Mourning His Lost Stones

“The wind breathed up the long hillside; remote clouds passed evenly across the sky. Now and then Jack’s big hunter brought his ears to bear; this was a recent purchase, a strongly-built bay, quite up to Jack’s sixteen stone. But it did not much care for hunting, and then like so many geldings it spent much of its  time mourning for its lost stones: a discontented horse. If the moods that succeeded one another in its head had taken the form of words they would have  run, ‘Too heavy – sits too far forward when we go over a fence – have carried him far enough for one day – shall have him off presently, see if I don’t. I smell a mare! A mare! Oh!’ Its flaring nostrils quivered, and it stamped.”

I love Patrick O’Brian and the brief Regency-era hunting scene he describes here in Post Captain, with the first glimpse of Diana Villiers and her “ram-you-damn-you air”, but I can imagine neither a horse that didn’t like hunting, nor a gelding that mourned its lost stones. In my experience, geldings have always been more equable than mares, who still have their hormones to take into account.

Also, why would a horse complain about a rider who sat forward? In Jack Aubrey’s day the prevailing opinion held that one must sit far back over a jump, “to spare the horse’s forelegs”, but thank God, Caprilli came along in the early twentieth century and introduced the forward seat for jumping (black jockeys in America first developed it for racing on the flat). If you want to see the full horror of the old way of doing things, take a look at this photograph of a tame zebra jumping. You start to understand why zebra are so reluctant to be ridden.

I am, however, pleased to note that note only does Diana favour Arabian horses, but the pragmatical Stephen Maturin rides a mule, about which, more anon.

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