It is perfectly well known to most persons, how. ever little conversant they may be with the habits and attributes of quadrupeds, that there are four paces natural to the horse, viz., the walk, the trot, the canter, and the gallop. These are more or less practised at times by every description of horse-be he the Flying Dutchman, one of Messrs. Meux's dray horses, the minute shelty in his northern climate, or the light and enduring Arab in his arid desert, though each pace is more or less natural and practised by the breed the animal belongs to, and the habits to which he is accustomed. We have a fifth pace, taught to and practised by the Mexican and other horses of South America; this is the rack or amble, for I believe I am correct in stating this fifth pace to be chiefly a taught one. Unquestionably, some horses practise it naturally: whether they inherit it from sires or dams I am not prepared to say; but even be it so, the origin of the pace was the effect of tuition. It would appear a most unsightly pace to eyes unaccustomed to see it; yet I am informed by those who have sojourned in countries where it is practised that it is a safe and expeditious mode of progression, by no means fatiguing to the horses and mules that practise it, and is pleasant enough to the rider when used to it. This may be, and doubtless is, true enough; true it is, also, that the giraffe, from his peculiar formation, finds it a convenient pace; but gods of the chase forefend we should ever see it practised by a Leicestershire hunter! Fancy the Marquis of Waterford or the celebrated Capt. Ross ambling up to Ashby Pasture, or West Australian up to the starting-post!
There can be no doubt but that any pace or evolution, save the four legitimate ones, have been taught the horse either on the road or in the riding-school. The tuition of the latter place, when it amounts to all the unnatural exploits formerly forced on the horse's performance, has for a long time been very wisely and properly discontinued as useless, and the manège horse is no longer in use. Such men as Sir Sydney Meadows and Lord Rivers had an unquestionable right to amuse themselves as they liked. They might teach their horses all the riding-school tricks (for the evolutions there taught were nothing more); but were we to see them practised now in Hyde Park, we should look for the three-cornered cocked hat, the pigtail and powder, worn in the days of the manège by the riders.
Speed in either the walk or trot is the result of practice. Cavil not, reader, at the term speed as allusive to the walk, for accelerated pace is in other terms speed. This speed is far more acquired by practice as regards the walk and trot than the gallop. The speed of any horse who has naturally good trotting action may be more or less improved, that is, quickened by practice. The horse, for instance, that can trot at the rate of thirteen or fourteen miles an hour may, in most cases, be brought or taught to rate seventeen or eighteen. We do not find it thus as regards the gallop, particularly with thoroughbred ones. The two-year-old colt that does not exhibit a turn of speed at that age rarely becomes anything remarkable at three or four. There are certainly exceptions, such as overgrown size producing weakness in the very young horse, or diminutive size preventing that stride the usual accompaniment of great speed: either of these drawbacks a year may remedy; and hence the reason we sometimes find influence the performance of horses at different ages. But in the trotter it is otherwise; in the generality of cases we are pretty sure of our attempts to increase speed being more or less crowned by success. Be it remembered that the horse never voluntarily exerts his top speed in any pace. We will say his natural rate of walking, either in approaching or receding from any object or place, is at least not more than three miles an hour; if he has occasion to move faster, he does not exert himself by increased pace in his walk, but he breaks into a slow or moderate trot; if fear or any other impulse urge him to increased quickness of motion, he does not much increase the rate of the trot, but he gallops, which pace at a very moderate rate quite suffices for any of his usual natural wants or desires. This satisfies us, if any proof were wanting, that top speed at any pace is found by the animal to be distressing; and nothing but fear, coercion, or practice causes him to use it.
To bring the matter home to ourselves, and to teach a person the distressing effects of forced speed by a trial of it in his own person-there are few men in the habit of daily exercise and in moderate wind who could not, if called upon, run half a mile at a rate bordering on seven miles an hour, nor can we suppose, unless under the influence of some defect in the respiratory organs, that he would feel distress from the run; but oblige the same man to attempt to walk half a mile at the rate of only five miles and a half per hour, the chances are, if he really walked at a rate to perform the task, he would give in long before that task was completed. The fact would be, he had in the latter case been walking at (to him) an unnatural pace, whereas in the former he had (though the pace was quicker) only gone that pace at a rate we may suppose he had, for longer or shorter distances, often gone before.
We read of, and may see, horses capable of doing their mile in two minutes and about forty seconds; some have shown themselves faster than that by some few seconds; you may be quite sure it was not mere nature brought them to such speed. Doubtless many colts are born trotters, mostly inheriting the peculiarity from their sire; they are born with the attributes of the trotter about them; but, though thus naturally fast (we will say uncommonly fast), it is tuition and practice that bring them to perform the astonishing speed we know is shown by many. Practice will also increase the lasting qualities to a certain extent in this way; horses acquire by practice the least distressing manner of going at a given rate; and of course, with the less exertion a horse can perform a pace, the longer he will be enabled to continue it; of course, constitution, stamina, and resolution, or, in more technical term, "game," bring the horse through in any such feats. We teach him the best way of doing them; nature ordains to what length he may continue them.