There are many habits horses may have that in no way owe their origin to vice, yet are often as troublesome and sometimes as dangerous as those which do.
I have lately said as much about breaking horses to harness as I consider may be useful to the casual reader to know, and more I suspect than most persons would take the trouble to put in practice. If, however, I give such hints as may enable them to judge whether their horses are being judiciously treated by others, my time will not have been misspent. I had always a peculiar pride (I must call it) in not being beat by a horse, and candidly allow have often taken more pains to cure a fault or failing than it was worth.
Having said so much about harness horses, I am induced to mention certain habits many horses have that are very annoying. Hugging the pole is one. It greatly annoys the other horse, and he will probably learn to do the same thing, not from imitation, but from leaning inwards so as to enable him the better to stand against the other leaning on him. I have often seen a pair of pieces thus going, each leaning on the other, till they might be figuratively likened to a pair of open compasses. It is extremely dangerous in frosty weather, or where the road or pavement is from any cause slippery. It has the effect of causing the pole horses in descending a hill to draw straight from the pole, by which they are at their full length; whereas, horses going (as they should do) a little wider than on ordinary occasions, somewhat shorten the length by being drawn out a little diagonally. A further advantage is gained by this; it gives the horses greater power to keep the pole steady, which is quite necessary for safety in going down a steep hill. Hugging the pole may be prevented in a great measure by hitting a horse on the inside shoulder, but this lasts only for a minute; and, again, if a horse is hit severely enough to produce the desired effect, he very probably rushes forwards, thus relaxing the pole-piece, and leaving the entire weight of the descending carriage to be supported by the other horse.
A horse having this vile habit I should strongly recommend others to sell, unless they were disposed to try a plan that I found effectually cure one of my own of the propensity. I drove him at wheel on the off-side; but, whichever side he was put, he "hugged the pole" the same. I had a piece of board, about ten inches in width, screwed to the off-side of the pole. On the off-side of this surface I nailed some strong green furze, clipping it till it did not project more than three inches on the side the horse went. I took care to give him a hole in the pole-piece, the same with the near side trace, and lengthened his coupling rein; so he had not occasion to approach the pole thus armed. This being merely a lesson to the horse, I took care to manage the drive so as only to have occasion to turn the carriage to the off-side during the lesson: as usual, he began or attempted hugging the pole, but he started from it as if a tarantula had stung him. I suppose in a few minutes the smarting went off, when he tried the same game, with the same result. I conclude the second application of the furze, acting on the first, produced increased effect, for it was a longer period before he transgressed again; and before my drive was finished he took especial care not to approach the pole. Though this bid fair as to curing him of a bad habit, I in no way expected a lesson or two would cure him; but ten days' driving effectually did, and afterwards it was somewhat laughable to see, if he forgot himself, or attempted pole - hugging, with what alacrity he jumped back into his proper place. I certainly found a trifling inconvenience from his subsequent dread of the pole: if I wanted to turn the carriage to the near side, the other horses, or horse,if only a pair, had to do it; for, save and except by the off-side trace, he would not, so far as the pole went, lend a hand. This was, however, nothing when put in comparison with hugging the pole. Whether in the course of time he forgot the lessons, I know not, but he quite well remembered them during the twelve months I drove him, when I sold the team.
Another very objectionable habit some horses have is the direct opposite to the last-mentioned one: this is, hanging away from the pole, especially in going down hill; some horses will practise it to a really alarming extent. Driving one of the Bath coaches, on coming to a hill the coachman warned me "to mind the two wheelers, for they were very awkward." I soon found them so, for they went down the hill hanging away from the pole till their position and bodies could only be figured by the letter " V," the off-side wheeler, as it were, riding on the off trace till we came to level ground. He was a very clever horse, and a very fine goer, probably sold to a coach for the very fault I have described. From his hanging-off the pole he so lugged it to the off-side, that the near wheeler, in his own defence, was forced to do the same thing to counteract the effect produced by the other horse; hence their both going, as I have said, like the letter V. I thought he would be a good subject to experimentalise upon. I bought him. For his accommodation I had a deal rafter fixed to the splinter bar, this was brought a foot beyond the roller-bolt; then I got another piece, and loosely fastened that to the end of the transverse piece, bringing it like a shaft to the front of the horse's bosom, and fastening it to the harness. Just where his quarters would come if he leaned outwards, I clothed it, as in the other case, with furze. The result was, mutatis mutandis, the same; in a few times' driving it cured him. I never had occasion to try the same experiments on other horses, so do not give them as a general mode of curing all horses practising the same annoying habits; but it completely succeeded with the two I have mentioned; and I merely relate the two anec dotes to show that a very simple contrivance will often baffle a horse, without any direct violence being used.
Some horses have a habit of (as it is termed) snatching at their traces on first starting. This I have frequently stopped by putting a cavesson on, and fastening an extra rein to the pole. If the horse brings his head to a proper place and goes off quietly, this is no inconvenience to him; but if he bolts suddenly forward, wildly throwing (or attempting to throw up) his head, it gives him a rather unpleasant snatch back, accompanied by a pinch of his nose. A few lessons will, in most cases, check it. With a heavy carriage behind, this fault is not of much consequence, its only effect being possibly the breaking of a trace, unless a very strong one; but in a light vehicle the violent snatch is very unpleasant, and it is quite worth the trouble of curing, or, at least, attempting to cure.
It is frequently found that horses, on receiving any indication to stop, will do so suddenly, creating an unpleasant sensation to those within the carriage.
Old Donnington, the racehorse, did something similar-he knew as well when he had passed the winning-post as did his jockey, and, winning or losing, would, if permitted to do so, stop as if he were shot, and, with a jockey who did not know this propensity, would very likely unseat him. The only way was to threaten him with the whip, and thus keep him going till he stopped gradually like other horses. The horse that does the same thing in harness must be kept up to his collar by feeling the whip till the carriage is smoothly and gradually brought to a stop.