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A BIT OF COMMAND AND A BIT OF ADVICE. 87
his mouth to do with his heels?” A great deal, with some horses. They say the devil is good-tempered when he is well pleased; so am I, and so is a horse ; and while he is, he goes pleasantly and quietly. Now put a too severe bit in his mouth, and, what is ten times worse, put the reins into rude hands, his mouth gets punished: this naturally irritates, and puts him out of temper: then let any little thing occur that at another time he would not have cared for, in his present temper he sets to milling away at once ; yet to take the other side of the question, I am in general an advocate for commanding bits, of course more or less so according to each horse's mouth; but I mean commanding so far as relates to that horse : but then horses thus bitted must be given up to a coachman, not a Yahoo with fists like a sledge-hammer. In single harness, particularly in breaking or driving a horse disposed to kick, he should have a very severe bit in his mouth, by means of which, if he begins his nonsense, you may bring him up at once on his haunches or nearly on his tail. This is no pleasing operation to him: it is meant as punishment, and a few times repeated will make him fear to begin again. But this must be judiciously done, and when other and gentler measures fail: a horse thus severely bitted should be driven by a man with hands as light as a feather, though, should occasion require it, as strong as those of a giant. A severe bit with such a horse also prevents that pleasing accompaniment to kicking, namely running away, a circumstance of very common occurrence.
So far as single harness is concerned, I never drive without a kicking-strap, and that not merely a makebelieve, but one that will stand ditto repeated. I
A MARE OF HONOUR.
had, as a very young one, three or four milling matches in single harness, for then I cared little what I drove ; but as I found I always came off second best in body or pocket, I took to kicking-straps, mean to continue them, and recommend my friends to do the same. I have heard it said by good judges that they sometimes make a horse kick. I will not dispute the fact : they may sometimes do so, or make him disposed to do it; but I have a vague opinion of my own that it is better a horse should attempt to do mischief half a dozen times without being able to effect it in any serious way, than he should once effectually save the coachmaker the trouble of taking a gig to pieces. I only reason from my own experience and practice. Since I used kicking-straps, I have never paid eighteenpence for repairs from kicking: yet within a few months past I drove for a year a fast mare, who would always kick if she had a chance given her, and did attempt it constantly ; but my strap always kept her down so as to prevent mischief. I was recommended to do away with it, and was assured she would then not attempt it, but I did not think proper to trust to her honour. The person who advised me to do so bought her, and she repaid his confidence by doing what I told him she would do, kicking his gig to atoms. She was not to blame; on the contrary, she was a perfectly honourable mare; she always promised, as far as dumb show could promise, that she would kick if she could, and I never knew her break her word, nor did she with him.
The guarding against the probability of getting into difficulties or danger I consider the first duty of a coachman; the knowing what is likely to lead to
PRESENCE OF MIND.
89 either, an indispensable part of his qualification to become one; and when in difficulty, a fine hand, strong nerve, a quick eye, and presence of mind are all necessary to extricate him from it. Here the coachman shows himself, and here the tyro universally fails: the latter sees the effect plain enough, but knows nothing of the cause ; consequently, he either sits still and does nothing, or if he does any thing, in all probability does what increases both the difficulty and the danger. In proof of what presence of mind and knowing what to do in an emergency will effect, I will mention what occurred to myself and a friend, who, in addition to being the best horseman in his regiment, was also by far the best coachman in that or most others. Coming down Piccadilly in bis phaeton with a pair of splendid goers, when nearly opposite the Duke of Cambridge's, in the middle of the short hill, the pole broke just behind the polehook: nineteen men out of twenty would have stopped, or attempted the impossibility of stopping the carriage, and a smash must have in that case been the inevitable consequence: but no; quick as his thought could have suggested the manoeuvre, he whirled his horses round, and we were quietly and safely sitting with our faces up-hill in a moment.
A nearly similar accident happened to myself. I was driving, in fact breaking, a pair of thorough-bred ones to harness, four and five years old, own brothers; they had both become perfectly handy and were perfectly good tempered, but from youth, high blood, and high condition, ready to avail themselves of any excuse for a lark. I had driven them all about a town perfectly well and all right, till, coming down a hilly street, up went my pole nearly to their
TOO NEAR THE POLE. ears, my toe-board nearly coming on their rumps. I now found something was all wrong, and guessed the cause. A moment, and a milling bout must have been the consequence. I struck them both sharply; off they went like two startled antelopes, down the hill at about eighteen miles an hour, feather-edging every thing we passed, I expecting to give something an insider: but we escaped ; the opposite hill ascending enabled me to pull up, when I found, sure enough, the pole-pin had been left out. Which looked the most frightened when we stopped I know not, myself, the man behind, or the horses: I only know that I felt frightened enough for all four, and, judging by the screams as we came along, a good many others were frightened too.
I have hitherto merely confined my observations to amateur drivers : let us now look a little to those who engage themselves as hired coachmen. Among these, the mail and fast-coach coachman takes (or I ought to say took), and deservedly, the first place. Among these, from the year (we will say about) 1790 to 1840, we could point out many men, who, ranking in point of family and education as unquestionable gentlemen, have been induced, some by adverse circumstances, and many by imprudence, to seek a livelihood by driving coaches. And here let me make some remarks on this subject. That the situation of a stage-coachman cannot in any way be consonant with the feelings of a gentleman, is a matter upon which there cannot be two opinions among rational men. The greater then the merit in the few who have had resolution enough to adopt this mode of providing for themselves or families, in preference to
TIMES PAST AND PRESENT.
despicably living in idleness, trusting to eleemosynary assistance from friends, or being guilty of acts that, if not in law, at least in morality, amount to neither more nor less than those of the common swindler. I can instance the case of one of the most gentlemanlike men I know. He was in difficulties; he took a coach, showed himself tip top as a coachman while on his box, and preserved the perfect manners of a gentleman when off. He is since married, enjoys an income of nine hundred a-year, and has every prospect of shortly coming into a title, with a property of fifteen thousand. I sincerely wish his imprudences had never laid him open to charges of a less commendable nature than driving a coach. I consider his doing the latter as a redeeming clause in his favour when opposed to the former. There can be no doubt the Four-in-Hand Club, and the mania for driving, first gave that impetus to coaching that eventually brought it to the zenith of its glory—“ but all its glory's past.” Sixty years since, the post-boy was considered as holding a superior station to the stage-coachman, and was in fact superior in his manners and address to the other. This naturally followed from his having more intercourse with gentlemen, who, in those days, would as soon have thought of travelling by the road-waggon as by the stage-coach; consequently the persons employed to drive coaches were the red-faced burly ginand-beer drinking animal we see represented in some old prints; while the post-boy was a smart, knowing, intelligent fellow, and a complete coxcomb in his way: when his horses became too bad for his use, they were turned over to the coach. The speed, as it was then thought, of the mail-coaches first induced