Horses and roads/Chapter 3



It is well known that all stablemen keep by them ‘nostrums’ and ‘receipts’ of their own. First amongst these are generally to be found arsenic and antimony—two active poisons—but they are great favourites with the men; they administer them in secret. These drugs are cheap, and they can afford (or will afford) to buy and pay for them themselves. It is true that occasionally they administer an overdose all round, generally on a Saturday night, and the next morning a stableful of dead horses is found; post-mortems are held, and the poison is discovered, and the horsekeeper finds himself before a magistrate. He sometimes gets imprisonment, it is also true; but this neither brings compensation to the owner, nor seems to act as a warning to others, for cases of drugging are constantly recurring at intervals. But, even if he does not kill the horses at a single dose, he is doing so by degrees. These very active remedies are but seldom employed even by veterinaries, and then only in extreme cases, and in small doses. Nitre is also cheap, and is secretly administered to an alarming extent—not sufficiently to kill the horses right off, but sufficiently to undermine their constitutions.

If veterinary authorities should be read, the following dicta will be found having reference to the foregoing remarks:— ‘Acute gastritis: cause—poison;’ ‘inflamed bladder: cause—abuse of medicine;’ ‘diabetes: cause—diuretic drugs;’ ‘inflamed kidneys: cause—nitre.’ The innocent (?) and phlegmatic owners either are ignorant that their men are making use of these agents, or else indolently satisfy themselves by remarking that their ‘man’ understands horses very well and that ‘if he does not bring them round, no one else can;’ until things get serious and the vet. has to be called in. When this gentleman is sent for, he has generally a serious case to deal with, and one that usually lasts a long time, and, consequently, entails a severe loss.

Besides this, many owners knowingly allow their men to order powerful medicines in the shape of ‘balls’ called ‘physic,’ ‘condition,’ ‘diuretic,’ &c., and allow their men to give them to the horses, having, at the same time, very little or no control as to when or why they should be given. Now these cost more than arsenic, &c., and could be more easily accounted for, because the men rarely go so far as to lay out their own money on them, and the owner thinks some medicine must be necessary in a stable; yet even then he is generally guilty of allowing or even asking his man an unmerited opinion as to its use, besides being in the dark as to what drugs, secretly given by the said man before, may have caused the disease, which, however, will be attributed to anything but his own act.

There are yet other ‘remedies’ kept by all stablemen. They are used more openly, and are even highly approved of by some owners. First amongst these rank ‘hoof-ointments,’ be they either a ‘secret’ with the stablemen, or a ‘patent’—it does not make much difference which, as to their nonutility, or, rather, their positive insalubrity. They almost always consist of admixtures of some or all of the following ingredients:— Tar, bees-wax, train oil, tallow or suet, and honey. Mr. Douglas says that if applications of this kind were made daily instead of occasionally, no horse would have a morsel of sound horn at the end of six months to nail a shoe to: ‘for it shuts up the pores in the horn, prevents the natural moisture from reaching the surface outwardly, and the air from circulating inwards—consequences which act upon the horse with ruinous results.’ ‘If you tell a groom this, he will either refuse to listen to your arguments, or laugh at them as being the height of absurdity.’ How many horse owners are on a level with their servants in this matter!

Cowdung, mixed sometimes with some of the above-mentioned abominations, is firmly believed in by servants, and its use condoned by their masters, for ‘stopping’—that is to say, stuffing the hoof with—up (or down) to the level of the bottom of the shoe. Cowdung is supposed by these ignorant people to be emollient, because it is soft; but everything that glitters is not necessarily gold, and cowdung instead of being an emollient, is a powerful irritant; and so between ‘ointment’ and ‘stopping’ they are using their utmost endeavours, in surrounding the hoof on all sides with everything that ignorance and stupidity can devise (up to the present time), to render it brittle and otherwise diseased.

As soon as the horse is taken, as a colt, from his natural state into bondage, every one seems to consider that his mother Nature has nothing more to do with his future career. Everything then is carried on by them without once casting a thought on the dominion which she still maintains over him, equally with all her other creatures. Some others of the servants of man are less meddled with than this one, who is, at the same time, the most costly and the most generally useful—here in England, at least. It has been well said that ‘the history of almost every horse in this kingdom is a struggle to exist against human endeavours to deprive it of utility.’ This is forcible language, but it is the naked truth. Another authority says: ‘Strange to say, he frequently suffers as much from ill-advised kindness as he does from cruelty.’ This last observation applies to the English farmer, only in so far that, whilst wishing to be excessively kind to his horses, he is often unwittingly laying himself open to censure from want of having duly considered how to treat them. No one can possibly accuse him of wanton cruelty—far from it; but he might avoid inflicting upon them much suffering, with gain to himself, if he would turn part of the attention he bestows upon ‘rotation of crops,' &c., to his teams—and those to whom he entrusts them.