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Horse Facts and Tips
First Posted Dec 22, 2006
Jul 31, 2010

Purchasing a Horse: 450 BC

by Debora Johnson

Do you want to purchase a horse? This was taken from a book, Xenophon Horse Buying, which was written around 450 BC, and, of course, is now in the public domain. It is amazing, to me, that things have not changed much. People tried to cheat you then, and people try to cheat you now. The following suggestions still hold today! This may read strangely, but it will give you a chuckle.

To meet the case in which the object is to buy a horse already fit for riding, we will set down certain memoranda, which, if applied intelligently, may save the purchaser from being cheated.

"Which the purchaser should lay to heart, if he does not wish to be cheated."

First, then, let there be no mistake about the age. If the horse has lost his mark teeth, not only will the purchaser's hopes be blighted, but he may find himself saddled for ever with a sorry bargain.

Or,"the milk teeth," i.e., is more than five years old.

"a horse that has lost his milk teeth cannot be said to gladden his owner's mind with hopes, and is not so easily disposed of."

Given that the fact of youth is well established, let there be no mistake about another matter: how does he take the bit into his mouth and the headstall over his ears? There need be little ambiguity on this score, if the purchaser will see the bit inserted and again removed, under his eyes. Next, let it be carefully noted how the horse stands being mounted. Many horses are extremely loath to admit the approach of anything which, if once accepted, clearly means to them enforced exertion.

Another point to ascertain is whether the horse, when mounted, can be induced to leave other horses, or when being ridden past a group of horses standing, will not bolt off to join the company. Some horses again, as the result of bad training, will run away from the exercising-ground and make for the stable. A hard mouth may be detected by the exercise called the {pede} or volte, and still more so by varying the direction of the volte to right or left. Many horses will not attempt to run away except for the concurrence of a bad mouth along with an avenue of escape home.

"will only attempt to bolt where the passage out towards home combines, as it were, with a bad mouth." {e . . . ekphora} = "the exit from the manege or riding school."

Another point which it is necessary to learn is, whether when let go at full speed the horse can be pulled up sharp and is willing to wheel round in obedience to the rein.

It is also well to ascertain by experience if the horse you propose to purchase will show equal docility in response to the whip. Every one knows what a useless thing a servant is, or a body of troops, that will not obey. A disobedient horse is not only useless, but may easily play the part of an arrant traitor.

And since it is assumed that the horse to be purchased is intended for war, we must widen our test to include everything which war itself can bring to the proof: such as leaping ditches, scrambling over walls, scaling up and springing off high banks. We must test his paces by galloping him up and down steep pitches and sharp inclines and along a slant. For each and all of these will serve as a touchstone to gauge the endurance of his spirit and the soundness of his body.

I am far from saying, indeed, that because an animal fails to perform all these parts to perfection, he must straightway be rejected; since many a horse will fall short at first, not from inability, but from want of experience. With teaching, practice, and habit, almost any horse will come to perform all these feats beautifully, provided he be sound and free from vice. Only you must beware of a horse that is naturally of a nervous temperament. An over-timorous animal will not only prevent the rider from using the vantage-ground of its back to strike an enemy, but is as likely as not to bring him to earth himself and plunge him into the worst of straits.

We must, also, find out of the horse shows any viciousness towards other horses or towards human beings; also, whether he is skittish; such defects are apt to cause his owner trouble. Or, "very ticklish."

As to any reluctance on the horse's part to being bitted or mounted, dancing and twisting about and the rest,[9] you will get a more exact idea on this score, if, when he has gone through his work, you will try and repeat the precise operations which he went through before you began your ride. Any horse that having done his work shows a readiness to undergo it all again, affords sufficient evidence thereby of spirit and endurance.

Reading {talla dineumata}, lit."and the rest of his twistings and twirlings about."

To put the matter in a nutshell: given that the horse is sound-footed, gentle, moderately fast, willing and able to undergo toil, and above all things obedient--such an animal, we venture to predict, will give the least trouble and the greatest security to his rider in the circumstances of war; while, conversely, a beast who either out of sluggishness needs much driving, or from excess of mettle much coaxing and manouvring, will give his rider work enough to occupy both his hands and a sinking of the heart when dangers thicken.

Horse Facts and Tips