Object Lessons: The Horse

April 18, 2018

running horse

Lydia Maria Child started her writing career utilizing the horse as an object lesson because it was familiar to children and because it offered lessons in character development that children could relate to. Drawing of horse is by Meredith Eliassen, 2018.

Every child who is old enough to read this book, will recollect how his heart has beat, when, after a long absence, he has seen the trees, shrubs, houses, and fences, in the neighborhood of home. He must have noticed too, that his favorite horse seemed to be equally aware that the well-remembered barn and plentiful stock of hay were not far distant; for though his limbs might have been wearied with the journey, yet his motions, for the last few miles, would be fleet and cheerful. Both in horses and men, this is owing to the association of ideas. The tree near our father’s house may not be as handsome as one we have seen among strangers; but it is dear to us, because when we look at it, we think of ten thousand enjoyments that have gone by. Perhaps we have won marbles from the biggest boys in the village, under that very tree;-or, seated beneath its refreshing shade, we may have enjoyed the delicious repast of whortle-berries and milk. Perhaps the children’s seat has been removed there during a summer’s afternoon, and we have read with delighted attention to our little brothers and sisters,-while one has said, “How I do wish Mrs. Barbauld would write another volume of “Evenings at Home,”- and another has exclaimed, “If ever I am big enough, I will go to England on purpose to see Miss Edgeworth; and if I am not suffered to go to her house, I will stand in the Street till I see her go by.” * Perhaps too, it was near this self-same tree that we first began to enjoy knowledge,-first felt the emotions of childish wonder when we learned that the earth was constantly moving round, and that people actually lived in the moon. When we look upon the tree, all these innocent enjoyments come before the memory so rapidly that we are hardly aware of thinking at all; and this is the reason that the tree is so dear to us. The understanding always retains what it pays attention to,- and it always attends to what it love; therefore, all our delights must come through the affections. The reason by the horse remembers the objects near home is because they remind him of what he loves to well,–vis. a night’s rest, sweet hay, and cooling water. I have somewhere read an anecdote of a horse, which proves how much power the association of ideas has over that noble animal.

A colt, which, when very young, had been frightened at a military parade, was ever after restless, troublesome, and obstinate, when he heard the sound of a drum. His owner, resolved to overcome this bad habit, resorted to the following expedient. He kept him several days without food, and then led him to some fine, fresh oats, that were laid on the head of a drum. As soon as he began to eat, his master took up the drumsticks and played a martial tune. The horse started, and ran furiously to the end of the enclosure. The man continued to play, and the horse for a long time, stood, looking wishfully at the oats, but afraid to venture near them. Finally, however, extreme hunger overcame fear, and he devoured his provender, without showing any other symptoms of alarm at the noise, than occasionally erecting his ears. After that, he was never known to start at the sound of a drum; for instead of recollecting the fright he had received when a colt, he only remembered that he had once eaten a hearty meal of oats from a drum-head,- and the sound, which he had once feared to much, became associated with ideas of comfort and pleasure. (90-92)

Source: An American Lady [Lydia Maria Child]. 1824. “Association of Ideas: Anecdote of a Horse” Evenings in New England Intended for Juvenile Amusement and Instruction. Boston: Cummings, Hilliard, & Co.

The horse is one of the noblest of animals. They excel in beauty and usefulness. Few creatures are so majestic as a high-spirited horse, carrying his head proudly, with a main flowing about his neck, like a mantle. Then they are so laborious, so sagacious, and so gentle; they obey the least signal or movement of their riders, and children can caress them without being afraid. Sometimes their movements are even swifter than the wind; for it is a fact that some of the racehorses in England have travelled in five minutes over a space of ground, which the most violent wind could not pass over in less than six minutes.

In Europe and in the United States, horses are domestic animals; that is, they are taught, and taken care of, by men. But in South America, whole herds of them run wild. Their only motive for keeping in troops seems to be a love of company; for they are very courageous in danger, and they never offer to attack any other animals. They live entirely on vegetables, and, of course, have no temptation to destroy other creatures. The South American hunters pursue them with a noose, which they adroitly fling over their heads, and are thus enabled to catch them. I doubt whether there be animals more useful tan horses. They plough our fields, they travel night and day to carry our letters and newspapers; they draw the canal boats, in which the Dutch travel from one end of the country to the other; and chaises and carriages are drawn by them; and couches and sofas are stuffed with their hair; shoes are sometimes made of their leather; and bows for violins, and other stringed instruments, are made from the long strong hair of their manes and tails. This useful and noble animal deserves the kindness and most careful treatment.

Source: Lydia Maria Child. 1829. “The Horse.” The Juvenile Miscellany 2: 3 (July 1829): 315-316.

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