confidence with the object, your work is only half done. Do not let him leave it till you are convinced he will do so as composedly as he quitted his own stable-door.
It may be said, Are we all our lives to be thus tampering with and coaxing a faulty horse? By no means; but, faulty as he is, the usual or common mode of treating him will make him worse every day he is thus treated. By the mode I advise he will, from being encouraged instead of brow-beaten, gain confidence in his rider; and, finding that on submitting to his wishes as regards approaching objects that he beheld with alarm, he only meets with encouragement from him, and no harm from the object, he will in a short time feel his rider as a guarantee that no injury will arise from compliance with his wishes. I do not mean to say that courage is to be absolutely taught even man; but daily intercourse and companionship with a manly and fearless companion will go a long way towards rendering one nervous and timid bold and enterprising. So custom and encouragement will render an animal, if not by nature a high-couraged one, at least sufficiently fearless to answer most purposes required of him.
Starting and shying in harness is a serious failing in a horse. I once saw the shafts of a light gig both snapped by the sudden violent start of one, and a sad catastrophe was the consequence. In a phaeton such a horse is very likely to upset it, unless it locked under; but even then the alarm and confusion it creates is great. In any sort of light vehicle it is attended more or less with danger. Horses will start or shy in various ways: some seem only to fear (or, in sooth, perhaps see) objects above the usual range of sight-for instance, an omnibus, load of hay, or a wild-beast caravan; others shy at objects on a level with the eye; and, again, others from objects on the ground. Though with judicious treatment we may cure or palliate the failing of shying in a horse ridden, I am not aware of any means by which we can accomplish the same with a harness horse; probably, if cured of it when under the saddle, he might not practise it when in harness; but, never having tried the experiment, I am unable to decide the point However, supposing a horse thus to start or shy, as we cannot make him familiar with objects, our only resource is to prevent his seeing them; this is only to be effected by the winkers. In some cases, where this is not sufficient, we must shut them from his sight by a piece of leather attached to the winkers. If he starts at elevated objects, the shade or blinker must be fixed so as to prevent his range of sight reaching upwards. If he shies at objects near at hand and below him, the additional blinker must be fixed so that he cannot see objects beneath him. If he shies at things on a level with his eyes, the extra blinker must be fixed from one winker to the other, so that he can only see the sky and the ground close to his feet.
Horses will frequently shy from the winkers being too small, or the bridle carelessly adjusted: when both these causes have occurred I have frequently from a coach-box actually seen a horse's eyes from over the winker-this arises from the winkers, from a supposed smartness of shape, being cut too far away on the top part; added to this, if the side pieces of the bridle are not tight enough, and the nose-band is left too loose, the cheek or side pieces of the bridle will at times admit the winkers to stand away from the horse's eyes, and he sees above, below, or behind him, as the case may be. There can be no doubt but that most horses might be used to go in harness without winkers as steadily as with them; but from our not being accustomed to see them thus harnessed we should think it unsightly, and, moreover, they would be constantly watching the whip; so a free-going horse would be kept in a constant fret by every motion of it, as horses frequently are when they watch its shadow on a sunshiny day.
But be it borne in mind that a horse without winkers would be a very different case from a horse with them, and at times getting glimpses of objects from a momentary circumstance, which probably would be attended with danger.