I should say that horses in disease call for professional aid even more than human beings. It is true their ailments are not usually of so complex a nature as are man's; but we can learn from the latter the seat of the disease, and the sensations felt. Those of the horse can only be judged of by symptoms. Of these, few but a professional practitioner can judge. Therefore, I am quite sure, in most cases, I advise well in recommending early application for professional skill and experience, though it may at first entail a little cost. That is more than repaid by the time it saves, and also, probably, saving the life of a valuable animal, who would otherwise fall a victim to the effects of ignorance or pretended ability where none exists.
There are few specific cases that have led to more disputes, private or legal, than the apparently simple one as to whether a horse is or is not sound. With deference I submit my ideas as regards this often disputed point. I conceive a sound horse to be one at the time free from ailment, either outwardly or internally, and one who exhibits no direct predisposition or likelihood, with fair and judicious treatment, to become otherwise.
The taking a professional opinion on this subject generally saves an infinity of after-trouble and dispute. It sets the case at rest at once; a horse having undergone such scrutiny acquits in nine cases in ten the seller of any imputation of having (willingly) sold an unsound horse, and may in most cases satisfy the purchaser that he has bought a sound one. But be it remembered that neither the physician nor veterinarian is infallible, though in most cases correct, and the vet., when called on in his public capacity to examine a horse, has only to pronounce his opinion as to whether the animal is sound, or the reverse, at the time he is shown to him for examination. As an honest man, he does this, and is bound, in all fairness between buyer and seller, so to do; but at the same time the opinion he so gives is a very different thing to the advice he might give to a friend as a friend. For instance, some horses' hocks are so formed, and so placed, as, in technical phrase, to cause the horse to be termed a "curby-hocked one," which means that, when put to work, the horse having such is almost sure to throw out curbs, or spavins, of more or less magnitude.
Now this is no unsoundness, nor can it physically, or rather anatomically, be called a "malformation," though it virtually is so. The vet. would not be justified in rejecting such a horse as an unsound one, though he might privately advise a friend not to buy him; and there are many cases indicating a likelihood of ailment that are no present or immediate certainties of bringing an unsoundness. We must not hang a man on suspicion, nor is a vet. authorised in condemning a horse on the same premises.
I think I may say that, among the very many horses I have bought for myself, I never took half-adozen professional opinions in my life; and among the hundreds, and many hundreds they have been, that I have purchased for others I have very rarely omitted doing it. It has been a satisfaction to myself doing so, and no imputation could then be cast on my judgment; and again, I felt, and I would strongly recommend others to consider the same, that, in the case of the lowest-priced horse, if he was worth 20L., he was worth 20L. 10s. What I might choose to do in my own case has nothing to do with the matter. If I chose to trust to my own judgment in such cases, the risk was only mine; and, fortunately for me, I did not often suffer by it.
There are cases in which no professional skill can insure our not getting an unsound, or, at least, an objectionable, animal into our possession-for instance, one subject to meagrims or staggers on occasion, particularly in very hot weather. A horse may have had a strain, from which he was, to all human judgment or foresight, cured. He appeared so at the time of sale, but on being put to work the old grievance comes out. In cases where fraud is intended, hot water and positive rest will do wonders, against which all skill is set at naught. A chronic cough, quietude and sedative medicines will sometimes allay. In short, there are cases in which the most astute medical practitioner may be deceived by equally astute rascality. I could make a regularly broken-winded one breathe as placidly, and without that peculiar jerk of the abdominal parts, as any sound-winded horse (that is, for a few hours)-by what means I need not tell those in the secret, and certainly shall not tell those who are not.
The only resource left us in cases where treatment baffles even professional skill, is to find out whether the animal has at a prior date been subjected to lameness or constitutional defect; in such case, though he went sound at the time of sale, and no visible remains of disease existed, he was not, strictly speaking, a sound horse, and a seller would by any jury be cast, and compelled to take him back. I mention these cases, which are, perhaps, of rare occurrence, to show that, if persons with professional skill and ingenuity may yet be deceived, how little ought the generality of buyers to trust to their own judgment.
I am quite ready to admit that few men holding the character of gentlemen would so far degrade themselves as to sell an unsound horse for a sound one. I should equally acquit a respectable dealer in horses from any such intention; but either may be, or have been, deceived; and one or the other, on selling a horse, and on his being subjected to professional investigation, may be perfectly astonished at finding him rejected as an unsound animal. The gentleman would probably be at once exonerated from any dishonourable intention by his compeers, but nine persons in ten would at once condemn the dealer as having endeavoured to impose upon them. Give a dog a bad name, etc.; but the former sweeping allegations against dealers are fast wearing away, and people very properly now hold a respectable dealer in horses in the same light as a respectable dealer in any other marketable commodity. The chief cause that led to the dealer in horses being held in the bad odour he was, arose from the variable nature of the article in which he dealt. A wine merchant can decide to a certainty whether his wine is sound or not; a dealer in horses cannot come to so decided an opinion as regards his horses.
It appears somewhat extraordinary to those well acquainted with horses, the difficulty there sometimes is in making others perceive that a horse goes unequally-in fact, goes lame; they cannot detect it in the gait of the animal. There is one way in which I have found them detect it at once. If it is a sunshiny day, direct their attention to the shadow of the horse's head on the ground, or better still, against a wall; here they will perceive a jerk in the shadow by the motion of the head, that no pointing out could make them detect in the motions of the animal. The same holds good as regards a horse defective in his wind. Place him against any fixed object; the sudden jerk of the body that horses thus affected usually make is perceived at once, though not to be detected by an unpractised eye, by merely looking at the horse as he stands under ordinary circumstances. Such practice is not, I grant, very artistic; but it answers the purpose when used in the case of those who are not artists.
I frequently remember the old adage :"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not, etc."
If a man knows enough to save himself in ordinary cases from loss or deception as regards his horses, it is well; but if he knows just so much more as to induce him to act on his own judgment, without that judgment being sufficiently formed to secure him from error, he has only sipped of the water of knowledge, but has not drunk deep enough for any useful purpose. For those in the latter situation I have ventured a few observations on the subject of soundness in the article"Horses LeadingWith The Off Leg Only."