The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 25

Stable Hartshorn — How to Manage a Horse on a Journey — Your Best Friend

Of one thing I am certain, that the reader must be much delighted with the wholesome smell of the stable, with which many of these pages are redolent; what a contrast to the sickly odours exhaled from those of some of my contemporaries, especially of those who pretend to be of the highly fashionable class, and who treat of reception-rooms, well may they be styled so, in which dukes, duchesses, earls, countesses, archbishops, bishops, mayors, mayoresses — not forgetting the writers themselves, both male and female — congregate and press upon one another; how cheering, how refreshing, after having been nearly knocked down with such an atmosphere, to come in contact with genuine stable hartshorn. Oh! the reader shall have yet more of the stable, and of that old ostler, for which he or she will doubtless exclaim, ‘Much obliged!’— and lest I should forget to perform my promise, the reader shall have it now.

I shall never forget an harangue from the mouth of the old man, which I listened to one warm evening as he and I sat on the threshold of the stable, after having attended to some of the wants of a batch of coach-horses. It related to the manner in which a gentleman should take care of his horse and self, whilst engaged in a journey on horseback, and was addressed to myself, on the supposition of my one day coming to an estate, and of course becoming a gentleman.

‘When you are a gentleman,’ said he, ‘should you ever wish to take a journey on a horse of your own, and you could not have a much better than the one you have here eating its fill in the box yonder — I wonder by-the-by, how you ever came by it — you can’t do better than follow the advice I am about to give you, both with respect to your animal and yourself. Before you start, merely give your horse a couple of handfuls of corn, and a little water, somewhat under a quart, and if you drink a pint of water yourself out of the pail, you will feel all the better during the whole day; then you may walk and trot your animal for about ten miles, till you come to some nice inn, where you may get down and see your horse led into a nice stall, telling the ostler not to feed him till you come. If the ostler happens to be a dog-fancier, and has an English terrier dog like that of mine there, say what a nice dog it is, and praise its black and tawn; and if he does not happen to be a dog-fancier, ask him how he’s getting on, and whether he ever knew worse times; that kind of thing will please the ostler, and he will let you do just what you please with your own horse, and when your back is turned, he’ll say to his comrades what a nice gentleman you are, and how he thinks he has seen you before; then go and sit down to breakfast, and before you have finished breakfast, get up and go and give your horse a feed of corn, chat with the ostler two or three minutes till your horse has taken the shine out of his corn, which will prevent the ostler taking any of it away when your back is turned, for such things are sometimes done — not that I ever did such a thing myself when I was at the inn at Hounslow. Oh, dear me, no! Then go and finish your breakfast, and when you have finished your breakfast and called for the newspaper, go and water your horse, letting him have about one pailful, then give him another feed of corn, and enter into discourse with the ostler about bull-baiting, the prime minister, and the like; and when your horse has once more taken the shine out of his corn, go back to your room and your newspaper — and I hope for your sake it may be the “Globe,” for that’s the best paper going — then pull the bell-rope and order in your bill, which you will pay without counting it up — supposing you to be a gentleman. Give the waiter sixpence, and order out your horse, and when your horse is out, pay for the corn, and give the ostler a shilling, then mount your horse and walk him gently for five miles; and whilst you are walking him in this manner, it may be as well to tell you to take care that you do not let him down and smash his knees, more especially if the road be a particularly good one, for it is not at a desperate hiverman 144 pace, and over very bad roads, that a horse tumbles and smashes his knees, but on your particularly nice road, when the horse is going gently and lazily, and is half asleep, like the gemman on his back; well, at the end of the five miles, when the horse has digested his food, and is all right, you may begin to push your horse on, trotting him a mile at a heat, and then walking him a quarter of a one, that his wind may be not distressed; and you may go on in that manner for thirty miles, never galloping of course, for none but fools or hivermen ever gallop horses on roads; and at the end of that distance you may stop at some other nice inn for dinner. I say, when your horse is led into the stable, after that same thirty miles trotting and walking, don’t let the saddle be whisked off at once, for if you do your horse will have such a sore back as will frighten you, but let your saddle remain on your horse’s back, with the girths loosened, till after his next feed of corn, and be sure that he has no corn, much less water, till after a long hour and more; after he is fed he may be watered to the tune of half a pail, and then the ostler can give him a regular rub down; you may then sit down to dinner, and when you have dined get up and see to your horse as you did after breakfast, in fact you must do much after the same fashion you did at t’other inn; see to your horse, and by no means disoblige the ostler. So when you have seen to your horse a second time, you will sit down to your bottle of wine — supposing you to be a gentleman — and after you have finished it, and your argument about the corn-laws with any commercial gentleman who happens to be in the room, you may mount your horse again — not forgetting to do the proper thing to the waiter and ostler; you may mount your horse again and ride him, as you did before, for about five-and-twenty miles, at the end of which you may put up for the night after a very fair day’s journey, for no gentleman — supposing he weighs sixteen stone, as I suppose you will by the time you become a gentleman — ought to ride a horse more than sixty-five miles in one day, provided he has any regard for his horse’s back, or his own either. See to your horse at night, and have him well rubbed down. The next day you may ride your horse forty miles just as you please, but never foolishly, and those forty miles will bring you to your journey’s end, unless your journey be a plaguy long one, and if so, never ride your horse more than five-and-thirty miles a day, always, however, seeing him well fed, and taking more care of him than yourself; which is but right and reasonable, seeing as how the horse is the best animal of the two.

‘When you are a gentleman,’ said he, after a pause, ‘the first thing you must think about is to provide yourself with a good horse for your own particular riding; you will, perhaps, keep a coach and pair, but they will be less your own than your lady’s, should you have one, and your young gentry, should you have any; or, if you have neither, for madam, your housekeeper, and the upper female servants; so you need trouble your head less about them, though, of course, you would not like to pay away your money for screws; but be sure you get a good horse for your own riding; and that you may have a good chance of having a good one, buy one that’s young and has plenty of belly — a little more than the one has which you now have, though you are not yet a gentleman; you will, of course, look to his head, his withers, legs and other points, but never buy a horse at any price that has not plenty of belly, no horse that has not belly is ever a good feeder, and a horse that ain’t a good feeder can’t be a good horse; never buy a horse that is drawn up in the belly behind, a horse of that description can’t feed, and can never carry sixteen stone.

‘So when you have got such a horse be proud of it — as I dare say you are of the one you have now — and wherever you go swear there ain’t another to match it in the country, and if anybody gives you the lie, take him by the nose and tweak it off, just as you would do if anybody were to speak ill of your lady, or, for want of her, of your housekeeper. Take care of your horse as you would of the apple of your eye — I am sure I would, if I were a gentleman, which I don’t ever expect to be, and hardly wish, seeing as how I am sixty-nine, and am rather too old to ride — yes, cherish and take care of your horse as perhaps the best friend you have in the world; for, after all, who will carry you through thick and thin as your horse will? not your gentlemen friends, I warrant, nor your housekeeper, nor your upper servants, male or female; perhaps your lady would, that is, if she is a wopper, and one of the right sort; the others would be more likely to take up mud and pelt you with it, provided they saw you in trouble, than to help you. So take care of your horse, and feed him every day with your own hands; give him three-quarters of a peck of corn each day, mixed up with a little hay-chaff, and allow him besides one hundred weight of hay in the course of the week; some say that the hay should be hardland hay, because it is wholesomest, but I say, let it be clover hay, because the horse likes it best; give him through summer and winter, once a week, a pailful of bran mash, cold in summer and in winter hot; ride him gently about the neighbourhood every day, by which means you will give exercise to yourself and horse, and, moreover, have the satisfaction of exhibiting yourself and your horse to advantage, and hearing, perhaps, the men say what a fine horse, and the ladies saying what a fine man: never let your groom mount your horse, as it is ten to one, if you do, your groom will be wishing to show off before company, and will fling your horse down. I was groom to a gemman before I went to the inn at Hounslow, and flung him a horse down worth ninety guineas, by endeavouring to show off before some ladies that I met on the road. Turn your horse out to grass throughout May and the first part of June, for then the grass is sweetest, and the flies don’t sting so bad as they do later in summer; afterwards merely turn him out occasionally in the swale of the morn and the evening; after September the grass is good for little, lash and sour at best; every horse should go out to grass, if not his blood becomes full of greasy humours, and his wind is apt to become affected, but he ought to be kept as much as possible from the heat and flies, always got up at night, and never turned out late in the year — Lord! if I had always such a nice attentive person to listen to me as you are, I could go on talking about ‘orses to the end of time.’

144 I.e., highwayman.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:18