Horsemanship for Women/Part 1
HORSEMANSHIP FOR WOMEN.
"My dear" said my wife, "you don't mean to say you have bought that horse?"
"Why, yes, indeed," replied I; "and very cheap, too. And why not?"
"You will never get your money back," said she, "no matter how cheap you have bought him. Don't keep him. Send him back before it is too late."
It was a sultry July morning, and my wife stood on the farm-house porch, in provokingly fresh attire, while I held my new acquisition by the bridle in the scorching sun; and just recovering as I was from illness, this conversation struck me as really anything but tonic in its character. However, bracing myself up, I replied, "But I don't want to get my money back; I intend to train him for my own use under the saddle."
"Oh, you can never do anything with that great horse. Why, he is the awkwardest brute I ever saw. Just look at him now!"
In fact, his appearance was anything but beautiful at that moment. His Roman nose, carried a long way forward and a little on one side, gave him somewhat the air of a camel; his coat showed no recent acquaintance with the brush; and as he stood there sleepily in the sun, with one hind-leg hitched up, he did not present at all a picture to charm a lady's eye. Nevertheless, he was, in fact, a reasonably well-made horse, a full black, fifteen and three-quarter hands high, sound, kind, and seven years old.
"He's just horrid," said my wife."
Oh, that's nothing," said I; "that's only a bad habit he has. We will soon cure him of such slovenly tricks. Just see what good points he has. His legs are a little long, to be sure, but they are broad, and have excellent hoofs; his breast is narrow, but then it is deep; and that large nostril was not given him for nothing. You will see he will run like a race-horse."
"If you once get him started you can never stop him," said my wife. "You know how he pulls, and how nervous he is. He will go till he drops. You are not strong enough to ride such a horse."
"Oh, nonsense," said I; "you can see that there is no mischief in him. Look what a kind eye he has! The fact is, horses are often very sensitive; and while this one may never have been cruelly treated, yet he has been misunderstood, and his feelings hurt a great many times a day. Human beings are the only things he seems afraid of. As for his awkward carriage, it is no worse than that of the farm hand who has made such a failure of trying to use him, and who is, nevertheless, when he stands up straight, a well-made, good-looking fellow. A little careful handling will make that animal as different from his present self as a dandified English sergeant is from the raw recruit he once was. What do you think of his name? It is Sambo."
But my wife was not to be led off on any side question, and after intimating that such a plebeian appellation struck her as quite suitable, she continued: "Now you know that Mr. —" (the farmer of whom I purchased) "knows a great deal more about horses than you do; you must admit that, for he has been buying and selling and driving them all his life, and he doesn't like him, or he wouldn't sell so cheap; and as for training him, for my part I don't believe horse-training can be learned out of books, as a woman would learn a receipt for making cake. Do get him to take the horse back!"
Now I have a great respect for my wife's opinion in general, and in this particular case all her points seemed well taken.
The horse was tall, and I was short; he was excitable, and I hadn't the strength of a boy; he was very awkward, and I had never trained a horse in my life. However, I bad been reading up a little on the subject, and feeling the confidence in myself which a very little knowledge is apt to impart, I was determined to try my hand.
I had remarked that there was a certain French system which was, in the several works I had consulted, always spoken of with respect as a complete and original method, so I obtained a copy of the book, in which is set forth the Méthode d'Équitation basée sur de nouveaux Principes, par F. Baucher, and having disentangled (no easy task) what was really practical from the enveloping mass of conceited sham scientific nonsense, I had numbered the margin so as to make a series of simple progressive lessons of half an hour each. The volume in question, which was not, by-the-bye, the present improved edition, I now produced in a somewhat dog-eared condition from under my arm. My wife, seeing that remonstrance was of no avail, took a seat on the veranda, so as to be ready to advise and assist, while my excellent friends, the farmer and his wife, came out "to see the circus," as they said, and established themselves in suitable midsummer attitudes, with countenances of amused expectation.
"The first few lessons must be given on foot," said I, and spreading my Baucher open upon the "horse-block," I proceeded to carry out its first injunction by placing myself, with riding-whip under my arm, in front of the horse, which was already saddled and bridled, and "looking him kindly in the face." He bore my gaze with equanimity, but when the riding-whip was produced he started violently; and when I raised my hand to pat his neck reassuringly he threw up his head and ran back. This evidently was not temper, but alarm. Clearly, moral suasion was not the kind that had been used with him hitherto. In plain English, he had been beaten on the head; and it was some time before he got over the impression made by such ill-treatment and ceased dodging at every sudden motion on my part.
However, a lump of sugar gave the poor fellow more confidence, and, avoiding all brusque movements, I went on to give him the first lesson of the Baucher series, viz., To Come to the Whip.
It is encouraging for beginners that this lesson, while producing conspicuous results, is in most cases very easy. In less than half an hour my audience was not a little surprised to see Sambo come to me at the slightest motion of the whip, and follow me about with neck arched, ears pricked up, and eyes lustrous with the unwonted pleasure of comprehending and voluntarily carrying out his master's wishes.
"Well, that's very pretty," said the farmer; "but what's the good of it?"
This criticism, it may be remarked, he continued to repeat at every step in the horse's education. He did not "see the good" of a double bridle with two bits. He did not see the good of teaching the horse to relax the muscles of his jaw and to hold the bit lightly in the mouth. He did not see the good of suppling the various muscles of the neck, on which, nevertheless, depend to a surprising degree the balance of the whole body and the easy motion of the limbs.
coming to the whip.
In fact, he maintained his attitude of amused and good-natured incredulity until one day, after about three weeks, I rode Sambo into the lawn, his neck arched and tail displayed, and, with the reins hanging on my little finger, made him cut circles and figure eights of all sizes at a spanking trot.
Then my good farmer gave up, and said he really would hardly have believed it could be the same horse. What is more, he took off his own driving horses "the overdrawn check-reins" by which he had been hauling their noses up into as near a horizontal line as possible, and allowed them to carry their heads in a more natural manner.
The afternoon of his first lesson Sambo was put in double harness for a drive of ten or twelve miles, during which he annoyed me excessively by his restless dancing and fretting, so that next morning I expected to have to begin all over again; but, to my satisfaction, he had forgotten nothing, and came towards me at the first motion of the whip, so that I passed on to the Flexions de la Mâchoire, which we translate as the suppling of the muscles of the jaw. Here I came upon my first difficulty, and it lasted me several days. It was, however, the only serious one in my whole course, and from subsequent experience I am satisfied that my own awkwardness and disposition to compel obedience by main force were the principal causes of it.
However, success soon rewarded my perseverance, and I had the satisfaction of feeling the iron grip of the bit relax, and seeing the nose brought in and the face assume a perpendicular position.
Without at present going further into detail, I will simply say that at the expiration of a month, during which Sambo had been driven double almost daily, his education for the saddle had so far advanced that his head was admirably carried, his trot was greatly improved—his walk always had been light and swift—he could trot sideways to the right or left, could pirouette to the right or to the left on the hind-feet or on the fore-feet, responding to the pressure of the rein upon his neck or of the leg against his side, while he had become so steady that I could fire at a mark with a pistol from his back.
All this was very satisfactory progress, especially in view of my total inexperience, poor health, and the heat of the weather; but there is no doubt that any active young girl of sixteen or eighteen can do the like, for it was accomplished not by any mysterious or difficult process, nor by any exertion of physical strength, but by patiently following out, step by step, the processes which I am about to describe, and which are substantially those of Baucher, adapted to the use of a person of total inexperience, and that person a lady.
If any such, having accompanied me thus far, feels the impulse to try to improve her own mount, I will confide to her the fact that the incidents narrated really occurred within the last few years not a hundred miles from New York; and I hope that the following propositions, which are literally true, will help to encourage her to an undertaking in which she will find amusement, exercise, and a discipline as useful to herself as to her horse:
1. If, as is very likely, you feel a little afraid of your horse, you may be assured that your horse is a great deal more afraid of you.
2. If you can only make clear to him what you wish him to do, he will try his best to do it, and will feel amply repaid for his efforts by a few kind words and caresses.
3. His narrow brain can entertain only one idea at once, and therefore only one problem, and that a simple one, must be given him at a time.
4. Once the problem is mastered, a very little practice makes the performance of the task instinctive, so that it will be performed at the proper signal, even against his own will, provided his mind is occupied with something else.
This course of lessons is prepared with these facts in view.
"But is horse-breaking a fitting amusement for young ladies?" a mother asks, and with an air indicating that to her, at least, a reply seems quite unnecessary. My dear madam, it is not horse-breaking we are talking of, but horse-training, which is a very different thing. There are, doubtless, many women who could break a colt if they chose, but it is an undertaking which we certainly do not recommend. In the "breaking to harness" of an untamed horse there is naturally included more or less of training, but the essential lesson to be taught is that it is useless to resist the will of man, for sooner or later the horse will test the question, and put forth every effort to throw off control. When, however, panting and exhausted, he finally submits, he has learned the necessary lesson; and whether it be after a long fight with a brutal rough-rider, or a physically painless struggle with an adroit Rarey, he has learned it for life. Henceforth he accepts the supremacy of the human race, and, unless under the goad of maddening pain or terror, will never, save in rare instances, really rebel; obeying not men only, but women, children, and even the very tools and implements of man, so that a dog may lead him by the bridle. Like a spoiled child, however, a horse will sometimes presume upon indulgence, and, to use a mother's phrase, will try to see how far he can go.
At such times he is best opposed not by violence, but by firmness, reinforced, perhaps, now and then by a sharp cut with the whip, which, given unexpectedly at the precise moment of disobedience, will have the settling effect ascribed to the time-honored nursery "spank," and will bring him to his senses. Generally, however, what seems insubordination is in reality nervousness, which requires soothing, not punishment, and which you will be careful not to increase by fidgeting or by brusque movements of the reins. Even when severity is needed, a reproof in a cold, stern tone is often more effective than the lash.
Thousands of young girls, who for various reasons cannot ride in winter, have every summer within reach horses quite as good as the average of those at city riding-schools, but which they are never allowed to mount.
They look wistfully at the honest animals, longing for the exercise which would be so beneficial to their health and to their physical development, while so delightfully exhilarating to their spirits; but one horse is pronounced "skittish," another "hard-mouthed," and so on to the end. Nevertheless, some enterprising damsel manages to overcome all opposition, and, skirted, hatted, gloved, sets off in fine spirits. The horse, accustomed to the resistance of a heavy vehicle, moves forward with slow and heavy strides. Urged to greater speed, he rolls his shoulders so that it is almost impossible to rise to his trot. When put to the canter he pounds along the road, his hind-feet kept far in the rear and his head swaying up and down, while, missing the customary support of the bearing-rein, he all the time leans his heavy head on his rider's delicate arm, till it seems as if she would be pulled out of the saddle. However, the fresh open air is there, and the scenery; exercise, too, in plenty, and the pleasure of independent movement, so that our heroine is half inclined to persevere. But, alas! an equestrian party on well-bitted, light-stepping horses sweeps by, casting a pitying glance at her rustic mount and helpless plight. Mortified and discouraged, she goes home and dismounts, determined not to try again. Nevertheless, her horse is very likely quite as good as theirs, and all he wants is a little "handling," as the horsemen say. For twenty-five dollars a riding-master will turn him over to her as docile and supple as any of them, and, with a little time and trouble, she can do it herself for nothing.
As for the proficiency in riding requisite, it is only necessary that you should not depend upon the reins for your balance—a common habit, but one destructive of all delicacy of the horse's mouth. As the first half-dozen lessons of this course are to be given on foot, a riding-habit would only be in the way; so go to your first tête-à-tête with your new scholar in a stout walking-dress, easy in the waist, short of skirt, and of stuff that will bear scouring, for frothy lips will certainly be wiped on it. Let the hat be trim, the gloves strong and old, and the boots heavy with low heels.
The saddle should, if possible, be of the safe and easy modern pattern, with hunting-horn and low pommel on the right side—but of course any one which does not gall the horse can be made to do. It should have at least two strong girths, and must be so padded with wool as not to touch the backbone. Make sure, before putting it on, that there are no tacks loose or likely to become so in the lining.
The bridle should be a double one, with one "snaffle" or jointed bit, and one curb-bit, each having, of course, separate reins and headstalls. By-and-by you can use a single bridle, if you prefer, with whichever bit you think best suited to your hand and your horse's mouth.
The whip should be elastic and capable of giving a sharp cut (though you may never need to administer one with it), and it is convenient to have a loop of cord or ribbon by which it may be hung to the wrist. A good birch switch is better for your present purpose than the usual flimsy "lady's whip;" and if you are in
A GOOD SADDLE.
the country, it makes a good whip to begin with, as you will probably soon wish to substitute a crop.
The place of instruction should be as retired as possible, so that there may be nothing to distract the horse's attention. For the first few lessons it will be well, if you are not thoroughly at home with horses, to have a man—some friend or attendant—near at hand to give you confidence by his presence, and to come to your aid in case of necessity.