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The first question for a man to ask himself, who has a desire to breed horses, is, have I the necessary pasture-land for the purpose? Without this nothing can be done in the matter; with it and the necessary capital everything can be accomplished. Good sound old pasture is that which admits of the best hunters being produced with the least help by artificial means; such land as grows the best wheat seems also to suit horses well; the north riding of Yorkshire may be cited as a case in point. Well-drained land is essential, and a dry surface most favorable; whilst wet flat lands may grow grasses and feed horses to a large size, hunters can never be produced on any other than good firm soil; if the surface be hilly, all the better; if some of these natural advantages be wanting, yet horses bred on sloping ground, where they have a variety of exercise, become finer in form with better action, than when bred on flat ground.
Many of the best horses known at all times have derived their high qualities from the physical character of the ground on which they were bred; the more extensive and diversified this is, the less risk there is of foals breaking a leg whilst galloping and playing in a confined paddock. I never knew of a similar occurrence where the young animals have had space and inequality of ground to give them strength with the will to use it.
With a regular supply of good sound food, horses may be bred to a very high state of perfection on dry, poor soil; so far it is a question of expense. I have seen horses bred on inhospitable ground, and there left to nature, which, after care has been taken to get them into condition, have become serviceable animals; but a horse bred on swampy ground, or confined in a soft, wet, filthy farmyard or stable, may grow large and heavy, as they generally do, but can never be good for any purpose. Fine shape, good action, compact textures, with sound constitutions; and feet, such as will bear exertion, are requisites pre-eminently required in the hunter, and no class of horse should be without them to the highest attainable degree; yet none of the above qualities can be acquired unless foals and growing colts have liberty on firm ground. This proposition is based on some of the undamental laws of nature which cannot be violated with impunit
The experience afforded by other nations confirms this view. Thus France, having few natural advantages, purchases horses for common use from Germany, and has recourse to England for choice specimens of valuable breeding stock. Northern and Central Italy obtain their horses from the same sources. Even in England horse-breeding is, in great measure, confined to some of the more favored counties, where the best can be reared at the least outlay for artificial means.
On some of the extensive tracts of land which belong to the Roman States horses may be found under conditions which approximate to their purely wild state; within certain bounds they range and breed as free as the deer of the place, stallions and mares running together-i. e., a stallion is selected for the season and turned loose with a certain number of mares. The market value of young unbroke horses, when so reared, depends greatly on the character of the ground; whilst colts bred on high land will fetch 300 crowns the pair, those reared at the distance of only a few miles on low, soft, marsh land will realize only 50 or 60 crowns apiece. Wherever the matter has been tested, I have found that the character of the soil and
general management influence the wearing powers of horses more than that of their parentage.
Where attempts have been made on the continent to breed horses in small, enclosed paddocks-such as in England are allotted for blood stock, without the aid of the English soil, climate, &c., it has always proved a failure. The stock have been high on the leg, narrow, and without form, action, or good qualities of any kind. Where, however, the English stallion is used, and the mares have their native freedom on good ground, relatively good stock has been procured.
Change of ground is good for horses, for the fresh soil and herbage it presents, as well as for the variety of surface it affords. Land laid down in seed, though infericr to old pasture, is often serviceable to the farmer as affording an extensive range of fresh ground.
It is not until the second summer that colts require more extent of ground than a small enclosed field affords. The young animals, if they have only an acre of space, will display their speed by galloping round their dams ina circle. Colts and fillies destined to make hunters, require to have their liberty for three full summers; and it is a question to be settled by the means at hand, whether four summers should not be given. Hunting colts should be taken up, broken, and be gently ridden at latest during the winter when they are rising four years old. They may then be either turned out again for two months during their fourth summer, or be ridden over the farm at that time, which, with a good rider and proper care, affords the best beginning for a young hunter. Such usage is preferable to turning out, though both these courses may be followed in the same summer, to some extent, with good effect.
It is not necessary that the space of ground allotted to mares and foals should furnish all their sustenance during any considerable part of the year; most breeders of hunters, however, will be provided with such good grass-land as will make them independent of much other aid during three or four months of summer. To a great extent, the same system that is adopted for the racing stud may be carried on in breeding hunters; but the practice of running blood-horses at two years old has induced breeders to stimulate their growth and development by free and, I may say, excessive feeding.
To insure the best results, there is only one mode of procedure for differ ent stock as far as the first and second summers, with the intervening winter go. Whether the colt be entered to run for the greatest early stakes, or destined to carry the heaviest among the fastest of riders to hounds, or designed to make a stallion, ample space on good land, shelter and cleanliness, are essentials, without too much pampering; the food to consist of sound meadow hay and oats, to such an amount as the resources of the land and the state of the animal indicate. Growth, form, and fine fibre, are our requirements in the horse, and it is by giving food of a kind and quantity which can be assimilated, that these are produced; any excess in the quantity of food given, adds to bulk and weight at the expense of quality.
Thorough bred foals and yearlings, under the present method of feeding, eat from 1 peck to 1 peck of oats per day, and of hay, either cut into chaff or in its normal state, about 7 lbs. The motive for this, as I believe
excessive feeding, is not alone the prospect of the young stock being put into training at eighteen months old, but especially that of their being previously offered for sale. The object of primary importance, that of producing the most symmetrically formed horse, is thus made subordinate to the desire of turning out the largest yearling colt.
I am of opinion that if the quantity of corn given to some of the blood stock was diminished to three feeds daily (a change which would induce them to eat a larger proportion of hay), their condition would be thereby improved, even for the time, and more obviously so for the future. What is required in the colt is thorough development of the muscular and nervous system, and of those organs which carry on the functions of nutrition; a little fat will be stored up, according to the natural law, but young horses should never be made up until they are what may be called "beastly fat." To be liberally fed, so that there is no interruption to growth, their appetites and condition should be carefully watched, and the distribution of food regulated with judgment.
I disapprove of green food, such as vetches, clover, and other grasses, cut when in season, and given in large quantities to horses of any class. Green forage so given, has few of the properties which it possesses when horses eat it off the ground as it grows. In his normal state, the horse selects and masticates, so that the process of feeding is slow. Mown grass becomes first wilted, then ferments, is stalky or woody, and when placed before horses under restraint, it is eaten voraciously; the stomach and bowels becoming overcharged, digestion is impaired. All grasses should be either eaten off the ground, or else, when cut, made into hay, whereby time is given for the consequent fermentation. When I make any exceptions to this rule, I am very careful as to the kind of grass, and its state when cut; it should be at the point of flowering, and the quantity supplied must be small on the whole, and nicely apportioned between different baits. These statements are meant rather as cautions than fixed rules. In town, the ill effects of giving green food are most marked, because there it is commonly given in an unfit state, through the causes alluded to. The same objections do not apply to roots, amongst which carrots especially form an excellent adjunct to good oats and hay, during a great part of the year, for mares and young stock of different ages. Scientific researches into the chemistry of food, have not done much to modify the sound rules of practice long established in England, on the feeding of horses. In 1860, the Cleveland Agricultural Society set the example of giving £100 to the best thoroughbred stallion for getting hunters; and the Royal Agricultural Society, by offering a like prize at its three last meetings, with similar conditions attached, has afforded further scope to the experiment, which has not as yet, shown the promise of much fruit. Indeed, there now appear some signs, if not conclusive evidence, to show that not only no good end is likely to result, but that this large prize tends rather to defeat the object for which it was so liberally set on foot. Without some annexed conditions, no guarantee is afforded that the recipient of the money uses his horse so as to make him available for the breeders of hunters and roadsters. The large prize has either fallen on a horse of high renown, which was serving mares at a fee such as none but breeders for
the turf can afford to pay; or else it has been given to a young horse which should have won his way to favor gradually, by his merits, and thereon. the price for his services is increased to an amount which places him quite beyond the means of breeders of hunters.
Unconditionally as this prize is given, any one of the renowned stallions which covers at from 10 1. to 50 1. may be walked to the yard and obtain the prize, thereby deterring the owners of more eligible horses from going to the expense and trouble of bringing them to encounter defeat. The line of distinction drawn between the first prize horse and his competitors is frequently also too broad; and this leads to discontent and complaint against the decision of the judges. The tendency of this prize, then, seems on the whole to be rather to deter than encourage the keepers of really use. ful country stallions. Indeed, it may be questioned whether the whole system of awarding prizes to stallions, by the local agricultural societies. of England, for some years past, has not tended to exhaust the means for procuring a good horse.
Prizes, when given without restrictive clauses, act as an advertising medium to such an extent that the prize horses of one year have very rarely been found in England the next season; and as premiums are usually given at the age of three and four years, the animal has been of little service prior to exhibition and sale. Prize mares go abroad as well as stallions, so there are few good mares to breed stallions from, and still fewer good stallions to get fillies.
It must be acknowledged that the blood stallion has not been so much. affected by these measures as the half-bred horse; whilst in the cart-horse class the system has worked well, inasmuch as there is little demand for them on the continent, and the Scottish agricultural societies, particularly, take care that the horses, according as they obtain first, second and third prizes, shall be located in such districts as the society directs; and if the same course had been followed in Yorkshire and other districts in England, our beautiful nag-sires would have been retained for at least one season after their excellence had been publicly proclaimed.
In judging the classes of hunting and roadster or nag-mares, some more intelligible definition than has generally prevailed is wanted. Yet so closely do these blend one with another that it is difficult to draw a line so as to divide them into even two classes. There should, however, be a clear distinction between the hunting and the thorough-bred mare; the latter, if good, is kept to the paddock, and in a general way never becomes the producer of hunters. Moreover, the same objection applies to the mare as to the bigh class blood stallions; they can be walked into the yard simply to receive the prize. The racing stud would furnish mares such as the dam of Kettledrum, which would carry off the prize, thereby deterring farmers from producing their best, and, moreover, set a wrong example, stamped by authority, as to the kind of mares which farmers should try to keep.
I may refer to an instance in point as an example. At the East Riding Agricultural Show, held at Dridlington about 1853, I saw the first prize for the mare for breeding hunters awarded to Hygeia by Physician; that mare had never been out of the racing stable or the stud. She had bred runners,
but nothing like a hunter, and has since been remarkable for becoming the great granddam of Dundee.
Exhibitions of foals with their dams, at local agricultural shows, afford encouragement for breeding, and also the first and best means of bringing good stallions into early favorable notice.
There are objections to awarding prizes to gelding colts at various ages, either as hunters, nags or carriage horses. In the first place, the breeder has encouragement enough in the probable price he will realize for a good colt; but a second and more positive objection is, that good colts are so pampered by feeding, and by being kept up in the stable, that they seldom turn out good for much afterwards; and here, again, the open system of giving prizes has led to the colt being taken froin place to place, whilst a wise farmer with a really good one, would not enter into competition of fat against form, a pampered horse against a well kept and level formed one, gradually growing into worth.
Whenever prizes are given for horses, the judges should agree to take into account the use for which that animal is required, and when made as fat as a Christmas ox, horses should be disqualified from competition as much as if they were pronounced unsound by a veterinary surgeon.
The scarcity of good blood stallions, available for farmers at reasonable charges, is proverbial, and yet good horses in no small numbers are produced annually. How these can be obtained as stallions seems to be the question, subordinate only to that of a right understanding of the extent to which they should be employed, and of how to select the good and avoid the bad.
On the rules and regulations of the jockey club, from time to time in force, will depend the extent to which good blood stallions can be obtained, since the temporary failure of our supply is in great measure referable to running our horses at two years old. I distinctly use the word temporary, because I do not believe that any radical or general deterioration has taken place. If two years old engagements were carried over to the third year, and the more real tests of power and lasting qualities left to be decided at four, the character of the blood horse would at once greatly improve, and more would be available for stallions without necessarily more being bred. By such reform the forcing of colts would be checked, indeed, it would be incompatible with success, since protracted accumulation of weight would prove an incumbrance. Under a less hurried management young stock would acquire as much good form as under the present system before being disposed of, besides the larger proportion of them which would be developed into useful horses, of which many are now destroyed before they have had a chance of showing what is in them.
Modern steeple chasing has drawn heavily on the supply of bloodhorses adapted for country stallions; that sport which formerly was intended to be a test for good riders across country, and also of the clever hunter, has to a great extent been the means of calling out the indifferent race-horse to beat the horse really fit to be ridden to hounds. Many good powerful blood horses have consequently been converted into geldings, which as stallions might have begun in the lower ranks and reached the highest.