Over the past four days, we’ve read through Chapter IX of W. Gibson’s book (the third edition, printed in 1731), The True Method of Dieting Horses. Containing Many Curious and Useful Observations concerning their Marks, Color and External Shape; their Temper and Instinct; and how they are to be governed, so as to prevent Accidents and Diseases.

As we went through the chapter concerning draft- and coach-horses, did you begin to realize that “dieting” must not have meant quite the same thing in the early eighteenth century that it does now? There’s very little in that chapter about feeding driving horses. Judging by the table of contents and the other parts of the book that I’ve read, there’s very little at all about the actual feeding of horses.

I’ve found two archaic definitions of “diet,” either of which may have been meant here. According to Webster’s, in the thirteenth century, a “diet” was a manner of living; by the middle of the sixteenth century, it was a term referring to a daily regimen. So the term, as used in Mr. Gibson’s book, covered a whole lot more than just food.  

Further to this idea, here’s the preface Mr. Gibson wrote for his book on horse care:

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Preface

There are two great ends obtained by the knowledge of physick. The one to restore health when it is wanting; and the other, to preserve the body in a good state, by preventing the manifold accidents whereunto it is exposed, both from things external and things internal. The first of these, so far as relates to the cure of horses, has already been accomplished; and in what manner, the public is sufficiently acquainted. What we now offer concerning the right ordering of the diet and feeding of horses, as it is a work of no less use and importance, so we thought it necessary to bestow a distinct treatise upon it.

Nothing of this kind has been hitherto professedly attempted in our language, excepting by Blundevile, who has only copied from ancient writers and the Italians, who were indeed the most experienced horsemen of the age they lived in, but neither well instructed in their diseases, nor in the true means of their preservation. And what has been since essayed by others on the same subject, is for the most part so absurd, or intermixed with other matters, that we judge their performances, in a great measure, fruitless and of no account.

Those who lay down rules for the preservation of horses in a good state of health, ought to be fully acquainted with the structure and mechanism of their bodies, as well as the things from whence the animal body may receive hurt or benefit; upon which all is indeed founded. And when this is once fairly stated, it cannot be difficult for persons even of common understanding to make the application aright. This is the design of the following treatise, wherein we have not omitted any thing that we judge necessary for the preservation of our horses, in whatsoever service they be employed, whether those for pleasure, or those for business.

All the accidents that are usual in the different services required of them, and according to the different periods of their age, or according to their different tempers and constitutions, are taken notice of at more length than has ever been done by others. The errors of their feeding and exercise, with the true method to prevent the mischiefs arising from thence, are here also laid down. And many ridiculous and irrational methods among ignorant grooms, and other persons entrusted with the care and management of our horses, such as are built upon no right foundation, but have obtained by mere rote and custom, are here exposed, and their errors carefully amended.

We have also added some directions concerning the right ordering of troop-horses, a thing not hitherto attempted by any author. With a discourse of breeding, founded on the Duke of Newcastle’s short method, where many things from that nobleman’s experience are more clearly demonstrated, and some useful circumstances added, which we hope may be of service to those who take delight in raising a breed of fine horses, which at this time is very much wanting. So that by this, and the other two volumes already published, we have fully discharged our promise to the public, having omitted nothing that we thought necessary to the care and preservation of our horses. And those who shall carefully follow our rules and directions may manage them so as to stand in little need of physick; for unless it be external accidents, or the injuries that happen from infected air, all other sicknesses, of whatever kind, may, in great measure, be prevented by such an economy as is here prescribed.