Persons sometimes place these failings in the same category; but there is a wide distinction between the two, and they are frequently the result of widely different causes. They are both annoying to the rider; and, if carried to a great extent, are often attended with considerable danger to man or horse, or perhaps both-the danger being more or less in accordance with the situations in which both happen to be. For instance, a horse shying in the country matters little -it is, in fact, a mere deviation from the straight line in which he was going; but in London this deviation may possibly bring horse and rider in contact with an omnibus, or one of Pickford's vans. Horses on first being brought to London are very apt to shy, but not to start, and for this reason: they meet or pass many things to which they have not been accustomed-they fear, and consequently avoid close contact with them by shying out of the way. The human passenger will pass horses, dogs, sheep, or cattle, in most cases, without alarm or avoidance-he has seen such from his childhood; but, let him or her meet a camel coming, the wayfarer will probably, like the horse, shy away from it. It matters not whether it be an omnibus or a camel, if, from being unaccustomed to meet, either biped or quadruped feel them as objects of alarm.
I have previously remarked that on horses first coming from the country to London they are apt to shy, but not to start. It will be found to be usually the case: the fact is, the shying prevents their starting. Their attention is so. occupied by a continuity of objects at which they shy, that they do not come on any one, as it were, by surprise. If they did, they would start. Starting is usually the result of surprise; shying, that of fear.
Now, on the contrary, horses in the country will more frequently start than shy, from there being by far fewer objects to shy from; and, again, their attention not being engaged, a bird flying from a hedge, a wheelbarrow in a ditch, or a man's hat by the side of or in the road, will frequently cause a start; but this said hat on the London pavement would probably escape their notice, if that notice were occupied by a coming carriage. Even a London horse, who will after a time walk the streets without either shying or starting, would very probably, if ridden up Rotten Row, start at a dropped handkerchief, if it lay in his path. He sees but the one object; it surprises him; and he consequently, probably, starts at it.
I have endeavoured to show the causes of starting and shying, also the difference between the two acts. They arise from his seeing objects that surprise or alarm; but there is a far worse cause for some horses doing either, which frequently is from their not seeing those objects-at least, not seeing them clearly. There are far more horses going about London streets with defective eyes "than is dreamt of in our philosophy."
An acquaintance of mine, with whom I was riding, was mounted on a very clever cob; he both started and shied, two or three times; his master, who was an irritable man, laid an ash stick very severely about the cob's ears, saying with an oath, "you, I will give you something else to think of than shying;" the poor cob shook his ears at this infliction of severe punishment. Now, I had before this, from seeing him so frequently start and shy from slight cause, and from the peculiar motion of his ears, had my suspicions. "Stop," said I, "allow me to look at your cob's eyes." I did so; and, figuratively speaking, found him to be, in technical phrase, "as blind as a bat." He certainly would not run against a cab, and could find his way into a stable-door; but his sight was so far defective that most things appeared to him, probably, as what they were not; and, as no man can tell what they did appear, it is little wonder the poor brute started.
I hope this true anecdote will act as a hint to my friends and readers. There are many persons who have slightly defective sight, without being aware of it; depend upon it, many horses have very defective eyes without their owners suspecting anything of the kind. I would recommend every one who has a horse that shies, if he does so at objects not calculated to cause alarm, to have him examined by a veterinary surgeon; he will then either learn the worst, or, if the shying does not proceed from defective vision, he may then take measures to cure him of an objectionable habit, with a fair prospect of success.
I have not the smallest doubt but that horses are affected, like human beings, with sundry variations of vision. I consider the two that are most common are confused and deceptive sight and short sight. As we can neither ask questions of the animal, nor apply glasses to his eyes, to ascertain what kind of defect he labours under, we can only be guided by his acts. Inflammation, or weakness of the eyes is easily seen, so are cataract specks on the eye, and many other ailments; but a horse may and frequently has very imperfect vision without any of these apparent causes. We will suppose it is with a horse thus situated we have at present to do, and I will, to the best of my ability and experience, state by what symptoms, or rather by what acts, we may generally judge of the state of his vision, which to any one but a scientific professional man may appear from superficial examination to be perfectly good.
If in going along a road we were met by a led bear with a monkey on his back, or a man seated on a velocipede, we find our horse astonished, and then shying or starting from the approach of either, we need not be surprised at his doing so; but if we merely met a man driving a calf before him, and the horse showed evident symptoms of astonishment and alarm, I should strongly suspect there existed something defective in his sight that occasioned his alarm at the appearance of such a common object. I do not mean we are to come to this conclusion at once by his doing so; but if he continually shied from objects he must often have met with, or, at least similar ones, the inference I should draw would be that imperfect vision disabled him from seeing what the object was, or that it appeared to him a something that it was not. Such horse may see his way along a road well enough, and quite answer the purpose of a road horse; but ware the man who would ride him at a fence, for then the secret would out.