From Ahmad Shah, "Four Years in Tibet" (1906):

The crude beginnings of certain sort of veterinary knowledge are also there. Cattle are dosed in the nose; in the case of horses and bulls, the medicine is inserted in the right nostril;... The cure for colic is hard and swift riding, so that it no doubt pays to get colicky animals.

It looks like a kind of homeopathic treatment is in play here, but how does one put it in plain language that would make sense and the reader can understand the outcome of such a treatment?

  • I don't think it implies money nor professionally trained veterinarians here. The writer was taking about how people treating their sick animals, in what way. It is more like because the animal suffers from abdomen pain (colic), the owner takes it for a hard and fast ride, in turn, the ride causes more pain to the poor animal, and thus cure the pain, according to homeopathic principles.
    – Janef
    Jan 3, 2017 at 22:35
  • 1
    @Hank This seems unlikely to me. The text says "hard and swift riding", not effective and fast-acting. There's nothing about the differential costs of treatment. I think it's more likely that it pays to buy colicky animals because you can work them harder.
    – deadrat
    Jan 3, 2017 at 22:35
  • Y'all are right, I completely misread that.
    – Hank
    Jan 3, 2017 at 22:37
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    @Janef There's nothing about homeopathy in the passage. The principle of that pseudoscience is that like cures like when in dilution sufficient to remove physical presence. The pain from bloating isn't the cause of colic; it's a symptom.
    – deadrat
    Jan 3, 2017 at 22:40

2 Answers 2


It may be that the author is making a joke at the expense of the local vets: if you buy colicky animals, and then ride them hard and fast, they will be cured, and so become more valuable. I do not think this method of profitable horsedealing would be endorsed in the West.


It is 'hard and swift' work curing colic in animals.

First of all, there are certain days which are considered inauspicious for performing these cures. This makes animal-owners keen to employ a fast-acting doctor, rather than travelling too far with their colicky animals. These particular vets are travellers, so can conveniently cure on the go. Not to mention 'veterinary knowledge' is still at it's 'crude beginnings', implying that it is not yet a widely practiced profession, nor very well understood. Certainly an owner would be willing to pay extra for the cure of his colicky animal if it comes his way. The following paragraph in this book immediately goes on to discuss fees, and how it seems insignificant in English money what these travellers earn.

I would deduce from the context above that 'it pays to get colicky animals' is a reference to financial benefit for these travelling medics.

'Hard and swift riding' might also be a euphemism in keeping with terms such as 'crude beginnings' and 'inserted into'. I believe the author is a Christian missionary and medical doctor by profession, and in the very early 20th century, it isn't uncommon to find a book about the 'barbarous Orient'. Someone on Goodreads does in fact review it as 'condescending'!

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  • What do you think those phrases are euphemisms for?
    – Spagirl
    Jan 4, 2017 at 2:29
  • Sexual euphemisms in the vain of what TimLymington is suggesting - 'making a joke at the expense of local vets'. Especially coupled with the concept of veterinarianism still at its 'crude beginnings'; inauspicious days for giving treatment; and the comparison made to 'old time hawkers'. It seems to me that the author finds these travelling vets outdated and backwards, so sexual innuendos play nicely into that mocking/condescending undertone of these vets and their primal practices.
    – Littletee
    Jan 4, 2017 at 10:19
  • Sorry, are you saying you detect a potential sexual reference in 'The medicine is inserted in the right nostril'?
    – Spagirl
    Jan 4, 2017 at 10:38
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    But 'the cure... is hard and swift riding' does not mean 'treating colicky animals is hard work, which needs to be done quickly in order to keep within an auspicious timeframe' or that 'its is hard and swift work [for the vet] curing colic'. It means the animals need to be ridden and made to go fast. The fact that modern web-pages still abound in advice NOT to do this suggest that the beneficiality of hard and fast riding still persists at an instinctive or 'folk wisdom' level.
    – Spagirl
    Jan 4, 2017 at 14:09
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    @Littletee,I am very glad that my question on English meaning has opening up for you a new world of the past – with google search at your command. I encourage you don't just read footnotes, but dive into the whole Asiatic Studies which isn't just fascinating but rewarding.
    – Janef
    Jan 5, 2017 at 0:36

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