Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/487

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471
HORSES AND THEIR FEET

into contact with hard material, and that the horse can be best fitted for his work by having his feet smeared with tar, beeswax, or tallow, and by resting always on a heap of litter in the stable. It would be of little use to cite Lord Pembroke as declaring that “the constant use of litter makes the feet tender and causes swelled legs; moreover, it renders the animals delicate. Swelled legs may be frequently reduced to their proper natural size by taking away the litter only, which, in some stables, where ignorant grooms and farriers govern, would be a great saving of bleeding and physic, besides straw. . . . I have seen,” he adds, “by repeated experiments, legs swell and unswell by leaving litter or taking it away, like mercury in a weather-glass”; and his experience is confirmed by the general condition of troopers’ horses, in contrast with those of their officers, which are bedded down all day.

But, if there are evils for which grooms are in large measure directly responsible and the abolition of which they would beyond doubt stoutly resist, there are others in which masters are not less blameworthy than their men, and from which the public generally as well as the animals are constant sufferers. The work of the horse is that of dragging and carrying; and the aim of the owner should be the accomplishment of this work with the utmost possible sureness and with the fewest accidents. Serious and fatal injuries may be the result of stumblings and slippings not less than of actual falls; and the premature wearing out of horses by excessive straining of their sinews and muscles is a direct pecuniary loss to the owners, although few of them seem to realize the true significance of the fact. These evils are to be seen everywhere, and they affect horses kept for the purpose of pleasure and ostentation almost as much as those which spend their days in a round of monotonous drudgery. A horse should not be obliged to work in going down a hill; but, in fact, they are subject to the severest strain just when they ought to have none, if they are harnessed to springless carts or wagons without breaks. Farm-horses suffer with terrible severity from this cause; but the horses used in carrying trades and by railway companies undergo a more cruel ordeal. Improvements in the break-power of wagons used on roads, which might greatly lessen the mischief, are not made, and hence the horses are seldom free from diseases more or less serious, which may be traced directly to constant slipping and shaking over slippery pavements. Among ignorant owners, blind to their own interests, there is an impression that “the work which kills one horse will bring in money enough to buy another”; but experience has sufficiently shown the fallacy of this theory, whether the overtaxed slave be a horse or a human being. In towns and cities the roads are, and must be, paved, and the pavings at present are variously of stone, wood, or asphalt, where the road is not macadamized. These pavements have, it would seem, each its own peculiar dangers for the horses which use them; and each has thus become a fruitful source of controversy. If any