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SPREES — GOOD, BETTER, AND BEST.
167 work. Without this, I must say I consider a great deal of the zest, anxiety, and beauty of hunting is lost; that is, to a man who enjoys seeing hounds, and seeing them hunt; and dearly I love a fox-hound.
If I was asked, whether I did not consider fifty men well mounted setting each other across a certain distance of country a good spree, I should of course say it was; and if there were no hounds to be got at, I should join in it. Doing this with a drag would be a far better spree; and really if hounds after a fox are only to race across country, it brings hunting merely to spree the third and best.
I have, in speaking of the pace hounds now go, made use of the terms now and now-a-days : in doing so, I mean it in reference to what I have heard they did perhaps fifty years ago; for I am not aware they go faster than they always have gone since I first hunted. I am quite clear that I never saw as good real hunting as my ancestors did. I have seen bolder and better riding most decidedly: but as to hunting, I have seen more of that in one week's cub-hunting than in a whole season's regular hunting; and I fancy I really do know what hunting means. At all events, I was blooded when only seven years old. It may be said that practice never improves some people: this may be my case ; if it is, I can't help it.
Let us suppose hounds to have been streaming away a burst of four or five miles, have come to a check, and the Huntsman not at the moment up with them. On his getting to them, it would be of the first importance to him to know what hound or hounds were leading, or rather had been. If it were some particular hounds, he would know to all but a certainty that so far his fox had come; and on
“ MORGAN RATTLER.” making a cast forward, they would hit it off again. If, on the contrary, the leading hounds were wildish ones, and such as (when assisted by wild riders) he could not quite trust, he would then have to judge for himself, and then head comes in request. Now I will venture to say, that ask three-fourths of the Field as to which or what hounds had brought on the scent to a given spot, they had no more looked at the hounds than they had at the Heavens. How should they? They had been attending to their horses, looking how Lord Sucha-one and the Messrs. So-and-so went: this had given them plenty of work for head, hands, and heels with some perhaps the two latter having been most employed. As to the hounds, whether they had been running riot, heel, or hare, they knew not, and cared not so long as they kept going. Are such fox-hunters ? No; but I will mention an anecdote of one who was.
I was out with the Old Berkeley; the hounds had been going a killing pace, the Huntsman beat. Mr. M—, as bold a rider as ever faced a fence, was, as usual, up with them. We came to a check : “ for God's sake, hold hard !” cries M—: “give them room.” Several hounds spoke : not a word of encouragement from M-. At last a couple on the other side of the hedge opened. “Yoicks, Rival and Rory!” cries M—; "that's it.” Over he went with a screech that made the country ring again, capping them on, and riding like mad. In a few fields we ran in to our fox. .... Who-whoop! This was something like the thing, and no mistake!
And now as to pace so far as it relates to horses. “ It is the pace that kills," said Meynell, and he was right. I know what fast, very fast horses are, my weight enabling me to ride thoroughbred ones: but THE SPUR OF THE MOMENT.
169 even blood is to be distressed, and I must say I always feel that when distress comes on, pleasure goes off. Some do not think so; but of such perhaps the less we say the better.
Having hitherto complimented the head and hands quite sufficiently, I am quite ready to allow the heels their fair share; and so useful do I think them, when controlled by the head and acting in concert with the hands, that when on horseback I consider they should in most cases have a pair of spurs attached to them. The only difference of opinion between myself and some others of their utility consists in this : they begin to use them most when I consider they ought not to be used at all, namely, when their horse is beat. I consider spurs should be worn for more reasons than I shall now specify: but of these I will mention a few. Many horses, I think indeed the generality of them, go livelier and safer when they are aware we have spurs on: it keeps them on the qui vive, and frequently prevents them attempting to do wrong, knowing we have so ready a mode of punishment at hand, or rather at heel. If we want an unlooked-for and momentary exertion made, nothing produces it like the spurs. If a horse becomes refractory, we probably (nay certainly) want both hands for our reins: what could we do in this case without spurs ? With a horse which is apt to swerve at his fences, we cannot so well keep him straight with one hand while we use the whip with the other: here the spurs must come into use, and in such a case, cork him tight, and that with a pair of Latchford's best. Still this would not do in all cases. I can mention one. · I had a mare, as fine a fencer as ever was ridden, but a little nervous in facing any thing
A VERY SENSIBLE MARE. that looked unusually big and thick. I could always tell a hundred yards before I came to it if she was frightened. In this case I just took a gentle pull at her, spoke to her, or gave her a pat on the neck, and over she went to a certainty. “Instead of this," but touch her with a spur, she would stop dead, and kick a town down. For this reason I never rode her with spurs. This is, however, a case of rare occurrence, though some race-horses will do nothing if they know you have spurs on, and are forced to be ridden without. The mare I allude to had several times sent her late master over her head: she was always a little fidgety on being mounted; but after I had given her a gentle kick or two with my heels, and she found no spurs were in the case, she became perfectly quiet, and one of the pleasantest hunters living.
Spurs are at times to be made the means of assisting a horse, in deep ground particularly: bring your horse's nose a little closer to his chest, touch him lightly with the spurs, and he collects himself directly, shortens his stride, and gets through dirt with half . the labour he would otherwise do. In short, spurs judiciously used are a hint to a horse as to what we want him to do, a means of making him do it, and a very proper and severe punishment when he refuses to do this, or at all events to try. But as I think we ought not to wish him to go when in a state unfit to go, though I do not presume to dictate to others, I shall continue my old practice of keeping my spurs quiet just when many others begin making the most use of theirs. I may be wrong, but I am sure my horses have never thought so; and as I always make them do what is right to please me, I think it but fair
171 I should sometimes do what is just to please them, or, to say the least, not to abuse them.
I recollect reading of some student, having an author to translate whose writing was somewhat difficult to turn into English from his peculiar idioms; so whenever he came to a passage he could not perfectly comprehend, he always made a marginal note to this effect, “ matière embrouillé.” I shall esteem myself particularly favoured, if, on reading these sheets of “HEADS, HANDS, AND HEELS," the Reader does not make the same note on the whole : but different ideas have struck me as I got along, and in my harumscarum omnium gatherum way I have traversed a much wider field than I ever contemplated entering. Having, however, got so far in the mire, I may as well plunge a little farther, and try to get out with as little detriment to myself or the patience of the Reader as I possibly can.
I have ventured my crude ideas on colt-breeders, breakers, trainers, jockeys, stable-boys, huntsmen, gentlemen, and I know not who besides—a something about racing, and hounds and hunting, and also of riding hunting, which I know is rather a dangerous subject to treat upon : but as I am seldom personal in my remarks, I trust I as seldom give offence; and this emboldens me, after having ventured some hints on riding, to risk one more on the subject of the kind of horse to ride-I mean with hounds.
From the days when men went hunting on demipeak saddles, not merely with cruppers, but a light breeching, their horses' tails in a club, and a large single-headed curb bit, to the year 1750— when our good grandpapas went out at four in the morning