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he seems capable of accommodating himself to very different
conditions, and assumes a shaggy coat or a sleek skin, a size little
inferior to that of the elephant, or not larger than that of an Eng-
lish mastiff, just as circumstances of climate and food require.*

In a state of nature, the horse loves to herd with his fellows,
and droves of from four to five hundred, or even double that
number, are not unfrequently seen, if the range be wide and fertile.
The members of these vast droves are inoffensive in their habits,
and when not startled or hunted, are rather plaj'ful and frolic-
some ; now scouring the plain in groups for mere amusement,
now suddenly stopping, pawing the soil, then snorting', and off
straight as an arrow, or wheeling- in circles — making the ground
shake with their wild merriment. It is impossible to conceive
a more animated picture than a group of wild horses at play.
Their fine figures are thrown into a thousand attitudes ; and
as they rear, curvette, dilate the nostril, paw in quivering ner-
vousness to begin the race, or speed away with erect mane and
flowing tail, they present forms of life and energy which the
painter may strive in vain to imitate. They seldom shift their
stations, unless compelled by failure of pasture or water; and thus
they acquire a boldness and confidence in their haunts which it

* In ordinary systems of zoology, the horse is classed with the Pachy-
derms, or thick-skinned animals, as the elephant, tapir, hog, hippopotamus,
and rhinoceros. Differing from the rest of the class in many respects, he
has been taken as the representative of a distinct family known by the
name of Equid<B (equus, a horse), which embraces the horse, ass, zebra,
quagga, onagga, and.dzegguetai. All these animals have solid hoofs, are
destitute of horns, have moderately-sized ears, are less or more furnished
with manes, and have their tails either partially or entirely covered with
long hair. The family may, with little impropriety, be divided into two
sections — the one comprehending the horse and its varieties, and the
other the ass, zebra, and remaining members. In the former, the tail is
adorned with long flowing hair, the mane is also long and flowing, and the
fetlocks are bushy ; the latter have the tail only tipped with long hair,
the mane erect, and the legs smooth and naked. The colours of the horse
have a tendency to dapple — that is, to arrange themselves in rounded spots
on a common ground ; in the ass, zebra, and other genera, the colours are
arranged in stripes more or less parallel.


is rather unsafe to disturb. They never attack other animals,
however, but always act upon the defensive. Having- pastured,
they retire either to the confines of the forest, or to some elevated
portion of the plain, and recline on the sward, or hang* listlessly
on their leg-s for hours tog-ether. One or more of their numbeV
are always awake to keep watch while the rest are asleep, and to
warn them of approaching- danger, which is done by snorting
loudly, or neighing. Upon this signal the whole troop start to
their feet, and either reconnoitre the enemy, or fly off with the
swiftness of the wind, followed by the sentinel and by the older
stallions. Byron has happily described the manners of a herd
surprised by the arrival of Mazeppa and his fainting charger on
theii' pastures : —

" Tliey stop — tliey start — they snuff the air,
Gallop a moment here and there,
Approach, retu-e, wheel round and round,
Then plunging back with sudden bomid,
Headed by one black mighty steed,
Who seemed the patriarch of his breed,

Without a single speck or hair
Of white upon his shaggy hide ;
They snort— they foam — neigh — swerve aside,
And backward to the forest fly.
By instinct, from a human eye."

They are seldom to be taken by sui-prise ; but if attacked, the
assailant seldom comes off victorious, for the whole troop unite
in defence of their comrades, and either tear him to pieces with
their teeth, or kick him to death.

There is a remarkable difference in the dispositions of the
Asiatic and South American wild horses. Those of the former
continent can never be properly tamed, unless trained very
young, but frequently break out into violent fits of rage in after
life, exhibiting every mark of natural wilduess ; while those of
America can be brought to perfect obedience, and even rendered
somewhat docile, within a few weeks, nay, sometimes days. It
would be difficult to account for this opposition of temper, unless
we can suppose that it is influenced by climate, or rather to the
transmission of domesticated peculiarities from the original
Spanish stock.


As in South America we have the most numerous herds, and
the most extensive plains for their pasture, so it is there that the
catching" and subduing' of the wild horse presents one of the most
daring and exciting engagements. If an additional horse is
wanted, a wild one is either hunted down with the assistance of
a trained animal and the lasso, or a herd are driven into a corral
(a space enclosed with rough posts), and one selected from the
number. The latter mode is spiritedly described by Miers, whose
account we transcribe, premising- that a lasso is a strong plaited



thong, about forty feet in length, rendered supple by grease, and
having a noose at the end : — " The corral was quite full of horses,
most of which were young ones about two or three years old.
The chief guacho (native inhabitants of the plains are called
peons or guachos), mounted on a strong steady animal, rode into
the enclosure, and threAv his lasso over the neck of a young horse,
and dragged him to the gate. For some time he was very un-
willing to leave his comrades, but the moment he was forced out
of the corral, his first idea was to gallop off; however, a timely
jerk of the lasso checked him in the most effectual way. The
peons now ran after him on foot, and threw a lasso over his fore-
legs, just above the fetlock, and, twitching it, they pulled his legs
from under him so suddenly, that I really thought the fall he
had got had killed him. In an instant a guacho was seated on
his head, and with his long knife cut off the whole of the
mane, while another cut the hair from the end of his tail. This
they told me was a mark that the horse had once been mounted.
They then put a piece of hide into his mouth, to serve for a bit,
and a strong hide halter on his head. The guacho who was to
mount arranged his spurs, which were unusually long and sharp ;
and while two men held the horse by the ears, he put on the
saddle, which he girthed extremely tight. He then caught hold
of the animal's ear, and in an instant vaulted into the saddle,
upon which the men who held the halter threw the end to
the rider, and from that moment no one seemed to take any
further notice of him. The horse instantly began to jump in
a manner which made it very difficult for the rider to keep his
seat, and quite different from the kick or plunge of our English
steed : however, the guacho's spurs soon set him going, and off
he galloped, doing everything" in his power to throw his rider.

" Another horse was immediately brought from the corral, and
so quick was the operation, that twelve guachos were mounted
in a space which I think hardly exceeded an hour. It was won-
derful to see the different manner in which different horses be-
haved. Some would actually scream while the guachos were
girthing the saddle upon their backs ; some would instantly lie
down and roll upon it ; while some would stand without being-
held, their legs stiff and in unnatural positions, their necks half
bent towards their tails, and looking vicious and obstinate ; and
I could not help thinking that I would not have mounted one of
those for any reward that could be offered me, for they were in-
variably the most difficult to subdue.

" It was now curious to look around and see the guachos on the
horizon, in different directions, trying to bring their horses back
to the corral, which is the most difficult part of their work ; for
the poor creatures had been so scared there, that they were un-
willing to return to the place. It was amusing to see the antics
of the horses ; they were jumping and dancing in various ways,
while the right arm of the guachos was seen flogging them.



At last they broug-ht the horses back, apparently subdued and
broken in. The saddles and bridles were taken off, and the
animals trotted towards the corral, neighing" to one another."

To hunt down the horse in the oj3en plain, requires still
greater address, and greater strength of arm. According to
Captain Hall, the guacho first mounts a steed which has been
accustomed to the sport, and gallops him over the plain in the
direction of the wild herd, and, circling round, endeavours to
get close to such a one as he thinks will answer his purpose. As
soon as he has approached sufficiently near, the lasso is thrown
round the two hind-legs, and as the guacho rides a little on one
side, the jerk pulls the entangled horse's feet laterally, so as to
throw him on his side, without endangering his knees or his
face. Before the horse can recover the shock, the hunter dis-
mounts, and, snatching his poncho or cloak from his shoulders,
wraps it round the prostrate animal's head. He then forces into
his mouth one of the powerful bridles of the country, straps a
saddle on his back, and, bestriding him, removes the poncho,
upon which the astonished horse springs on his legs, and endea-
vours by a thousand vain efforts to disencumber himself of his
new master, who sits composedly on his back, and, by a disci-
pline which never fails, reduces the animal to such complete obe-
dience, that he is soon trained to lend his whole speed and strength
to the capture of his companions.


The subduing of wild specimens in America, the Ukraine,
Tartary, and other regions, must be regarded as merely supple-
mentary to that domestication which the horse has undergone
from the remotest antiquity. A wild adult may be subjug-ated, but
can never be thoroughly trained ; even the foal of a wild mother,
though taught with the greatest care from the day of its birth,
is found to be inferior to domestic progeny in point of steadiness
and intelligence. Parents, it would seem, transmit to their
offspring mental susceptibility as well as corporeal symmetry ;
and thus, to form a just estimate of equine qualities, we must
look to the domesticated breeds of civilised nations. At what
period the horse was first subjected to the purposes of man, we
have no authentic record. He is mentioned by the oldest writers,
and it is probable that his domestication was nearly coeval with
the earliest state of society. Trimmed and decorated chargei-s
appear on Egyptian monuments more than four thousand years
old; and on sculptures equally, if not more ancient, along the
banks of the Euphrates. One of the oldest books of Scripture
contains the most powerful description of the war-horse ; Joseph
gave the EgyjDtians bread in exchange for horses ; and the
people of Israel are said to have gone out under Joshua ag'ainst
hosts armed with " horses and chariots very many." At a later
date, Solomon is said to have obtained horses " out of Esrypt, and



out of all lands," and to have had " four thousand stalls for
horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen." Thus we
find that in the plains of the Euphrates, Nile, and Jordan, the horse
was early the associate of man, hearing" him with rapidity from
place to place, and aiding* in the carnage and tumult of battle.
He does not appear, however, to have been employed in the more
useful arts of agriculture and commerce; these supposed drudgeries
being imposed on the more patient ox, ass, and camel. Even in
refined Greece and Eome, he was merely yoked to the war-chariot,
placed under the saddle of the soldier, or trained for the race-

As civilisation spread westward over Europe, the demands
upon the strength and endurance of the horse were multiplied,
and in time he was called upon to lend his shoulder indiscrimi-
nately to the carriage and wagon, to the mill, plough, and other
implements of husbandry. It is in this servant-of-all-work
capacity that we must now regard him ; and certainly a more
docile, steady, and willing assistant it would be impossible to
find. But it is evident that the ponderous shoulder and firm
step necessary for the wagon would not be exactly the thing
for the mail-coach ; nor would the slow and steady draught, so
valuable in the plough, be any recommendation to the hunter or
roadster. For these" varied purposes men have selected different
stocks, which either exist naturally, or have been produced by a
long-continued and carefal system of breeding. In a state of
nature, the horse assumes various qualities in point of symmetry,
size, strength, and fleetness, according to the conditions of soil,
food, and climate which he enjoys. It is thus that we have the
Arabian, Tartar, Ukraine, Shetland, and other stocks, each differ-
ing so widely from the others, that the merest novice could not
possibly confound them. Besides these primitive stocks, a
thousand breeds, as they are called, have been produced by do-
mestication, so that at the present time it would require volumes
even for their enumeration. In our own country, for example,
we have such breeds as the Flanders, Norman, Cleveland, Suffolk,
Galloway, Clydesdale, and Shetland ; and of these numerous
varieties, as may be required for the turf, the road, the cart, or
the carriage. AH this exhibits the wonderful ductility of the
horse, and proves how admirably he is adapted to be the com-
panion and assistant of man, as the latter spreads himself over
the tenantable regions of the globe. It is to the character of the
horse thus domesticated that we intend to devote the rest of this
sheet ; to his intellectual and moral, rather than to his physical
qualities ; to those traits of spirit and daring, of aptitude, prudence,
memory, and affection, with which his history abounds.


Courage and unshrinking firmness have ever been attributes
of the horse. The magnificent description given in the book


of Job, must be familiar to every one : — " Hast thou given the
horse strength ? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder ? canst
thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? — the g'loiy of his
strength is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in
his strength ; he g'oeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh
at fear, and is not affrig'hted ; neither turneth he back from
the sword ; the quiver rattleth ag^ainst him — the glittering spear
and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with lierceness and
rage ; neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.
He saith among the trumpets, Ha ! ha ! and he smelleth the
battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting."
It is asserted that horses with a broad after-head, and the ears
far asunder, are naturally bolder than those whose head is
narrow above the forelock. This assertion is in all probability
correct, for there is no reason why cerebral development should
not influence the character of a horse as well as that of a man ;
but much, too, depends upon judicious training. Some, says
Colonel Smith, habituated to war, will drop their head, pick
at grass in the midst of fire, smoke, and the roar of cannon ;
others never entirely cast off their natural timidity. We have
witnessed them groaning, or endeavouring- to lie down when
they found escape impossible, at the fearful sound of shot,
shrapnell-shells, and rockets ; and it was painful to witness their
look of terror in battle, and to hear their groans upon being
wounded. Yet many of the terrified animals, when let loose at
a charge, dash forward in a kind of desperation that makes it
difficult to hold them in hand ; and we recollect, at a charge in
1794 — when the light-dragoon horse was larger than at present,
and the French were wretchedly mounted — a party of British
bm-sting through a hostile squadron as they would have passed
through a fence of rushes.

The horse, though naturally afraid of the lion, tiger, and other
feline animals, has often sufficient confidence in a firm rider and
his own courage to overcome this timidity, and to join in the
attack. This was conspicuously evinced in the case of an Arab
possessed by the late Sir Robert Gillespie, and noticed in the
Naturalists' Library. Sir Robert being present on the race-
course of Calcutta during one of the great Hindoo festivals, when
many thousands are assembled to witness all kinds of shows, was
suddenly alarmed by the shrieks and commotion of the crowd.
On being informed that a tiger had escaped from his keepers, he
immediately called for his horse, and grasping a boar-spear from
one of the bystanders, rode to attack this formidable enemy. The
tiger, probably, was amazed at finding' himself in the middle of
such a number of shrieking beings, ilying from him in all direc-
tions ; but the moment he perceived Sir Robert, he crouched in
the attitude of preparing to spring at him, and that instant the
gallant soldier passed his horse in a leap over the tiger's back, and
struck the spear through his spine. Here, instead of swerving,



the noble animal went right over his formidable enemy with a
tirmness that enabled the rider to use his lance with precision.
This steed was a small g'ray, and was afterwards sent home as a
present to the prince regent.

M. Arnauld, in his History of Animals, relates the following*
incident of ferocious courage in a mule. This animal belonged
to a gentleman in Florence, and became so vicious and refractory,
that he not only refused to submit to any kind of labour, but
actually attacked with his heels and teeth those who attempted
to compel him. Wearied with such conduct, his master resolved
to make aAvay with him, by exposing him to the wild beasts in
the menagerie of the grand duke. For this purpose he was first
placed in the dens of the hyenas and tigers, all of whom he
would have soon destroyed, had he not been speedily removed.
At last he was handed over to the lion, but the mule, instead of
exhibiting any symptoms of alarm, quietly receded to a corner,
keeping his front opposed to his adversary. Once planted in the
corner, he resolutely kept his place, eyeing every movement of
the lion, which was preparing to spring upon him. The lion, how-
ever, perceiving the difficulty of an attack, practised all his wiles
to throw the mule off his guard, but in vain. At length the latter,
perceiving an opportunity, made a sudden rush upon the lion,
and in an instant broke several of his teeth by the stroke of his
fore-feet. The " king' of the animals," as he has been called, finding
that he had got quite enough of the combat, slunk grumbling to
his cage, and left the hardy mule master of the battle.

As may be readily supposed, the intrepidity of the horse is
often of signal service in the cause of humanity, commanding at
once our esteem and admiration. We know of no instance in
which his assistance was so successfully rendered as in that which
once occurred at the Cape of Good Hope, and which is related by
M. De Pages in his " Travels Round the World." " I shoufd
have found it difficult," says he, " to give it credit, had it not
happened the evening before my arrival; and if, besides the
public notoriety of the fact, I had not been an eye-witness of
those vehement emotions of sympathy, blended with admiration,
which it had justly excited in the mind of every individual at the
Cape. A violent gale of wind setting" in from north-north-west,
a vessel in the road dragged her anchors, was forced on the rocks,
and bulged ; and while the greater part of the crew fell an imme-
diate sacrifice to the waves, the remainder were seen from the
shore struggling for their lives, by clinging to the different
pieces of the wreck. The sea ran dreadfully high, and broke over
the sailors with such amazing fury, that no boat whatever could
venture off to their assistance. Meanwhile a planter, considerably
advanced in life, had come from his farm to be a spectator of the
shipwreck ; his heart was melted at the sight of the unhappy
seamen, and knowing the bold and enterprising spirit of his
horse, and his particular excellence as a swimmer, he instantly



detennined to make a desperate effort for their deliverance. He
aiig-hted, and blew a little brandy into his horse's nostrils, when
again seating himself in the saddle, he instantly pushed into the
midst of the breakers. At first both disappeared ; but it was not
long before they floated on the surface, and swam up to the
wreck, when, taking with him two men, each of whom held by
one of his boots, he brought them safe to shore. This perilous
expedition he repeated no seldomer than seven times, and saved
fourteen lives to the public ; but, on his return the eighth time,
his horse being much fatigued, and meeting a most formidable
wave, he lost his balance, and was overwhelmed in a moment.
The horse swam safely to land ; but his gallant rider, alas ! was
no more."

Occasionally, there is so much sagacity and affection combined
with the intrepidity of the horse, that his conduct would do
credit even to the bravest human nature. Like the dog, he has
been known to swim to the assistance of a drowning creatui'e,
and this without any other impulse than that of his own gene-
rous feelings. Captain Thomas Brown, in his interesting Bio-
gi'aphical Sketches of the Horse — a work to which we are in-
debted for several of the facts here recorded — mentions the follow-
ing gratifying' incident, which proves the possession of something
more than mere unreasoning instinct : — A little girl, the daughter
of a gentleman in Warwickshii^e, playing on the banks of a canal
which runs through his grounds, had the misfortune to fall in,
and would in all probability have been drowned, had not a small
pony, which had been long kept in the family, plunged into the
stream and brought the child safely ashore without the slightest


Although fleetness, strength, and power of endurance are
strictly physical properties, yet they depend so intimately upon
courage, emulation, and other moral qualities, that we cannot
do better than consider them in this place. Taken separately,
a greater degree of swiftness or of strength may be found in
certain other animals, but in none are all these properties so
fully and perfectly developed as in the horse. And what is also
remarkable, in him they are improved by domestication, a pro-
cess which tends to deteriorate them in most other animals. It
is thus by the unwearied attention of breeders, that our own
horses are now capable of performing what no others can. In
1755, Matchem ran the Beacon Course at Newmarket — in leno-th
four miles one furlong and one hundred and thirty-eight yards
— with eight stone seven pounds, in seven minutes and twenty
seconds. Flying Childers ran the same course in seven minutes
and a half; and the Round Course, which is three miles six
furlongs and ninety -three yards, in six minutes and forty
seconds, carrying nine stone and two pounds. In 1772, a mile

5 Q


he I

was ran by Firetail in one minute and four seconds. In the
year 1745, the postmaster of Stretton rode, on different horses,
along the road to and from London, no less than 215 miles, in
eleven hours and a half — a rate of above eighteen miles an hour ;
and in July 1788, a horse belonging to a gentleman of Billiter
Square, London, was trotted for a wager thirty miles in an hour
and twenty-five minutes — which is at the rate of more than
twenty-one miles an hour. In September 1784, a Shetland pony,
eleven hands high, carrying five stone, was matched for one
hundred guineas to run from Norwich to Yarmouth and back
again, which is forty-four miles. He performed it with ease in
three hours and forty-five minutes, which was thought to be the
greatest feat ever done by a horse of his height. In October
1741, at the Curragh meeting in Ireland, Mr Wilde engaged to
ride 127 miles in nine hours ; he performed it in six hours and
twenty-one minutes, riding ten horses, and allowing for mount-
ing and dismounting, and a moment for refreshment; he rode
for six hours at the rate of twenty miles an hour. Mr Shafto,

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 5 of 59)