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“SUAVITER IN MODo, FORTITER IN RE.” 147
arrive at the happy medium. We may have got nearer to what we want; but the produce may be too high or too low, may still have too much of the glare and dash of the one parent, or too much of the want of it of the other. We must now cross again, and persevere till we arrive at perfection, or near it. This, it will be perceived, is not come at in one or two seasons; and, in a general way, I think I shall be found somewhat near the mark when I said that in about four seasons I should like to take a peep at a newly organised pack; and then I make the proviso, that a head of the right sort has been at work for them; if not, commend me to two or three good terriers in a barn full of rats: I should here at all events see some description of sport carried on as it ought to be. Let me add another thing; I know of few situations a man can be placed in to call forth all the attributes of a perfect gentleman so much as being the master of fox-hounds: he has so many interests to consult — so many opinions (and many of them ridiculous ones) to listen to — often so much illbreeding in the field to bear—so many tempers to conciliate—that nothing but the greatest urbanity of manner, added to steady determination, can carry him through; and this even after he has brought his pack to be all but faultless. I hope my readers will now agree with me, that to manage a pack of foxhounds, requires more head than those who think it does not probably possess. We now see weekly so many steeple-chases advertised, that we may be led to the inference that either it requires very little or no head to ride one, or that
the English have become all at once more than usually
148 A DEGENERATE RACE.
enlightened. Neither of these premises are, however, the fact, though the increased number of steepleraces is. That numbers of persons do now ride in these races is quite clear; so numbers ride in the Park; yet in both these cases I could pick out a few simple ones. To ride a steeple-chase well, like doing every thing else well, certainly requires considerable skill; but I cannot consider it requires by many degrees the same skill as riding a flat race. In the latter case, horses are often so very equally matched that the best jockey is (barring unforeseen circumstances) all but sure to win: if the talents of two jockeys are very disproportioned, I should say the thing was certain. Now in a steeple-race the thing is not drawn so fine. Many horses start for a steeplerace, the owners and riders of which perfectly well know, that unless some accident or mistake, or not happening to be in their best form on that day, occurs to some two or three others' horses, their own has no earthly chance: but such accidents do occur, and their horse is let go, hoping (charitably one would say) that some of these accidents will overtake the favourites. When any of these races end in a close thing, the skill of the jockey can hardly be shown: both horses are so beat that it is only how far whip and spur and lasting may enable one poor brute to canter in before the other. This is my objection to making steeple-races four miles: it always produces a long tailing business, occasions serious accidents, broken backs and bones, and ends in no race at all.
In Ireland, at Ashbourne, and other two-mile steeple-races, I have seen six or seven horses top the last fence nearly abreast at something like a racing pace, and really an interesting struggle take place— “GOOD NIGHT – GOOD NIGHT, AND Is IT so?” 149
horses blown I will allow, but not worn out by fatigue. Here real jockeyship is available: the horse has something left in him for the jockey to have recourse to, and head and hands are of importance. A considerable portion of judgment and knowledge of a horse's particular powers are quite requisite in a steeple-race: numbers of those who do ride think little about this; consequently, they would be beat on very superior horses by first-rate riders on bad ones. Some horses, for instance, have extraordinary powers throughdirt. I have generally found such horses go well up and down hill. At this game they will go a pace that would choke many others. These horses can generally go nearly the same pace from end to end; whereas in deep soil the more brilliant and faster horse has to be nursed, and must trust to speed when he gets on galloping ground. Some horses require driving at their fences; others, holding hard: some like to go at them, and will do so, in spite of you, like a steamengine; others would be frightened if rode at them in this way: some horses, like old Vivian, will jump though dead tired : others will only do so (with any safety) when quite fresh (and mighty pleasant animals the latter are to ride four miles). Many horses, if a little blown, by taking a pull at them will recover, while others will not, but, if once distressed, put on their night-caps, and desire you to “call on them to-morrow.” Geldings I have generally found recover wind sooner than stallions; that is, when in hunting condition : when drawn fine as race-horses, the difference between them is trifling, if any. All these things must be, and are, attended to when we put a firstrate man up to ride. He has a certain stock of animal
power given him at starting, and his good judgment
150 “BE WISE IN TIME.”
teaches him how to husband it, so as to keep the most he can to bring him home again: but he must have a head to think and hands to do it; and as for heels, he will want a little of them too; but, if an artist, he will never use them improperly or when he can do without them. I saw some very proper remarks made lately in a Sporting Journal on the unfairness of the ground marked out for a steeple-chase. Now, I know many of our first-rate riders: I wish them well; and, in proof of this, tell them that if they break all their necks it serves them right. These are all valuable men to the sporting world; many of them valuable members of society: What the d–l business have they to go risking their necks over improper and unfair courses to please the gaping multitude, or in obedience to the wishes of men who would not themselves ride over half the course for all the land it covered 2 If the first-rate riders were all to join and object to unfair courses, they would show their good sense, and the thing would be better arranged. Ordinary hunting fences are dangerous enough at the pace they are forced to ride at them; but to ask men to ride at fences made dangerous purposely, and that at a part of the race when horses are beat, is most unfair, unsportsmanlike, selfish, and cruel. If they fancy that an objection on their parts would lay them open to a charge of fear, I would ask, would any man doubt the courage of such men as the Marquis of Anglesey, Lord Ponsonby, or Colonel Wyndham, should either or all of these decline a duel with muskets at six paces? Men of their established courage might refuse to face a pop-gun if they chose: so might our known steeple-chase riders refuse to break their bones
A SPORTING JURY. 151
for the gratification of the public. Would any man suppose Powell, Oliver, M'Donough, and many others, did it through fear, or from any other motive than a duty they really owe to themselves, their families, and friends 2 I suspect those gentlemen who so obligingly lay out these break-neck courses would hang back a little, if, in case of accident, they were called on to support a man crippled through their kindness. If I had the laying out steeple-race courses, I would on all occasions call in, say five known steeple-chase riders who were not to ride in that particular race, and take the majority of their opinions as to the fairness of the course, or of any particular fence in it. This would set the thing to rights. Nor do I consider any man ought to be allowed to mark out a course unless he be a rider himself, or would be willing to ride over it. I have heard many masters order their servants to ride a horse at a fence they dare not attempt themselves: this may be fair enough, if their fear arises from the apprehension of tumbling off; but to ask a servant to ride at a place we think too dangerous in itself to risk our own necks at, is, I humbly conceive, neither more nor less than a cowardly stretch of power. If I had repeatedly put a horse at a fence, and could not get him to face it, and Oliver happened to be by, I might ask him (knowing him a better horseman than myself) to see what he could do. This would be all fair, and most probably he would succeed: at all events, I will answer for him he would with perfect good humour try. Half the ordinary run of men in riding at fences are forced to occupy their attention in keeping their seats: this gives them quite enough to do; consequently, steadying their horse in going to his fence,