Horsemanship for Women/Part 1/Lesson 14

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These are treated of by some writers as distinct, the canter being called "purely artificial;" but it will be convenient and sufficiently accurate for our purpose to take them up together and to consider the canter as what it in fact is—an improved, and not an "artificial," gait. Horses undoubtedly often canter in a rude way without being taught, as may be seen often in the field, and not seldom in harness, and you will probably have little trouble in getting your horse to do the same. It is this natural canter which is called by country people the "lope." It is of importance, however, that your horse should not change his gait without orders, no matter how hard pressed, this being especially true if he is to be driven as well as ridden. The signal to canter should, therefore, be such as can be given only from the saddle. It is well not to use the whip for the purpose, but to try by raising the bridle to lift the forehand, while stimulating at the same time with the heel. Should he persist in trotting, do not get vexed or discouraged, for he is only resisting temptation to
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do what he has expressly been taught not to do; but continue your incitements, raising the bridle-hand firmly at every stride till you have got him fairly off his feet into a gallop, when you will soothe his nerves by patting and praising him, and gradually calm him down into a canter, lifting your hand at every stride to prevent his relapsing into a trot. When he will canter promptly at the signal, you will get him "light in hand" before giving it; then make him start without thrusting out his nose, and keep him light by the means already detailed in the lesson on the trot. Next you will bring his haunches forward under him, which is the great point, and increase the brilliancy of his action by stimulating him with heel and whip, while at each step you restrain him by a gentle pull, so that he will not spring forward so far as he intended. Persevere until he will canter as slowly as he would walk. Your best guide will be to observe the action of some well- trained and well-ridden horse, and to endeavor to obtain the same in yours.

To change the leading foot in cantering is, however, a more difficult matter, and we will postpone the consideration of it until his education is a little farther advanced. In the mean time you will avoid turning a sharp corner at a canter.

The hand-gallop is simply a moderate gallop in which the ear observes three beats,

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as in the canter, but swifter; while in the extended gallop it hears but two,

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though given with a sort of rattle, which shows that neither the fore nor the hind feet strike the ground exactly together, as they do in leaping.

Keep to the left, as the law directs, is an admonition on bridges and other thoroughfares in England which has often excited the surprise of Americans, very likely eliciting some such comment as "How stupid!" "How perfectly ridiculous!" Yet for many centuries it was really the only safe way to turn, whether on foot or on horseback, and as all our fashions of riding and driving are based upon it, it is hard to see why the custom should have changed in this country. In the olden time, when people went about principally on horseback, when roads were lonely and footpads plenty, it would have been "perfectly ridiculous" for a man to turn to the right and expose his defenceless bridle-arm to a blow from a bludgeon or slash from a hanger. Much more would it have been so had he a lady under his care, who would thus be left in the very front of danger, whether it might be of robbery from highwaymen, of insult from roistering riders, or of simple injury from passing vehicles. At the present day and in this country the danger last mentioned is the only one really to be feared, and it is so considerable that the question is often raised whether a lady be not safer at the right of her cavalier; but the still greater danger in this case of her being crushed between the horses, in case of either one springing suddenly towards the other, has caused it thus far to be decided in the negative. There is also always a possibility—slight, doubtless—of a lady's getting kicked or bitten when on the right; and it might be difficult for her companion, without risk to her limbs, to seize her horse by the head should he become refractory. In case of its becoming absolutely necessary to take a terrified or exhausted rider off of an unmanageable horse, there would probably be time for her escort to cross behind her and place himself at her left hand.

Now that we are on the subject, we may give a word of caution as to some other dangers of the road. Among those to the rider, the most common is shying; but vigilance—and perpetual vigilance will be necessary—will reduce this to the rank of simple annoyance. Get your horse past the alarming object somehow, even if he has to be led; get him up to it if you can, and then pat and praise him; never let him hurry off after passing it; never whip him afterwards.

Rearing is less common than shying, but more dangerous from the risk of pulling the horse over backward. To rear he must, of course, spring up with the fore-legs, and if his intention can be divined in time it may perhaps be frustrated by a smart stroke down the shoulder; but an active animal is usually up before his rider has had time to think, and the question is how to come safe down again. To this end, on no account pull on the bit, but, without letting go the rein, grasp a thick lock of the mane and hold yourself with it as close to the neck as possible—which will throw your weight in the best place, and prepare you to leap down, should it be necessary. If you have kept perfectly calm, so that the horse has not suspected that you were frightened, he will doubtless come down on his feet, and very likely may not rear again. If, however, you feel his hind-legs sink under him, he will be intending to throw himself down, and you must jump down instantly to avoid getting caught under the saddle.

Kicking, when coming unexpectedly, is more likely than rearing to unseat the rider. If you withstand the first assault, however, get the horse's head up by an energetic use of the bit, and look out that he does not get it down again. It is needless to say that should either of the last two tricks become a habit, it will make the horse quite unfit for a lady's use.

If your horse is restless and disposed to jump, or perhaps run, when horses or vehicles rapidly approach him from behind, occupy his attention by moving the bit a little from side to side in his mouth.

Running away is undoubtedly serious business, but all authorities agree that the safest plan is to let the horse run, if there is room, and that the best lesson for him is to make him continue running after he wishes to stop. A steady pull on the bit is quite useless, and so is any cry of "Whoa! whoa!" at first. But after a little the bit should be vigorously sawed, so as to sway the head from side to side if possible, and thus confuse him, while you speak to him in a commanding tone.

The dangers to the horse upon the road, however, are greater and more numerous than to yourself, but they may almost all be averted by care and watchfulness on your part. Beware of a fast pace on hard macadam; beware of loose stones, which may bruise the frog or cause a tedious sprain; beware of food, water, above all, of currents of air when he is warm.