MY name is Queen Mab. I am little more than twenty years old, not a great age, counted by years, as the life of a horse goes; but it is the pace that kills, and I have been made to go the pace in my younger days, and have done my duty as far as in me lay, since I have withdrawn from the more active scenes of the world. I have brought up five of my offspring and never lost a foal, and I have gained the admiration and affection of those with whom I have been associated. It is with some [Pg 46]hesitation that I undertake the task of recording my own career, for I feel that I must give some account of my personality and qualities, and after the lapse of so many years I know my memory is defective as to the earlier days; but, standing as I do, with the last big fence which we all have to take in front of me, I am only desirous of giving a fair portrait of myself, and am careless of criticism. My days are numbered, but I, who never knew what fear was, feel no dread of the end, and I know I shall soon rest under the green grass of the paddock where I have lived out in comfort the last years of my life. I have seen many of my contemporaries pass away, and I shall lie beside brave comrades. At one time the idea that I might possibly at the last be [Pg 47]sent to the kennels was a disagreeable one, but, in a meditative old age, I have derived comfort from the thought that, even if this was my ultimate fate, my poor old body would enter into the young blood of the hounds with whom I spent the best time of my life, and that I ought to consider it a privilege to be incorporated with the flying pack, and so in a sense live for evermore.
Well, then, I was born in the year 1876 on an Irish farm, and here I spent my infant years by the side of my mother when she was not at work. She had been a hunter herself, had been driven in an Irish car, had won a farmer’s race, and been a general slave to the sporting family she worked for. She was a big mare with plenty of bone, and, I [Pg 48]believe, if not of the best family, at any rate well connected, and, so far as I could learn, there was no record in her family history of any of those mésalliances with hairy-heeled families which are such a curse to hunters. My sire was a thoroughbred, with the blood of Sir Hercules and Blair Athol in his veins, but, alas! I have forgotten his name; and, indeed, it is a wonder that I know anything of my pedigree at all, for, till I passed into my present owner’s hands, I heard so many different accounts of my descent that I was quite bewildered. But I have long seen enough of the world to know that the great proportion of the pedigrees given to hunters are fictitious, and quite understand why I am always described as “pedigree unknown.” Anyhow, I know that my [Pg 49]sire, like my dam, had been a slave, and been run in almost a hundred races and steeplechases. I have always felt that I owed most of my own qualities of endurance and sound constitution to being the offspring of parents whose soundness was due to their hard life, as well as to their freedom from hereditary complaints.
In colour, I was a full, rich chestnut, with a white blaze, and was certainly pretty when young. I was not an ideal hunter-made mare, for when I was foaled I stood over at the knees, and always had a tendency to do this: I have heard connoisseurs say that this is a fault on the right side, and certainly I had it in common with many of the best [Pg 50]cross-country horses I have known.
I had fairly good shoulders and a nicely-placed neck, well-sprung ribs, a strong, muscular loin and good arms and thighs, while the quality of my coat, my clean, sinewy limbs, and quick ears and eyes proved my good descent better than any paper pedigree. Throughout my life I have been blessed with robust health and a great appetite. I have often been leg-weary, but I never felt depressed in spirits, and at the end of the longest day I was always impatient to get to my manger. I have still the soundest of wind, and have escaped all the most serious kinds of accidents, and I never had the iron on me. I have had my share of over-reaches, cuts, bruises, and have now an enormous knee, caused by [Pg 51]some osseous growth, resulting from the non-removal of a thorn.
My young days spent in Ireland left but little impression on me, beyond the fact that the grass was sweeter and better than any I have tasted since; and though I was less cared for than the youngsters I have seen growing up in England, both the pasture and climate seemed to do all that was necessary in stimulating growth and fitting me for the battle of life. I must pass over the months during which I was broken in by a young Irishman, who used to terrify me by his noise and wild ways, but who knew what he was about, and broke my will to his own in a devil-may-care sort of way, but with always a tender hand on the bit. Whether this was natural to him, or because his tackle was always [Pg 52]as rotten as pash, I never found out. I remember that when a rising three-year-old I was shipped to Liverpool, and this voyage left me with the worst illness I ever had in my life, which they called a steamboat cold, and I felt wretched for weeks after. I have noticed it takes more than a year to get a young Irish horse into condition, often two years; for in Ireland they will take up a raw young horse, give him a slight education before he has got hard meat into him, and then shut him up in a box and feed him, as if he were a pig, on boiled potatoes, boiled corn and turnips, and anything that comes handy. He is then sold, and goes to England, and often arrives running at the nose, and [Pg 53]coughing. This illness has to be got rid of, and all the rotten-potato flesh as well. He is all the time a weak young horse, requiring a year of gentle conditioning, good food and exercise, before he is fit to ride to hounds. I make this digression to expose another injustice to Ireland, and in the hope of saving some Irish horses from the abuse and misery that they endure because their English masters think they have got a made and matured hunter in their hands instead of a weak, inexperienced, and badly-nourished youngster.
From Liverpool I was sent to London, went into a very small stable, and saw something during the summer of life in town. I got accustomed to the noise and traffic of the streets, and to threading my way amongst [Pg 54]crowds and carriages. I was high-spirited, and, perhaps with the idea of checking my exuberant spirits, or just because I moved nicely and carried myself prettily, I was put into harness, and then went leader to my only stable companion in a tandem. I have always felt rather ashamed of alluding to this part of my life, as most of the hunters I was associated with afterwards would have counted such a thing an indignity to their profession. Still, in looking back, I do not know that I suffered any harm by the few weeks’ experience of harness, and, indeed, am not sure that my good temper and willingness to do all that was asked of me does not owe something to this early training. I was only three years old, and it was easier for me to go leader in a tandem than to carry a man to hounds. But my master occasionally took me and [Pg 55]gave me a day or half a day with hounds. He was never hard, being proud of me, and though he would ride me straight in a short gallop, he never tried me too high. In this way I learned a good deal, and, being very fond of galloping and jumping, was a tractable pupil, and was soon what they called “handy.” By this time I could walk in and out of a horse-box like a Christian, and cared not a dump for engines and steam whistles.
It was one of the early days in October 1879, that, full of beans, I entered Tattersall’s yard for the first and last time—from that day to this I never changed masters. I was pulled out a great many times on Saturday, and by evening was heartily sick of having my clothes [Pg 56]pulled off, being punched in the ribs, my windpipe squeezed, my feet lifted, and run up and down the yard. Till Sunday afternoon I was left in peace, but then, again, I was constantly having my mouth looked at, and I slept that night with a taste of dirty fingers, dogskin, and cigar-ends in my mouth. Monday morning was a repetition of Saturday, but I noticed that nearly everyone who inspected my mouth paid little further attention to me, as I had only a three-year-old mouth. About eleven o’clock I got wild with a Vet., who made rushes at me, and stuck his top-hat over my eyes, and nipped me on my loins. I began to plunge and let out freely with my heels, and very nearly brained my future master, who was standing against the wall hard by. As it was, [Pg 57]I knocked his hat off and hit the end of his nose. I was surprised to find that he was my owner, about three o’clock the same afternoon. I had made such an exhibition of my heels that with that, and my extreme youth, I was knocked down to him at sixty guineas. A new career now opened to me, and I was sent down to Cambridge, where my new master then was, and so I commenced life at the University. My owner was in Newman’s stable-yard talking to Tom Hill, a very stout, short, horsey little man, who generally stood in the yard, scolding the lads, giving orders in highly persuasive language, or addressing his clients as if they had given him mortal offence. As I was led in, he turned to my new owner and said, “Wot’s this?” and after looking at me from where [Pg 58]he stood, he stepped up and took a peep into my mouth. “Well, what do you think of her, Tom?” said my master. “What do I think of ’er? That depends on what yer think you’re goin’ to make of ’er.” “Oh, I am going to hunt the Drag on her. I wanted another, and picked her up cheap.” “Ye’re goin’ to ’unt ’er, are yer; she’s more like ’untin’ you. You gintlemen thinks you can ’unt hanything—not but what she’s a nice mare, but, lor’ bless yer, sir, she knows no more about ’unting than my ’at.” (To the groom) “Number thirty-five ready for ’er; put ’er in, Fred.”
At the age of twenty, the inexperienced undergraduate, I often observed while at Cambridge, performed feats and treated horses in a manner that makes my now unkempt mane and tail stand on end at the [Pg 59]bare recollection. What a life it was, to be sure! One day boxed to Huntingdon and ridden twelve miles to a meet; pounded about all day, no matter whether hounds were running or not; larked all the way home; hurried to the train, and not back in one’s box till ten or eleven at night. Pulled out the next afternoon, and raced for twenty minutes with the Drag, and, after a punishing finish, accompanying the hounds back to the kennels; and then, for a last flutter, taken over all the grates and stiles along the footpath leading to the town. If my stable companions were lame, I was perhaps the next day hacked over to Newmarket, and kept on the course till the last race was over, and then taken home as fast as my legs could carry me, in order that my master [Pg 60]might be marked “in” for Hall—a thing insisted upon by the College authorities during Newmarket meetings. Happily for me, I had stable companions to share my work with me, and I must admit that my master, considering his age, showed me consideration, and selected one of the two other horses when he anticipated the Drag would be a particularly rough one; for you must know that in my time there were some Drags where it was on record that hardly anyone had ever got to the end without a fall. The first time I went out with the University Drag, I was sent at a black gate in the second fence. I had not been accustomed to this sort of thing, and hit it hard with my knees; but I always had a leg to spare, so did not come down, and to my owner’s delight won [Pg 61]the Drag.
I never felt any charm at the gates in Cambridgeshire; they are quite insignificant compared with those in Yorkshire. Big timber was never my forte, but it would have been a very curious place that stopped me. I always found some way of negotiating an obstacle. I could go in and out, off and on, top a fence, kick back, bore through, and climb like a cat. I have trotted across a single plank over a stream, and jumped a stile at the end of it. I have followed my master on a single foot-bridge over a ravine, wriggling through a V-stile at each end, and could hold my own among the wild hills and moors of Cleveland, or in the most cramped of countries. I remember once in a run charging a [Pg 62]bullfinch, which had on the far side a strong high post and rails, some nine feet from the fence. I knew I should have to make some sort of a try. It was too high to jump, there was no room, and I was not heavy enough to break it, so I just reared up, got my fore-end well over, and trailed my hind-legs after me, only leaving a few hairs on the top rail. After that, my owner always said that I could go anywhere where a man could get.
In 1880, both my master and I considered our education complete, and with all the confidence of youth believed that no one could teach us anything. After twenty years, however, I expect we are both inclined to think that at the end of the longest life we can only hope to know a little of the world we live in. I have always regretted never having [Pg 63]seen one of the big grass countries. I am sure I was fast enough and could “go on,” but I daresay my master was right in thinking me undersized (being only 15.3) for facing big fences continuously; and though I was able to jump big and wide, when it was necessary, I do not know that I could have kept it up, and have never considered myself as likely to be able to compete with real Leicestershire hunters. As soon as we went down from Cambridge, my master got married, and, towards the end of the following season, I was advanced to carrying his wife. This I did for four years, during the time as often carrying my master; and I can say that throughout those years I never once made a mistake or gave either of them a fall. I can boast that I am the only hunter [Pg 64]my master ever possessed of which he could say this. At the end of my fourth season with the Cleveland, my fore-legs were beginning to show work. At last I fell on landing over a gate, and the week following on landing over an ordinary fence, so I was withdrawn from active service and had a year’s repose. I was then taken up again and did a month’s cub-hunting, and three days after the opening meet. But this was the end of my hunting career, for after a fifty minutes’ hard run, in which I was kept to the front, I was so lame that there was no choice but to superannuate me, as far as hunting was concerned.
During my hunting career I was often shown in the summer months at the local shows, sometimes as a hunter, and sometimes as a lady’s hack, [Pg 65]and I won a number of prizes in both classes. The hunters that then appeared in the show-ring were inferior to those of to-day, or else I should never have made the mark I did. But what amused me most was winning prizes as a lady’s hack. My manners were perfect, my paces anything but the correct thing, and my canter far too “short”; and then my poor fore-legs! I stood over frightfully at the knees, and avoided detection by spreading myself out and placing my fore-feet well in front of me. The judges might move me about as much as they pleased, but, as long as I was in the ring, nothing would shake my determination to abandon this very unnatural pose. Having owed my success in the [Pg 66]prize-ring to the custom of judges not to get up and ride ladies’ hacks, it would ill become me to decry the system.
Some people would say that instead of being kept up all the summer, it would have been better for me to have been turned out at grass. I have my own decided opinions on this question, having had experience of both systems. I certainly do not think it right to keep a hunter in hard work from the end of one season to the beginning of another. At the close of the season, shoes should be taken off, and the horse be turned into a loose-box with a yard, and bedded down with tan and sawdust, if not with straw. There he should have six weeks’ repose. After that, there is no harm in taking him up, if he has not weakness or accident [Pg 67]needing a long rest. To be in a good stable on the best of diet, and to be gently hacked a few times a week, will keep him fit and healthy, and not prevent him putting on plenty of beef to start him well for the next season. I have gone to hounds with greater ease after summers so spent, and been ready in a week or two to do the longest days without distress; whereas, when I have been turned off for the whole summer, I have come up fat and thick in the wind, and it has taken several months before I could do my work with comfort to myself and satisfaction to my rider. But the worst experience I ever had was being turned out. I ate tons of grass, and laid on any amount of flabby flesh, till my legs ached under my carcase and sagging belly. My legs, instead of fining [Pg 68]down, became bigger as I stamped about, plagued all day long by the flies, and waiting for the end of the long summer days when I could feed in peace. Then it was Christmas before I really exchanged my soft for real hard flesh, and felt equal to a long day. If hunters are to be turned out to grass, they should be kept in during the hot days and turned out in the evenings.
I had, also, considerable experience of charges and blisterings, but never felt my legs any better for them, nor did I notice much improvement in their appearance. Talking of legs, I never found that leaving the hair on them during the hunting-season saved them from thorns, and it seems to me that, putting aside the question of [Pg 69]appearance (on which there can be no general divergence of opinion), leaving the hair on tends to the collection of dirt, and to the hiding of thorns and abrasions; I have seen just as much mud-fever, if not more, when hair has been left on them, as when legs have been clipped. However, I think this is not an important question one way or the other. I believe myself, mud-fever is a sort of chill, perhaps infectious, as it often goes through a stable, and frequently is absent from a stud for several consecutive seasons. There is no harm in leaving the hair on under the saddle, as it is some slight protection to the skin from friction. However, I was never troubled with a sore back, as my saddle always fitted me. I have heard many people [Pg 70]recommend the practice of only dry brushing and rubbing a horse over instead of washing after a day’s hunting, and am inclined to believe it is the safest plan, though I always felt much more comfortable and refreshed after a good wash. But then I was always thoroughly dried, and after standing for a while in my clothing, I had it removed and exchanged for warm sheets from the fire. To be really ready for hard work, the hunter should have the best of oats and hay, and should be kept in a dry, well-ventilated box. A good linseed gruel should be ready for him at the end of a day’s hunting, and it should never be counted waste of time to put in and gruel the hunter before a long ride home. I never could bear the long walk home that I noticed many [Pg 71]of my associates in the field were made to undergo; nothing to me was such a weary and dispiriting job as to trail slowly homewards in the cold frosty air of a winter evening, on an empty belly, with stiffening limbs. I was always ready to second my master’s inclination to bring me home sharp. Instead of coming in with a dejected, staring coat, I arrived with a warm glow upon me, and impatient to get at my feed. As to the exercise a hunter requires in the season, if his turn comes as often as mine used to do, generally twice a week, he will not need more than a walk for half an hour the day after hunting, and on the other two weekdays two hours’ trotting exercise.
When I went to the stud I was first mated with Lord Zetland’s Morocco, to whom I bred a fine weight-carrying hunter named Manacles, who [Pg 72]distinguished himself during a good many seasons with Lord Zetland’s hounds in carrying a cousin of my master’s, whose riding weight was nearly sixteen stone and who is a hard rider. Manacles won one year, with this weight, the Zetland Point-to-Point, and, with his owner’s brother up, the Cleveland Point-to-Point in 1894. Although I have been mated with better-bred and much better-looking sires, I do not think I have bred another quite as good in the field. It is curious how uneven as a rule are the foals of hunter mares. Manacles was about 17 hands, and a great, striding, fast, staying horse; but the next foal I dropped was never more than a pony, about 14.3 hands, by Laureate [Pg 73](by Rosicrucian). I then had a very fine daughter, Carina, by Syrian, who went to Mr. Cecil Boyle’s stud, after winning many prizes; but my next foal, by Pursebearer, was another weedy one. My last and youngest, Saffron, is a fine mare and a good hunter, and is in many ways very like what I was in my prime. I am not what is called a certain breeder, and I have during the years when I was not engaged in my family duties done some light work on the farm. I never objected to this, and indeed was all the better for it, nor did I ever feel that there was any indignity in useful service.
And now I think I have fairly earned, and can enjoy, the retrospect of a well-spent life. I may not have had a very distinguished [Pg 74]career, but blest with an equable temperament and more than ordinary intelligence, loving the chase, and supported by a robust constitution and a courageous heart, I can, without boasting, say that, even with a somewhat exacting master, I never failed to do anything that was asked of me. And I know, when I go hence, as I trust, to even happier hunting-grounds, that those with whom I have spent my life, and who have shared with me the pleasures of the chase, will feel that one has gone with whom are associated the happiest hours and pleasantest memories of the irrevocable past. I have said nothing about the companions of my old age, and it may be thought that I am lonely; but other brood mares, whose best years have been spent in hunting, share [Pg 75]the fields with me, and when by chance the hounds come our way, we still take a keen interest in watching the proceedings, and leave off feeding while we discuss the performance of horses and hounds, and our own share in the past, long after the echo of the horn and the distant cry has died away over fence and field. And so I take my leave, asking for my epitaph, if I am considered worthy of it:
LIFE WELL RUN,
REST WELL WON.