Chapter 28 Summary

A Job-Horse and His Drivers

Black Auster had always been driven by people who knew how to manage a horse and a cart; now, though, he is experiencing drivers who have no knowledge or skill. He is a “job-horse,” hired out to all sorts of people. Because he is a good-tempered and gentle horse, he is more often hired out to bad drivers because he can be relied upon to treat them well despite their ignorance and ineptitude.

Some of the inexperienced drivers hold the reigns too tightly. They seem to think a successful driver must hold the reins as hard as he can, never relaxing the tension on the horse’s mouth or allowing him any freedom of movement. This may be necessary with horses whose mouths have been desensitized by rough treatment, but other horses are easily guided; tight reins are tormenting, and their continuous use is a stupid practice. Other inexperienced drivers hold the reins too loosely; if anything happens unexpectedly, they are not able to control their horses or their carriages. Black Auster prefers this kind of driver, as he does not depend on his drivers for guidance and direction; however, there is some security in knowing the driver could take effective action if necessary—and that he has not fallen asleep. Slovenly driving allows some horses to become lazy, and they often have to be whipped, literally, back into their good habits.

These careless drivers are also inattentive to their horses. Once Black Auster got a stone in one of his feet that went unnoticed by his driver who was paying attention only to the passengers in the carriage. He drove at least half-a-mile before noticing that something was wrong with the horse; then he complained that Black Auster was simply being lazy and continued his journey. A farmer happened by and told the driver his horse appeared to have a stone in his foot. The driver complained that he should not have been given a lame horse, but the farmer ignored the comment. He dismounted from his horse, examined Black Auster's hoof, and discovered the stone. He tried to dislodge it by hand, but the stone was tightly wedged. The farmer was patient; using a stone pick he carried in his pocket, he worked with the horse's hoof until he eventually freed the stone.

Showing the stone to the driver, the farmer said it was "a wonder" the horse did not fall down and break his knees. The careless, inexperienced driver exclaimed that he never knew horses could get stones in their hooves; the farmer scolded him contemptuously, warning him to watch his horse more carefully. After the farmer left, the driver flopped the reins about and whipped the harness, actions Black Auster interpreted as a desire to move forward. The horse began to move, still in pain but thankful the stone had been removed. This is the kind of experience a job-horse often had.