Let us now consider what could originally have been the cause of teaching horses this one mode of going. Persons will perhaps say, a horse leading with the near leg "throws me out of my seat." Your pardon, sir; say "it throws me out of the way I have been accustomed to sit on my saddle." Many persons, in cantering or galloping their horse, lean ridiculously towards the near side. Jockeys of former days were very apt to do this, they thought it stylish to do so-they now do no such thing. The leading leg will incline the body in the right direction, be it which it may, without the rider out-Heroding Herod by twisting his body into an unseemly position. I have heard persons say they leant their body on one side of the horse's neck, that in case of his throwing up his head he might not strike their own: now, without meaning any offence, I am quite aware that in such case the rider's would prove the softest of the two; but I usually found my hands were sufficient guard to the safety of my head, without playing bo-peep by dodging on either side of my horse's neck. The fact is, we do everything as regards horses on one side, consequently (save the unintentional pun), we do many things in a one-sided manner. We accustom ourselves to do everything on the near side; we harness, saddle, mount, and approach a horse always on the near side; he is taught to confine himself to the off side of his stall, to admit our approach on the near one. The only thing I know of that is done on the other is, that dealers always bleed their horses on the off side, knowing the mark, if any remains, will not be seen by the purchaser, who they well know will look at the horse on the near one. If we show a horse to a person, we place him so as to be looked at on the near side; and if we afterwards mount him, we naturally look towards that person: a horse inclining his neck and head to the near side, and leading with the off leg, enables the rider to conveniently look at the person. So the horse is made to go so as to facilitate this; probably this first introduced the leading with the off leg, and custom has rendered it imperative that he is to do so.
All this one-sided system is attended with many inconveniences; a horse always accustomed to be approached in the stable on the near side is absolutely astonished, sometimes alarmed, on being approached on the other, even supposing he stands in his stall so as to enable you to do so. He would fly away from a set of harness or a saddle, if attempted to be put on the other. I admit it would be very unstablemanlike to do this, but it would be consistent with reason. We mount a horse invariably on the near side; the rational thing would be to accustom ourselves to mount, and the horse to be mounted, on whichever side we might happen to be.
But to return to horses leading invariably with the off leg, I am not aware that the facility of taking a fence is impeded or the reverse by either leg leading at the time of taking off. The only thing that possibly may make a difference is this; we use horses so constantly to go in one form, that it seems not improbable that a horse going up to a fence with the near leg leading may find a little awkwardness from the change in his form of going. My correspondent Spectacles, it appears, like a sensible man, permits his hunters to lead with either leg; so, as he says, he finds them equally handy with either, and finds the advantage of doing so in their taking their fences without hesitation, whichever leg they happen to be leading with-another proof that hunters should be accustomed to lead with either.
Spectacles' remark, that horses more frequently change the leading leg on landing than on taking off, is quite correct. In the first place, horses are frequently ridden to fences at a pace that renders the changing the leg inconvenient if not impossible. Now, on landing, the horse comes to a momentary pause; this gives him the opportunity of relieving the leg probably wearied by exertion, and he does so, for be it borne in mind the sustaining leg is always the most wearied one. As a horse would indubitably go longer if permitted to change the leading leg, so he would unquestionably go faster; for it is self-evident that whatever relieves weariness affords means of exerting speed for the time being.
I know not what others may have found to be the case, though I can give a guess at it, and not a very shrewd one either; but I know that on some of the best of horses Ï have been often glad to let them go as most convenient to themselves, quite satisfied if, with all the nursing and judgment it was in my power to afford them, they brought me in time enough to hear the final whoo-whoop.
We may start a horse up the ride in Rotten Row in such form as custom holds to be the most becoming, but after twenty-five minutes from (say) Kirby Gate, he is not a bad one that is seen going comparatively fresh, even though he may be leading with what is termed the wrong leg.