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The Musical Dimension Of Horse Baths in Salzburg

When people who have visited Salzburg in Austria come to tell me of their trip, I always ask with much interest if they noticed the hossbaths. And when they fail me by saying that they did not, I am dis-trot.

The hossbaths of Salzburg interested me the most, and like everybody else, I had gone to Salzburg because it is the birthplace of Mozart, the fiddler, etc. Only I, it seems, ever went to Salzburg to venerate Mozart and came away with a philharmonic recollection that he laundered the hay burners of the Salzburg gentry. Possibly the New England fact that I had, myself, washed a horse made me uniquely sensitive to Austrian musicology.

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The hossbaths of Salzburg are mentioned in the tourist brochures and should be noticed. They are close to the beautiful Mozart memorial, on the same side of the street, gegenber the magnificent cathedral, and the early masonry may be so carefully preserved because of the sensitive Mozart neighborhood.

Watertight, the hossbaths are designed so the remuda may be walked in until the height of water is handy, and then scrubbed and shined fit for their lordship's coach should he accompany his lady to a Mozart musicale. But the hossbaths of Mozart seem to get passed by on the other side.

I inquired, and was told that during my Salzburg visit no Bucephalusses were scheduled for public nettoyage, at least for touristic purposes. Instead, we attended a couple of Singapiels.

Horses are supposed to like being clean, although my grandfather hooted at such knowledge gained by man's presumption. "How do we know?" he would ask. And how do we? Grampie would say, "What happens when some smart horse learns to talk English and says he's never liked oats?"

But from a horse's reactions when being bathed, human assumption will usually feel that he is not unhappy about it. There are exceptions. In my youth, when I was helping the winter crew cut and store pond ice, a single horse that was grooving cakes nodded in a fitful slumber and walked off the ice into the drink. Pond water never goes below 32 degrees or it becomes ice, so we have an immediate reason for this horse's lack of joy at his situation. A horse can swim all right, and this one did, harness and grooving chisels and all. But he was unable to negotiate the marge and climb up onto the solid ice beyond the open water.

So Chummy Baker came in with his ice-cake hood on a handle and got the horse by the bridle to lift his beak above the water and let him breathe and complain. Then the Prout boys brought a team down from the icehouse, and they got the team chained to the horse in the water. Out they snatched him, and he seemed glad, and then they trotted him up and down, around and about, over and across, and to and fro until he was warm and stopped jingling. And then they wrapped him in blankets from the warm lunch shanty and gave him the afternoon off. The horse didn't give us any English, but we could readily suppose that he might have told us an ice-pond bath is not altogether fun.

Two winters later I tripped on nothing at all and went into the pond the way that horse did. Neddy Thompson came running with his ice-cake hook and snaked me out, and I never forgave him. I was all right after I got trotted around in my turn. And when my ears thawed and lay again to my head, I went back on the pond to resume my labors. Storing a town's summer ice took about a week, and the horse and I never fell in again.

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Warm weather ablutions are more esteemed by man and beast, and we did have here in Maine a timberland owner who had an elaborate contrivance for heating river water so his horses could be bathed in comfort in winter and he wouldn't get haunted by the S.P.C.A. Pipes circulated cold water over a fire pit, and a gentleman with a thermometer on a stick would test the bath water before a horse was allowed to step into the pool.

This man was a big operator above Soldier Pond, and had many horses. He believed they worked better when clean, stayed in better condition, and were happier. For many years in the earlier days of Maine lumbering, he was the only contractor to wash his horses in winter, but afterward he let other contractors use his hot water plumbing.

Grandfather would ask me to wash Tanty or Garibaldi a couple or so times a summer, and my decision would be that they liked it. It was always on a hot day after garden work, and I suppose Gramp was thinking more of their comfort than their cleanliness. I didn't use soap, as Gramp thought soap running in the fields might bother strawberries.

I'd pump water into a tub and let it warm in the sun. I'd stand one of our two steeds in position and go over him with a wet brush on a long handle, getting the sweaty dust from the tomato patch off him. Then I'd slop water from the tub all over him, which, again, he seemed to like. He'd hang around as if wanting more.

Then I'd neaten-up the tub and leave it full of clean water, as the cows used it for drinking. Cows are notional; if one of the barnfull should suspect a horse had been around, the whole herd might stop drinking.

So I like to think of Mozart composing all morning and then stepping down the street to wash a few horses before lunch. I can't relate to his sonatas, symphonies, and concertos, for want of bucolic experiences, but when it comes to washing a horse, I dare say I'm as good a musician as he.

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