Travelling In The Bush
12 December 1853
For journeys most men prefer horseback, as the indifference of our colonial Government to internal communication leaves the highways to nature, who is herself no savior, but makes fully as good roads, if let alone, as the Maitland Road Trust, so gigs or chaises are only to be thought of. Some choose to ride slow and steady, so never urge beyond a walk all day long.
These, let me tell you, get over a long journey in less time than many imagine, for steady drops wear the hardest stones. A horse that will walk you five miles an hour is just the steed for going over multitudes of miles without losing condition. Then comes your jog-trotting, and your fast trotting nags - your cantering and galloping prads, all of which recommend themselves to riders according to their various tastes or their several temperaments.
"The righteous man regardeth the life of his beast," saith the writer of wise sayings. In that view the list of righteous men will not exhibit a full muster of Australians, for, certes, there are few countries where the valuable horse is harder ridden, "without remorse or ruth," than in these colonies.
Ninety miles in twelve hours have been repeatedly done, without slackening girth or taking off bridle - without a minute's rest or a pound of provender. We have known first-rate English hacks travel 120 miles over hard and level roads in a given time, but their stages and feeds were regular at every 20 or 30 miles, and they could thus continue for three or four days.
But what would the hardest riding English gentleman think of 70 or 80 miles a day for a whole week, when, the overlashed animal only was allowed an half hour during the day to feed on a patch of green grass, and after completing his day's work, is turned out in hobbles all night all night, to pick up a miserable supper where the sheep have left nought except spongy, blady grass, and rough tufts of Australian juncies.
It is maintained, that no horse can perform more than 30 or 40 miles a day with ease. If required to do beyond these distances, then the horses must sustain more or less injury according to their treatment and stamina. Many horses lose their powers, and become quite enfeebled by a few days of over-exertion. In speedy travelling, a horse will be enabled to continue longer untired, if he can alternate by walking and trotting, or trotting and galloping in turns.
Other bundles of muscles are brought into play, which, for a time, relieve those which, had been previously in action, and the saddle-sick rider feels also relief from some such reciprocal motions. For endurance, an Australian might match some remaining veterans of our old stock against any old English hacks ever foaled. Besides good condition, and fullness of hard food, the British horses have the benefits of sound and generally level roads.
Many of the Australian steeds know not how to cat a feed of oats or maize when put before them. In addition, they may proceed a whole day without once feeling sound ground under their feet. Sandy, muddy, or adhesive clay soils fatigue the horse and strain the tendons of his legs. Up one hill side, down the other; rude rocks; swamps, fetlock deep, try the energies of the best - and none excepting the best will long endure these severe trials.
Men of feeling never start at a galloping pace, nor come in at the end of a journey with their horses all in a lather. The first mile or two should always be walked (unless in cases of sheer necessity; especially in hot weather. As the pace quickens he may be indulged with a few mouthfuls of water at the tenth or twelfth mile. It is also refreshing for a horse's hoofs to walk him into the water pastern deep, for a minute or less.
If hot, he ought not to be allowed more than a quart of cold water to drink at once, for fear of inducing internal inflammation; although in this colony such disease rarely happens, which rarity is ascribed to the usual warmth of the pools and lagoons in this eastern clime. Every steed, on a day's moderate journey, ought to be fed once at least. Oats may at times be obtained in New England, but maize most frequently.
Hay, travelers generally find of bad quality, and it often happens that if you can get hay or straw, there is no corn; if corn then no provender, and occasionally nor one nor the other.
In travelling up hill, every rider of humanity will ease his horse to the top of any steep, and lead him down the de- scent. A few riders may be found who lead both up and down the hill. Their tender heartedness in this respect commands our highest esteem, and the noble animals will go on afterwards far better for such kind considerations.
Nothing shakes a horse more than galloping down a steep slope; no exercise will strain the tendons of his fore legs sooner. In ascending the levers of his hind legs are the propelling powers and these, when overstrained, originate splints, sprains, wind galls, and various other maladies to which hard ridden horses are liable.
Moderation in all these matters cannot be too highly recommended. My own practice during summer may be thus described. Up by five a.m., start on or before six, and over 20 miles in four hours.
The saddle girths are slackened, half the quantum of water given soon after the steed is unsaddled, and rubbed down; if neither hay nor corn can be had, and the day is warm, turn on to the best grass, where the animal feeds for four hours, or rests while his master partakes of breakfast and a comfortable sleep; by two p.m. both man and horse are ready as well as able to get over twenty miles farther, with ease to each.
At night, the foot and legs are well washed with warm water, and the whole body smartly rubbed down, either with my own hands or under my own eyes - no trusting for feeding or dressing to innkeeper or groom.
But what is the usual colonial practice? Sweating-hot, smoking, the ill-used horse is turned out into the nearest paddock; grass or no grass, he may drink his fill, or he may have no water; these matters call not up a thought in the mind of his unworthy rider, who thinks little more about his poor horse, unless to boast of how many miles he had travelled that day, or any previous days on this same animal, which, if any bowels of compassion were to be found in his master, ought to have excited claims for adequate care, of cleaning, watering, and feeding, in the due proportion of this noble creature's services.
It has often occurred to the imagination, that a beautiful act of retributive justice would be manifested by omniscience, if, in any future stages of new existence, the be tortured horse should exchange places with his unfeeling master. Dig the spurs into him, thresh him along! "the measure you mete shall be meted out to you again." Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?
It is quite a common incident to see unfortunate hordes standing at the door of some hostelry or inn, perhaps cold, too often hungry, while their drunken owner are wallowing in all the filth of obscenity, of grog; dissipation, and - perhaps gambling, swearing, lying, cheating - no one cares for the patient dumb beasts; the least of beasts after all of the lot.
My master rode me to the toon,
And tied me to a stuncion roun';
He took a noggin to himsel',
But fient a drap gae me,
So the auld man's mar's dead, and no wonder.
There often occur instances where a human landlord or landlady, order the enduring animals to bo stabled and fed. In other cases they are callous to every feeling except that particular feeling pertaining to the touch of money, and the gratification of handling a heavy purse.
Many of both classes have passed under our notice, and yet we have neither passed on without noting, nor without engraving on the tablets of our memory the various acts of both kinds, good and bad. Afterwards, to make up for lost time, as the phrase goes, out comes the staggering owner, mounts his starved steed, kicks, whips, spurs, and gallops away until the poor animal falls down, or the rider tumbles off through intoxication.
Riding is a most agreeable and healthy exercise if taken in moderation. Australia indeed may be defined a riding country, for no one ever thinks of walking any distance on foot. We have known men who have gone out three miles to catch their horses for the purpose of riding some trivial errand which they might have travelled in two miles or loss distance.
A good seat on the saddle forms an important requisite both for rider and horse. The fable of those Centours who were represented as half men and half horses implies an excellent moral. The best horsemen stick firmest to their steeds, and we have seen riders whom the most vicious animals in vain tried all their powers to dismount.
On the other hand, some persons seem to roll off from no apparent cause whatever, and the horse of course gets the blame, whereas, the saddle should have been put figuratively, somewhere else.
Australian stock keepers, if not always first-rate, are usually fearless riders. Their vocation requires headlong riding, and their horses, to endure a long hot day's hunting after wild cattle must have good bottom, and strong legs. It is the downhill rush for which they must be prepared.
Cattle seldom climb any steep in a straight direction; they wind round it. But in descending they plunge furiously at full speed. Now is the time for their escape if the stockmann cannot get in advance and head them.
The best horses and riders are now wanted, and the best are sometimes thrown off, over fallen trees, rocks, through boggy ground and into deep creeks, how they push with during precipitation, Jack's horse has fallen, Tom's is bogged Harry tumbles off. Hurra! Alick gets a head; up my lads and at them, follow on the mob; cut away, a steeple-chase or fox- hunt are mere pastimes to this game. Many of the native blacks keep a good seat, and the half-caste have a better. The native born youths are excellent riders also.
Generally light weights, accustomed to the saddle from early days, a horse and a whip are the choicest portions of their lots, as it were, their crowns and scepters. The only school a youth in the country rejoices to frequent is the domicile of some local renowned rider, and his favorite seat - on horseback.
He holds multiplication
To be a vexation,
Division twice as bad;
The rule of three, it angers me,
And fractions put me-mad.
Rather than read from Genesis to Malachi, or from the genealogy of Jesus to St. John's Patmos; rather than study Lindley Murray, Euclid's Elements, or Trail's Algebra, he would proffer riding round New Holland, searching for the remains of daring Dr. Leichardt, would rejoice over , "Nimrod" on the horse; making himself master of the pedigrees of all the racers in the colony, especially of the winners, and feel delighted with Bell's Life in Sydney for his favorite to moral and intellectual reading.
Well, they ride indifferently - rather so, it must be allowed, in and about Sydney. Bushman looks in surprise at some exhibitions of this kind in the metropolitan streets. For an example, it was about two months ago, as self and friend were walking along King-street, that our notice was attracted by a decently dressed individual, mounted on a very good stead, but who withal performed the strangest evolutions. Imagine a pair of tongs suspended freely over the back of a rocking horse.
Put the automaton horse in motion, and the limbs of the said tongs will oscillate, like pendulums in curves at their lengths. Just so did the rider's legs vibrate, from the fore-arm of his horse to his flanks, and, as these legs were of a goodly length, so the segments they described would have taken a cloth yard, if not a Scot's ell, for its chord. Then for a seat, the boy in Ashton's circus, surnamed the Little Nugget, has performed more wonderful feats, than if he hand leapt clean through betwixt rider and saddle, without in the least incommoding the former.
Oh, there are plenty of beautiful examples in Sydney. We have read of John Gilpin, and heard of the tailor's journey to Brentford - yes, seen numerous caricatures of both. Fine living illustrations in Sydney; Nay, Sir, I recently saw a horse running away with his rider near Maitland, in the most impudent imitation of Join Gilpin you ever could behold! And what may seem more strange - I have seen riders running away with several horses! Truly, as Index writes, Australia is a wonderful country.