Thursday, 24 April 2008

"Horse and hound" has a romantic ring to it which "keeper and groom" lacks, yet horses and hounds, the upper class pets, were the product of the servants who trained, looked after and handled them. Same owners, same household, same time, so why was the training of horse and hound, so radically different?

A gentleman's dogs were trained to voice, hand signals and rewards by the keeper using the example of the older more experienced dogs, and were taught to recognise and respect the master. It was a relationship built on trust, as many keepers had trained the young master in handling guns, and dogs, or were training the new young master, or sometimes both. Teaching of dogs and masters was gentle, safety oriented and emphasised rewards for success.

The horses on the other hand had a lump of metal stuck in their mouth, the mouth tied shut with leather straps, metal spikes were fitted to the trainers boots to make a kick in the ribs more effective, and a whip was carried "just in case". This description is deliberately brutal, but depressingly accurate, not to inspire horror of upper class brutality, (lets face it they choose to send their kids to Eton) but to ask why training a gentle herbivore requires such force, when training a descendant of the wolf doesn't.

Safety produces an equally weird anomaly. The "best" shoots involve a bunch of upper class twits, armed to the teeth, strolling cross country firing hundreds of rounds at totally unpredictable, independent minded targets while surrounded by beaters, pickers up and other guns. Shooting down the line is considered bad form as those of your own class might be hit, but what is surprising is how few people are injured, even if we include the lower classes.

Hunting is different. No guns, one small fox outnumbered by dogs, sorry hounds, 40:1, by horses and people 200:1 (some people have two horses, some none) yet the death toll is impressive. Three day eventing, which preserves the cross country traditions of hunting, has killed 11 in the last 14 months according to Horse and Hound. Formula 1 Motor Racing with open topped cars doing 200 mph as a pack has had zero deaths since 1997. An American study says One equestrian sport where alcohol use may be common is fox hunting (Hanson, 1984). This
equestrian sport could be the most hazardous of all equestrian sports, are (as) the risk factors
usually include, in addition to alcohol use, rough terrain, a wide variety of rider experience,
fitness and age, an inclination to disregard the usual cautions because of the exuberance of
the chase, pride and the competitive nature of the sport.(Firth, 1985).
Shooting is exciting, Formula One is exciting, Dog training is exciting, horses are lethal. I suspect the lethal factor is military.
Can you imagine dog training run Sandhurst style, or worse still shooting run by junior officers, or even worse by senior officers to train the juniors. It is that fine dividing line between courage and stupidity which makes upper class horsemanship so dangerous, and the training methods so brutal, so next time you are out with a dog and a gun, working happily as a team, respecting each other, and your surroundings, think how lucky you are that the sport was developed by countrymen like Richard Jeffries, and not by Officers and Gentlemen.

1 comment:

Eamon said...

That looks like seriously good fun (pony pulling chariot along beach). Kind of reminds me of being on holidays last year and seeing kite surfers surfing on wheels on the beach ..