I feel it a duty I owe myself, and also a proper respect to pay to my readers, to account for my articles being of so desultory and erratic a character. I beg to remark that most of them take their rise from questions put to me by readers through the medium of The Field: thus, I consider if a sportsman is in doubt in any way, and compliments me by asking my ideas on the subject, there must be many readers quite at a loss as regards such subject, and consequently my articles may be really useful to them. Having thus accounted for the varied nature of my subjects, I trust I need say no more on this point.
I have been questioned on the subject of keeping a fine coat on horses in winter. My correspondent writes me word that his horses, even at the early part of the commencement of winter, show prognostics of coats that will by no means satisfy his particularity as to the fineness of them. If he was a man keeping two or three horses only, we might suppose his ill-luck had put him in possession of animals with a peculiar tendency to long and rough coats in winter; but, as he keeps a large number of horses, this cannot be the case: besides which, he is a man of considerable fortune, particularly fond of horses, and of that liberal turn of mind that withholds no reasonable and proper expenditure for the comfort of the animals about him. He is, moreover, a sportsman, and a good judge of horses; so it is not neglect, bad management, or any parsimony, that has produced what he complains of.
He further states, he finds a difficulty in keeping his stables sufficiently warm, keeping in view wholesome ventilation. I cannot conceive this to arise from any fault as regards the formation of the stables '; for those appertaining to property of the class of my correspondent's are not likely to be built but in such way as to be conducive to the welldoing of their inhabitants, in all ways. We must look further for the cause of the two failings complained of.
It strikes me that, as regards the prognostics of long coats during the winter, my correspondent may have been guilty of an omission which is sure to produce the results complained of. This is the not keeping horses warm enough from the moment we find their summer coat begins to stir. Its doing so we know arises from the shooting of the young coat, be it a spring or winter one. At this season horses should be kept particularly warm. The plant of the young coat (if I may use the expression) takes its tendency to remaining short and fine, or growing long, in accordance with the warmth the body is kept in at this particular time. It is said, "Providence tempers the wind to the shorn lamb;" but if we were to denude the lamb in March of his wool, we are not to expect the temperature of that month will change, that the lamb may not suffer from our act. Be this as it may, I know Nature furnishes a coat to the horse according to climate. The Arab and Persian horse have fine short coats; the Norwegian and Russian, also the Scotch shelty, a long one. We must, therefore, if we wish a horse to have an Arab coat, keep him in an artificial Arab climate; and, be it recollected, the East was the original birthplace of the horse. Warmth is natural to him. It is only from habit and long use he has grown to thrive in a cold or even temperate one. I am quite convinced the young hair is influenced as to its growth by the feelings of the animal, arising from the temperature we make for him at the time its first germ shows itself. In some proof of this, a friend of mine brought from Norway a horse of that country, and of the prevailing colour, a kind of mouse-coloured dun, with a blackish list down his back bone. He brought him over in the spring, and his coat would hide your fingers if you ran them through it. Change of climate caused him to shed this earlier than our horses do; and early in April he showed a summer coat as fine as an English horse's. The coat might, perhaps, have been fine in summer in his own country. The bison, who sheds his enormous covering in summer, is then as fine as our ox; but he gets it again as winter approaches; so, doubtless, would my friend's horse have done in Norway. His master, however, took my advice, and kept his Norwegian in (to him) a warm artificial climate from the moment he saw symptoms of a hair stirring. And I can vouch for the fact that this horse carried a coat during the winter as fine as any hunter; indeed, it was particularly fine. The fact was, that, from keeping him warm, and the change of climate, the horse's body and skin were in the state we may conclude the Eastern horses to be. We all know that many animals will change in colour if taken to a cold climate. If, therefore, cold can so affect the coat as to change its hue, we can readily believe the effect it has on its growth.
I have gone into many stables in winter time, and have found them uncomfortably hot. This arises from our grooms and ourselves feeling the cold, and this calls attention to the warmth of the stables: but when the horse began shedding his coat we probably felt warm enough, and consequently permitted our stables to be too cool, not to say cold-or, at all events, did not keep them up to the necessary warmth, to check the growth of a long coat. Then when we see horses with their coats staring, we shut out every breath of air, and run into the other extreme. It is too late; nothing but spring will then have any effect; the singeing-tin is then the only resource.
I am convinced a great deal of mischief is often done from giving horses, as it is termed, a "course of physic," about the time they are shedding their coats, and are, consequently, chilly and cold in themselves. A course of physic! What for? A horse that has been judiciously fed and treated during the summer usually wants no physic. It used to be given to get "the foulness out of him." What foulness? If there is any, why was it permitted to accumulate there? The grooms ought, if it could have been effected, to have been physicked instead of the horses. To do anything periodically with a horse, I hold to be bad judgment; for in such case we are apt to do it whether required or not. It is thus with physic; it should only be given in case of disease or the manifestation of its approach. Formerly horses were physicked in the autumn, to get the summer grass "out of them;" then, when we had got them in high condition and stamina by oats and work, in the spring they again got physic to get the oats "out of them," I suppose to make room for the grass. Nothing could be more preposterous. In those days a mild dose of physic during the hunting season was never thought of, however much the horse might show indications of wanting it, and most of them do.
A great deal has been said and written about ventilation. We English, if we get a thing in our heads, usually carry it to the extreme. Ventilation is quite proper and necessary to a stable, or rather to the horses that inhabit it. It is necessary in a house and the rooms we inhabit; but we do not in cold weather open the windows of the room we are dining in. Our bedroom windows are thrown open when we leave it; but we do not in winter have them so when we are there. Let us act upon the same principle with our horses; let their apartments be warm and comfortable; and then, if the stable and beds are properly kept and cleansed, so that no unpleasant smell of an ammoniacal nature or otherwise is per ceived, and no dampness on the walls exists, there is no fear as regards ventilation. I have never heard of any ill effects arising from the wholesome warmth exuding from the body of a healthy horse, though much mischief occurs from foul litter and want of proper drainage, want of the floor of the stalls being frequently washed when the horses are out, et cetera; but I should be very averse to my horses being starved with cold, to let out bad smells occasioned by negligence of those in care of them. Our own nose will tell us whether a stable is kept properly sweet, and our horses too will in time tell us if it is not.