The myth of the horse-torturing peasant

Perceptions of suffering change with every generation and from one country to the next. Many foreign visitors were struck by the gentleness of French coach drivers and sometimes cursed them for not whipping their horses into a gallop. Horses suffered more from stupidity, ignorance and inefficiency than from deliberate cruelty. As long-distance coaches travelled south, the sturdy Percheron horses for which the coaches were designed were replaced by spindly nags who found the lumbering vehicle a cruel burden. The same fate befell the little Cossack horses left behind after the Allied invasions of 1814 and 1815. Horses were expected to share their owners' discomfort. The patient mares of market-gardeners from Roscoff on the Breton coast were known as 'thirty leagues beasts' because they carried the cauliflowers and artichokes for thirty leagues (eighty-three miles) without stopping, just as their owners went without food until the load was sold at Rennes or Angers.
The brutal, horse-torturing peasant was more common in bourgeois moral myth than in reality. From the mid-eighteenth century, being kind to animals was a standard injunction in books for children. The object of concern was not the welfare of the animal but the social status of the child. The implication was that a well brought-uo child did not behave like a vulgar peasant who slept with his animal and made them work for a living. 

Bourgeois passengers on Mediterranean ships amused themselves by shooting dolphins. 


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