Although I should be one of the very last to recommend any private person that could employ his time better to usurp the place of the colt-breaker or breaksman, still there may be circumstances under which it would be advisable for a man to perform himself the duty of either or both. But before he does so, let him ask himself the following questions, and trust to his good sense for answering them. Does he possess great command of temper, inexhaustible patience, much presence of mind, and strong nerve? Unless his conscience answers these queries satisfactorily, let him not attempt a business that requires all these.
With such indispensable attributes and proper appliances, I may, perhaps, give him some hints that may enable him to train his horse to harness without accident to the animal, himself, or others.
We will suppose a gentleman in the country has a horse that in all that has been required of him has shown gentleness and docility; he wishes to break him to harness, and draws a natural inference that, from his placidity on all occasions, he will go quietly. The probability is, that with gentle usage, he will do so; but it by no means amounts to a certainty that this will be the case; yet a great deal depends on the care and judgment shown on first putting him in. We are to recollect the horse has (in a general way) winkers on, consequently cannot see behind him. If a man will only judge by his own feelings, he will recollect how surprised, and in some cases alarmed, he feels on any one or anything touching him behind. So feels the horse. We may say, if he rushes forward or strikes out, "It was only the end of the trace," or anything else; how is the horse to know this? A man standing in the street would turn as quickly round if a harmless sheep touched him, as if a tiger or a man with a stiletto in his hand did the same thing.
We are cautioned by men conversant with the breaking of horses to be careful lest we alarm them - perhaps surprise would be a more proper term. The horse is not, in the full sense of the word? alarmed or frightened by a shaft accidentally touching him, but he is surprised. This probably leads to what in the end causes him a fright he will never forget; for, let people think as they may, direct fright is an event that is never erased from the horse's memory. A man, we will say, encounters an object in the dark; he either grapples with it or strikes at it. The horse does the latter, for he is virtually in the dark as to what approaches him from behind. It may be said that a man, on being touched behind, does not immediately strike behind him before he turns to see what surprizes him; but be it borne in mind the man does not wear winkers, so he turns to see the cause of that surprise. He has not a gig or a break behind him to prevent his doing this, and, above all, he has reason.
In all things connected with horses, if we wish to succeed, time is indispensably necessary; whatever is done with them in a hurry, is done badly. All we teach him, is a work of time, and, having taught him, the getting him in condition to perform what we wish is a work of time also. "Festina lente" would be an appropriate motto over the stable-door of a trainer of racehorses or a breaker of colts.
Horses, whether young or old, if they are averse to going in harness, show it in one or more of the following ways: they either refuse to advance-that is, face the collar-kick, rear, run back, lie down, or attempt to run away. I have had some to deal with who have rung the changes on these agrémens in succession; but I must admit it has been when circumstances have rendered a horse being tried in harness, in common phrase, "there and then necessary." With one left to my own discretion, I never found this occur in the same objectionable degree. My method may, at first, appear a slow one, but it will be found the quickest in the end; that is, if a man wishes a horse so trained to harness as not to have the same work to go over again in a week or two, from finding he had kicked a gig to pieces, or run away with it and its driver both together, or, indeed, sometimes separately.
We have supposed a gentleman in the country wishing to accustom his horse to harness. If he has it not, let him borrow or hire a very light jockey-cart, on springs. I say on springs, as such run the most level, and without the noise and jolting of those without such advantage. Before this is wanted, let the harness be quietly put on the horse in the stable; let it remain on while he is fed, watered, and to a certain degree, dressed, in fact all day; let him be quietly led out in it; and in a couple of days he will take no more notice of it than of his customary clothing. When perfectly reconciled to the trappings, fix a couple of cords, or a pair of driving reins, to the end of the traces; give them to a man to hold while the horse is led on. Now, when this is done the man is apt to throw the traces about, under the idea of accustoming the animal to feel them flapping against his sides and thighs; but in nine cases in ten the man does not accustom the horse to feel this; he merely surprizes him by feeling a something striking against those parts to which he is unaccustomed: the horse jumps forward, right and left, as he feels the trace touch him-the effect of being in a hurry, and wanting to bring that about in a few minutes that might perhaps occupy a morning or two to accomplish. We will suppose a horse to have become used to the traces and the pressure of the collar, from the man gradually increasing his tension on the traces, till the horse will freely draw the man forward, though exerting all his strength in resisting it.
A horse having learned to do all this willingly, and without hesitation or alarm, is half broke. But do not let any one deceive himself, or rather be deceived by appearances; let him act with as much caution in putting the horse between the shafts as if he had shown evident symptoms of resistance. I grant the horse may have no disposition to vice; but he is as susceptible of alarm as one who has, perhaps more so; and be it remembered that a frightened horse is often worse to deal with than a vicious one.