“Father, father,” he cried, “father, what are they doing? Father, they are beating the poor horse!”
“Come along, come along!” said his father. “They are drunken and foolish, they are in fun; come away, don’t look!” and he tried to draw him away, but he tore himself away from his hand, and, beside himself with horror, ran to the horse. The poor beast was in a bad way. She was gasping, standing still, then tugging again and almost falling.
“Beat her to death,” cried Mikolka, “it’s come to that. I’ll do for her!”
“What are you about, are you a Christian, you devil?” shouted an old man in the crowd.
“Did any one ever see the like? A wretched nag like that pulling such a cartload,” said another.
“You’ll kill her,” shouted the third.
“Don’t meddle! It’s my property, I’ll do what I choose. Get in, more of you! Get in, all of you! I will have her go at a gallop!…”
All at once laughter broke into a roar and covered everything: the mare, roused by the shower of blows, began feebly kicking. Even the old man could not help smiling. To think of a wretched little beast like that trying to kick!
Two lads in the crowd snatched up whips and ran to the mare to beat her about the ribs. One ran each side.
“Hit her in the face, in the eyes, in the eyes,” cried Mikolka.
“Give us a song, mates,” shouted some one in the cart and every one in the cart joined in a riotous song, jingling a tambourine and whistling. The woman went on cracking nuts and laughing.
… He ran beside the mare, ran in front of her, saw her being whipped across the eyes, right in the eyes! He was crying, he felt choking, his tears were streaming. One of the men gave him a cut with the whip across the face, he did not feel it. Wringing his hands and screaming, he rushed up to the grey-headed old man with the grey beard, who was shaking his head in disapproval. One woman seized him by the hand and would have taken him away, but he tore himself from her and ran back to the mare. She was almost at the last gasp, but began kicking once more.
“I’ll teach you to kick,” Mikolka shouted ferociously. He threw down the whip, bent forward and picked up from the bottom of the cart a long, thick shaft, he took hold of one end with both hands and with an effort brandished it over the mare.
“He’ll crush her,” was shouted round him. “He’ll kill her!”
“It’s my property,” shouted Mikolka and brought the shaft down with a swinging blow. There was a sound of a heavy thud.
“Thrash her, thrash her! Why have you stopped?” shouted voices in the crowd.
And Mikolka swung the shaft a second time and it fell a second time on the spine of the luckless mare. She sank back on her haunches, but lurched forward and tugged forward with all her force, tugged first on one side and then on the other, trying to move the cart. But the six whips were attacking her in all directions, and the shaft was raised again and fell upon her a third time, then a fourth, with heavy measured blows. Mikolka was in a fury that he could not kill her at one blow.
“She’s a tough one,” was shouted in the crowd.
“She’ll fall in a minute, mates, there will soon be an end of her,” said an admiring spectator in the crowd.
“Fetch an axe to her! Finish her off,” shouted a third.
“I’ll show you! Stand off,” Mikolka screamed frantically; he threw down the shaft, stooped down in the cart and picked up an iron crowbar. “Look out,” he shouted, and with all his might he dealt a stunning blow at the poor mare. The blow fell; the mare staggered, sank back, tried to pull, but the bar fell again with a swinging blow on her back and she fell on the ground like a log.
“Finish her off,” shouted Mikolka and he leapt, beside himself, out of the car. Several young men, also flushed with drink, seized anything they could come across—whips, sticks, poles, and ran to the dying mare. Mikolka stood on one side and began dealing random blows with the crowbar. The mare stretched out her head, drew a long breath and died.
“You butchered her,” some one shouted in the crowd.
“Why wouldn’t she gallop then?”
“My property!” shouted Mikolka, with bloodshot eyes, brandishing the bar in his hands. He stood as though regretting that he had nothing more to beat.
“No mistake about it, you are not a Christian,” many voices were shouting in the crowd.
But the poor boy, beside himself, made his way screaming, through the crowd to the sorrel nag, put his arms round her bleeding dead head and kissed it, kissed the eyes and kissed the lips.… Then he jumped up and flew in a frenzy with his little fists out at Mikolka. At that instant his father who had been running after him, snatched him up and carried him out of the crowd.
“Come along, come! Let us go home,” he said to him.
“Father! Why did they … kill … the poor horse!” he sobbed, but his voice broke and the words came in shrieks from his panting chest.
(Crime & Punishment – 1866)
Alright, that was a dark way to start a post, I know. I have never been particularly fond of horses (dogs for rich people), but they have always been beasts of burden and as far as agriculture goes, a source of property. Since their abuse for labor has been replaced by machines, they have actually become more of a hobby animal. But still, what we do to them is pretty fucked up.
The earliest horse shoes date back to 400 BC, and since then it has been relatively unchallenged and common knowledge that horses walk on their toenails. And so with the advent of hard stone surfaces, they need strengthening of those nails.
But do they walk on their toe nails? If they do, equines are the only mammal we know of (besides ballerinas) capable of this task, and the nail is structurally extremely insufficient for an animal of this size, even on soft ground.
One recent theory is that the hoof of the horse was never meant to be a weight bearing structure, and if that’s true we have been torturing horses for the past 2400 years, way longer than those tortured by those 5 finger running shoes.
This theory is relatively convincing when looking at the histology and growth of the horse nail. It is popularly thought that the horse nail grows out from a nail bed (the coronet) toward the top of the first joint. But horses would not be able to develop a proper hoof early enough after birth if this were the case. Instead, it is suggested that it grows out from the pad of the hoof called the “frog.” The tubules that travel down from the coronet actually originate from the frog out, not from the coronet down. This suggests that the purpose of the hoof is to absorb pressure from the weight being born on the heel. When people put shoes on horses, or improperly trim their hooves , they remove the weight from the pad of the hoof and put it all on the really small area of the nail. The nail separates from the nail bed over time, and causes inflammation and extreme pain.
So if this is right, then we are torturing horses no less today than Mikolka did in Fyodor’s wild tales. Well not “us,” but rich people who can afford horses.
This post was written under the influence of Colt 45 (Win a Party with Billy Dee!)