Horses and roads/Chapter 14
Ludgate Hill is not Moirosi’s Mountain, but, after all, is only a gentle ascent of about half an inch in the foot, over a length of about two hundred yards, up which unshod omnibus horses would trot with a full load in any weather. Yet there it must remain, a chief thoroughfare in the heart of London, a perennial cause of complaint, and of fear, disgust, and injury to man and horse. It is of no use to keep eternally grumbling at it, or proposing inefficient remedies; it must be tackled in a rational manner by not irrationally opposing two slippery surfaces to each other, and then the difficulty would be vanquished.
Humane and well meaning, but it is to be feared not eminently practical, people have formed themselves into various corporate bodies, either with the view of protecting the horse from injury by man, or else man from injury by the horse, when in the legitimate exercise of his daily toil. Philanthropic and philozoic individuals have taken the donkey under their protection, yet in England he continues to labour under the curse of the iron shoes from which his Irish brethren are exempt. Here is a fitting opportunity for his patrons to widen out the sphere of their humane intervention in his favour. They must not say that the climate of England is so different from that of Ireland that they could not do what Irish donkeys can, for the climate of England is no moister than that of Ireland, and we have testimony that its roads are no worse. In Porto Rico, a Spanish island, horses go barefooted; whilst in Jamaica, in the same latitude and with the same climate, English civilisation (?) demands that they should be shod. Evidently these last could as well go without shoes as the former, and, evidently also, the English donkeys no more need shoeing than do the Irish ones. Climate has nothing to do with the question.
In the invasion of America, Hernan Cortes could not carry about (in a country destitute of roads) anvils, forges, and iron. Without the few dozen horses, which overawed the Aztecs so much that they took them for gods, and carved idols in their resemblance, which they worshipped, he would have been unable to penetrate many miles from the coast. On the performance of those few horses depended the subjugation of Mexico. They did their work and survived it, and from them descends the mustang, which still goes unshod. Horses are not indigenous to America—this was their first introduction; and here is a further proof that climate and locality have not that influence over the hoof which they are vulgarly supposed to have.
It is being continually argued that the horse, as we have him, must not be looked upon as being in his natural state, but in an artificial one. Surely a little reflection should lead educated people to perceive that it is we ourselves who have, by continually striving against Nature, unnecessarily and insanely nursed him into an artificial state. People lose sight of the undeniable fact that he was created expressly as a servant for man, and as such was destined to become a captive and a domesticated animal. Simple domestication would not render him artificial; but pampering, continual doctoring, and adding to, or subtracting from, his frame will do so.
The Great Architect of the Universe neither made too little, nor too much, nor did he assign to the horse any inadequate members. Other quadrupeds possess both collar-bones and a gall-bladder, the horse has neither; but no one, however sapient, can detect that this inscrutable economy of construction has rendered him the less powerful, the less fleet, or the less enduring. It was needful that his head should be of a certain size to lodge the many organs which it contains, to provide leverage for the jaw with its powerful muscles, &c.; and Mr. Fearnley, formerly Principal of and Lecturer on Veterinary Surgery at the Edinburgh Veterinary College, writing, in March last year, a treatise on the structure of the horse, tells us that the head is a model of lightness and strength, that the bones contain cavities, which ‘are only there to allow of the bone being as light as possible, and as cavities are otherwise quite worthless. The upper jaw forms an arch, having substantial buttresses in the molar teeth and their bony sockets, and the span is of gigantic strength and extremely light, from its hollow construction.’
The tail, amongst other purposes, serves as a rudder with which the horse helps to steer himself when at speed, and the racer gets the benefit of it as such; but we have amongst us barbarians who amputate the end of the spinal column, and fancy that, when they have thus mutilated the animal, they have rendered it more beautiful than the Creator had been able to do!
A crusade is, at this moment, being preached against the cruelty of vivisection by people who condone the practice of vivisection of the horse, when they purchase and drive those who have been thus wantonly mutilated; and they go further against their professed creed when they pay another barbarian to subject his feet periodically to vivisection and vivicremation. These people are straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel with a vengeance. They have the choice of three things—either to abandon their practice, withdraw their theory, or appear as imbeciles before the world. Which road will they choose? There is no compromise.
The description of the hoof already given can scarcely fail to show that as much care has been bestowed upon it as upon the head or any other part. It is small, light, and strong, and so adapted for both power and speed. Is it possible that it can be otherwise than fully adequate to the task of carrying, not only the weight of the horse, but also that of his rider? Religion forbids the bare conception of such an idea, which has not occurred to semi-civilised tribes and nations, who find by practice that the foot really is able to support successfully the very severe toils to which they subject the horse. Not long ago, the writer heard a luminary of the pulpit read from the Scripture:—‘But they know not the thoughts of the Lord, neither understand they his counsels. Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion, and I will make thy horn iron, and thy hoofs brass.’ In the sermon of that day, the necessity of faith was much insisted upon; yet the preacher was seen shortly after being drawn by a horse suffering so badly from brittle hoof that parts of the shanks of nails were visible in places where the horn had chipped away. Where was his great faith when he feared to trust the feet of his slave to the hands of its Creator, who had entrusted him with the care of it?
The writer is no respecter of persons or titles when on this subject, which does not allow him to be so even if he felt inclined. Mr. Flower had to appeal to all classes, and Mrs. Flower aided him by addressing herself to the ladies, in his laudable efforts to do away with the abuse of the bearing-rein. In the ‘Book of the Horse’ we find it said of him: ‘Mr. E. Flower, of Hyde Park Gardens, has agitated this question for some time with that exaggerated enthusiasm which is essential if any deep-seated grievance is to be reformed. No great reform from the time of Martin Luther to Clarkson and Wilberforce has ever been effected by cautious advocates and soft suggestions.’ Mr. Flower has happily succeeded in convincing many that he was right. Even some ‘fashionable’ sporting men threw away the bearing-rein in their teams, rightly judging that, whilst their horses thus went better, they also looked better. Managers of heavy traffic, and owners of the hardest-worked slaves, find that they have been gainers by abandoning it. They will soon make the same discovery in the matter of shoes.
Mayhew says: ‘That cannot be right the results of which are purely evil.’
The use of horseshoes is a sin; they are unnecessary, and ‘their results are purely evil:’ they torture the animal and shorten his life; and the sin carries along with it the curse of being a continual source of worry and expense to his owner.
‘Fashion’ cannot plead effectually in their favour, as they detract from action, activity, smartness, and speed. But then, perhaps, ‘fashion’ demands clatter; there is no accounting for taste.
The bearing-rein would be still less needed for a horse which, having no pains in his feet, would not be shifting them about, and putting himself into slouching postures at every moment in order to relieve them.