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himself unable to head his rival, made a dash, and seized him by the jaw to prevent his progress. Here was displayed all the keenness of rivalry which we see so frequently exhibited amongst men. This nervous energy makes these animals bear the fatigues which are so often laid upon them by the emergencies of their
The horses which carry the mails in Persia have been known to travel a distance of five hundred miles within six days; a degree of labour which must, however, generally prove fatal. Sometimes the energy of the horse has been displayed in battling with the powers of an element to which he is unaccustomed; we allude to the waters, in which he is not unfrequently exposed to perils, especially during the rapid movements of armies, when rivers must be crossed by light cavalry without bridges or pontoons. The following fact will shew to what a pitch of daring and perseverance the horse sometimes attains. A vessel was wrecked off the Cape of Good Hope, and the whole crew in danger of destruction : “ The sea ran dreadfully high, and broke over the sailors with such amazing fury, that no boat could venture to their assistance. Meanwhile, a planter determined to make a desperate effort for their deliverance; he alighted and blew a little brandy into his horse's nostrils, and again seating himself in the saddle, he instantly pushed into the midst of the breakers. At first both disappeared, but it was not long before they floated on the surface and swam up to the wreck; when, taking with him two men, each of whom held by one of his boots, he brought them safe to shore. This perilous expedition he repeated seven times, and saved fourteen lives; but on his return the eighth time, his horse being much fatigued, and meeting a most formidable wave, lost his balance and was overwhelmed in a moment. The horse swam safely to land; but his gallant rider was no more.”
The energies of horses are however, various in different animals of the species, some being capable of feats like that just recorded, whilst others are disposed to shrink from all effort, and are easily frightened by difficulties. In general the horse is better fitted for severe efforts for a short time than for long-sustained labours; and thus it happens that a man of great physical power will, in the longrun, often tire out a horse. It may be a question whether a horse could have been found capable of walking, as Captain Barclay did, a thousand miles in a thousand hours ; viz., one mile each hour. One thing would, indeed, be favourable to the animal in such a trial, which is the little sleep required by the horse. But, on the other hand, the continuity of the labour, which alone makes it formidable, would probably wear out the endurance of the highest-mettled racer.
When we consider how severely the energies of the horse are often taxed in this country, we shall not be surprised to find that few reach even the natural stage of life. Twenty years is reckoned the duration of a horse's life; but it is feared that the average period in England does not exceed seven or eight years. Under favourable circumstances and kind usage, the life of a horse may be prolonged to the age of forty; but this is an uncommon exception to the periods above named.
The introduction of railways may have relieved the horse from much of that rapid and heating work which so fatally affects the living principle in animals; but of this we are not quite certain. The coaching work has indeed departed from the great lines of traffic, but in its place has arisen a miscellaneous sort of labour, not less trying to the animal. Does not a London omnibus wear out its horses as much as any fast coaches on the Northern or Western road?
The diseases of the wild horse are probably few; but those of the tamed breeds are as numerous as the ills to which man himself is subject. It is easy to see how this happens; for the artificial state in which the animal is kept by men can scarcely fail to disorganise at times the system. High training, feeding, breaking, and severe working, are amply sufficient to irritate to a dangerous degree the sensitive nerves of the horse. An enumeration of its diseases would be more suited to the farrier's vade mecum than to the pages of this volume, and it will therefore be sufficient to state, that all forms of inflammatory affections in all parts of the body, indigestion, consumption, fatal attacks on the lungs, diseases of the skin, and other like ills, are the perpetual sources of suffering to the horse. The high nervous system of these animals exposes them to inflammation of the brain, or lockedjaw, to which paralysis may be added. The severest diseases arise, however, from the disorganisations in the circulating system, by the extreme activity of which the heart and veins are often overcharged with blood, and apoplexy is the result. Thus the horse cannot be said to have gained in health by its subjection to man, unless it is reasonable to suppose that such evils affect the wild steeds of the desert and the prairies. Here we see again that startling fact in human history, the diminution of animal happiness by contact with man, who gains glory and profit from the causes which expose animals to ills unknown in their native state.
Amongst the creatures which have been bestowed on man, few will deserve more notice than the horse, when the great history of the human race shall be written, and when the causes of the political changes of the world are enumerated. The past and the present exhibit man in union with the horse ; whether as captive or victor, both have moved together in the shock of battle, and have wrought together in the peaceful fields. What future revolutions will be effected by this combination of man with the horse, are hidden by the thick shadows which no statesman's eye can pierce; but we may be sure that, whether in strife or quiet, this confederation of man with the animal kingdom, and especially with the horse, will produce fruits worthy the notice of coming ages.
It will perhaps disappoint some readers if we conclude this chapter without a notice of the animal, different in appearance from the horse, but closely connected with it in the classifications of zoologists. The ass and the horse do not at the first view suggest ideas of a close relationship; for the graceful form and fiery action of the one, have little resemblance to the rough coat and sober staidness of the other. But these creatures, however different in appearance, are connected in fact by similarity of structure and habits. The reader who is only acquainted with the horse and ass as they are found in this country, may declare that he sees a very great difference between these animals; so great, that he can hardly believe there is any connexion between them. The ears of the ass, when compared with those of the horse, seem to prove at once a decided difference in race; but this dissimilarity is not so perceptible between the wild horse and ass, for these, in the untamed species, have a close resemblance; the ears being shorter in the ass, and those of the wild horse longer, than in the domesticated animals. In this respect, therefore, the difference is not so striking as we may have imagined between the wild varieties. The cross on the shoulders of the ass has been deemed peculiar to it, and the notions of the vulgar on this point shew at once how strictly characteristic of this animal this mark is supposed to be. Because Christ rode upon the ass, therefore, says the voice of simple tradition, it must ever bear the mark of the sacred symbol. Such easy believers will not thank us, perhaps, for assuring them that this transverse marking is not peculiar to the ass ; that the wild horse of Asia often exhibits similar lines.
The difference in the size of the two animals in their natural state is not great. Civilisation has undoubtedly treated the ass with little respect, having actually stunted instead of increasing the animal's powers. The patient thistle-eater of our village lanes and of the gipsy-camp is therefore far inferior in strength and size to his brother of the deserts. The horse, on the contrary, has developed his power more fully under the care of man, and this has increased the difference between the two species ; so that we now almost refuse to admit the possibility that the two could ever have approximated in size. In one respect there is, however, a striking contrast between the horse and the ass ; for the whole system of the former is much more excitable than that of the latter, as we may observe in the effects produced by beating upon the two animals. Where the horse is almost maddened by blows, the ass stands quietly, as if delighting in the exhibition of imperturbable obstinacy.
We must admit that the ass is not now esteemed an animal of “ honourable estate,” being reckoned but the plebeian of the equide. It was not always thus despised; for the figure of the animal was used as the symbol of ancient nations, and was connected with ideas of power and endurance. The proud Babylonian caliphs bore it on their banners, and ancient Naples did not scorn to admit the same symbol as her representative in peace and war. To liken a man to an ass in the present day is not deemed a compliment; but in primitive times princes and the heads of great families did not deem themselves disgraced by a comparison with the strong and fleet ass of the desert. This difference of feeling proves, either that the habits of our“ donkey” are very unlike those of the wild species, or that persons in general have failed to observe the true qualities of the ass. There is some truth in both suppositions ; for the tame animal does undoubtedly differ in many respects from his original; but this diversity should not lead us to the conclusion that the domesticated ass is a stupid animal. Meet it wherever we may, it shews no common acuteness, and even subtlety, both in providing for its own wants and in avoiding many evils which would irritate and wear out the proud horse. Put the ass on a barren common, having only a few scanty herbs growing on its surface ; even there this cautious creature will find a pleasant dinner, and the means of adding to its happiness. How cunningly does the donkey extricate itself from difficulties, forcing hedges, opening doors, unfastening gates, and performing sundry annoying offices of the same kind for itself or cattle enclosed with it. All this is not the peculiarity of a stupid animal; and we should therefore pause before undervaluing the talents of this longpersecuted quadruped. Sterne may not perhaps be an authority highly estimated by some of our readers, but his language respecting the ass is in perfect harmony with the preceding remarks on the intelligence of the species. “With an ass I could commune for ever," says that strange man; and though some affectation may mingle with such an expression, it conveys the proper idea of the animal's meditative look.
The history of the ass in this country cannot be traced to an ancient period ; some declare it was not found in England till the reign of Elizabeth, when, as Holinshed tersely remarks, land did yield no asses.
This is, however, in all probability, a mistake; for there are some reasons for supposing that the animal was here before that period : it was not, however, brought into this country very early ; so that, after all, the ass is not an old inhabitant of this island.
The wild ass inhabits the regions of central Asia, the Tartarian deserts, and parts of Hindostan, extending along the borders of China, and to the high districts of the Himalayas. It is distinguished by various names; being called by some naturalists the Asinus Hemionus ; by the people of its native regions, the Dshikketei, a name not very manageable by English tongues. These animals resemble the horse in their love of society, living in large herds, and appointing sentinels to give notice of danger. A species of the wild ass is found in Africa, called the quagga, which in some respects resembles the zebra, being marked on the neck and head by streaks, which are, however, of a whitish colour. Its singular name is said to be derived from its voice, the sound of which is not unlike the syllables Qua cha. This variety has much of the energy and courage of the horse ; not hesitating to attack the hyenas and wild dogs which abound in Cape Colony.
The animal called the Mule must not be quite forgotten in the close of this chapter, though it does not demand a lengthened notice. The offspring of the male ass and a mare is properly called a mule; that from the female ass and the horse being termed a hinny. It is the former animal which is so much prized by the traveller in mountainous regions, on account of that surprising sureness of foot, which enables it to travel on the very edge of the rocky precipice, where the rider's head grows dizzy with the elevation. The form of the horse predominates in the mule over that of its sire the ass ; from which, however, it generally receives the long ears and the peculiar head and tail characteristic of the Asinus vulgaris.
Thus the whole family of which we have been treating produces three animals useful for man,—the horse, the ass, and the mule; whilst the untamed varieties are principally two,- the quagga and the zebra.