Man and the Horse

The contest between mind and matter is intelligible enough. There cannot be much doubt on which side victory will remain in the long run, for it is a mere question of weighing, measuring, calculating, observing, and drawing conclusions. Earth, sea, air; the more subtle powers of nature, such as electricity, heat, and so forth, have been pressed into the service of man, and rendered obedient to his will. Into these contests neither passion nor feeling enters.

It is impossible to feel resentment against a circular storm. An earthquake may inspire the immediate patients with dread, but these are mere victims, not combatants. They are not engaged in taming the subterraneous fire; they have not pitted human reason against the volcano’s unreasoning strength. When this is to be done, the philosopher, discoverer —call him what you will—will no more give way to emotion than Watt when he grappled with the problem of steam, or Davy when he fought his successful duel with fire-damp. Whether it be Newton speculating on the fall of the apple, or Agassiz calculating the downward progress of the glacier, the human champion in such struggles knows well that he must not attribute feeling to matter, nor allow such a misapprehension to disturb the equable play of his own powers.

Take the other side of the picture. Between man and his fellow-man the contest is in the main emotional. “If you want me to cry, shed the first tear yourself,” said the Alexander Pope of Augustin days. Nineteen-twentieths of man’s life (I speak alone of human relations) deal with mere questions of feeling; and I doubt if the twentieth part can altogether be assigned in an unmixed way to the province of reason. Have an argument with a man you dislike, and see if he will convince you. Try and bring a child up according to the canons of pure logic.

Why is a constant disputant a constant bore? What is the meaning of oratory, poetry, music, love, friendship, hatred, compassion, mourning for those who have gone before us, and that yearning to rejoin them which is stronger than the grave? All this is pure emotion, and of such stuff is life made up. If, then, you would train a child, or ever exercise any influence upon your fellow creatures, you must do so mainly by handling those golden harmonies which are always ready in every human heart to own the master’s touch.
But there is a half-way house; and this brings as to our immediate point.

There is such a thing as a storm which can be taught to love and dread you; as an electric flash which could destroy you in a second, and which yet you can tame to your will—not as Franklin did it, by sending up a kite, but by caressing and rebuking it as you would a froward child. The thought occurred to me the other day when I watched Mr. Rarey in Leicester Square as he lay upon the ground, and lifted to his forehead the hinder hoofs of a wild and savage horse, whom he had just subdued to his will. Not a blow, not an angry word had passed; but there lay the horse on the litter by his side, obedient, passive, prostrate.

Not half an hour before he would simply have killed half a-dozen unarmed men who had been shut up with him in a yard, and endeavoured to cast him upon the ground. Mr. Rarey had effectually mastered the animal’s nature. He had operated upon matter, but upon matter of so emotional a kind that during the progress of the operation it might be regarded as mere force (the Kratos or Bia of AEschylus), under the absolute dominion of terror and wrath.

Now, as far as it is possible to do so in words, my wish is to make clear to the reader what I saw myself on the day in question. It is, however, a transaction which can only be fully comprehended if it is seen. In common with others, I had read the little sixpenny book published by Routledge, entitled “The Taming of Horses, By J. S. Rarey.” When my reading was done, I was pretty much in the situation of the Bourgeois Gentilhomme when his fencing-master put a foil in his hand, and told him that the whole science of fencing consisted in killing your adversary and not being killed yourself. I found at the conclusion of that little work, that when I wanted to make a horse lie down—that horse being Cruiser or the King of Oude—all I had to do was to bend his left fore-leg and slip a loop over it, so that he could not get it down.

The next point was to put a circingle round his body (Cruiser’s body !), and fasten one end of a long strap around the other fore-leg, just above the hoof (the King of Oude’s hoof!). Then I was to place the other end under the circingle, so as to keep the strap in the right direction; to take a short hold of it with my right hand; to stand on the left side of the horse; to grasp the bit in my left hand; to pull steadily upon the strap with my right; to bear against his shoulder till I caused him to move. As soon as I lifted his weight—so I read—my pulling would raise his other foot, and he would then have to come on his knees.

At this point, I was above all things to be careful to keep the strap tight in my hand, so that he could not straighten his leg if he rose up. As I held him in this position, he would turn his head towards me; I was then to bear against his side with my shoulder, not hard (certainly not), but with a steady, equal pressure, and in about ten minutes he would lie down. As soon as he was down he would be completely conquered, and I might handle him as I pleased. That, no doubt, would be a very pleasant moment, if ever it arrived; but I could not help feeling throughout that in all probability before the ten minutes were out, either Cruiser or the Sovereign of Oude would have tamed me in a very effectual manner, all straps, loops, and circingles to the contrary notwithstanding.

I can positively affirm that this is precisely what Mr. Rarey did; but although the directions are as accurately transcribed from his own little book as the necessary inversion of the phrases will permit, I affirm, with equal certainty, that they would be of very little use to any one who had not seen the operation actually performed. I more than doubt, in the case of any animal of a peculiarly savage and vicious character (there are Rushes as well as Oberlins amongst the equine tribe), if any man, not possessed of Mr. Rarey’s own extraordinary nerve and self-possession, could carry, the experiment to a successful issue, even after he had witnessed one of the great horse tamer’s struggles and victories.

Ordinary horse tamers well imbued with his method, may succeed with ordinary horses, and, even so, an incalculable amount of good will have been worked; but the horse which is a miracle of savagery and madness will still require the man who is a miracle of cool courage to bring him to his bearings. This, however, in no way detracts from the value of Mr. Rarey’s method; the proved success of which ought to work an entire change in our system of horse breaking. I simply mean, that as you must call in a first-rate surgeon to perform some operation of peculiar difficulty, so you will always be compelled to place such a horse as Cruiser in the hands of Mr. Rarey himself, or his successor—if such an one may be found—if you would not see the man torn or mashed to pieces, and the experiment a failure.
It is a grand sight when the horse is first brought in. What a snorting, and shrieking, and plunging, and vicious display of teeth. Let us suppose the horse at first to be free, or that he has broken loose from the head-stall or long halter which had helped to introduce him to the presence. A wild horse, thoroughly roused to the top of his bent under the influence of rage and fear, is a sight which he who has once seen will not readily forget. Some little time passes by whilst the animal is expending his fury in this purposeless way — but at length he catches sight of a tall, quiet man standing motionless, within his reach. That man is of course Mr. Rarey.

At this moment there is no reason — if the horse knew his own power — why he should not rend the man into atoms, and stamp the life out of him. He does not take advantage of the golden moment; he rushes madly about hither and thither; he stands at gaze, contemplating the strange object, with distended nostril and blood-shot eye. The man remains immoveable, fixed as a statue, his right arm extended from the elbow. The horse will come up, all but, to him; he will put his head down, and paw the ground. If the man moved backward, the horse would rush at him; if forwards, in all probability he would attack him with his teeth.

This last sentence, however, embodies a mere conjecture of my own, for, in neither of the two operations which I witnessed, did any such catastrophe occur. On the contrary, the horse-tamer’s power over the animal was far more speedy in operation than I had expected to see it: so much so, that the idea would suggest itself,—Is this in very truth a mad and savage horse? I can only state it as my own conviction, that there was no delusion about the matter—and this from the further course of the operation. It appeared to me that Mr. Rarey must have some extraordinary power of fascination about his eye, or his general bearing, which soothed the fury, and assuaged the terror of the animal.

Soon you saw the horse standing motionless in the midst of the arena, and watching rather with an expression of curiosity than of fear and anger, the movements of the man as he strode up to his head very slowly, very gently, and ever with extended hand. At length, when Mr. Rarey was close upon him, he reached out his head, and eagerly smelt at his hand, his wrist, his sleeves. There was no precipitation. The object seemed to be to give the horse as much time as he might choose to take. The tamer’s hand now caressed the horse’s head above the nostrils, smoothed it down, passed up to the forehead, and repeated the process. By this time Mr. Rarey was standing by the horse’s left shoulder, and had caught hold, with his other hand, of the end of his headstall or halter.

I have been informed that at this stage of the operation the horse will break away sometimes more than once; but this is obviously a mere question of time. This I did not see. Mr. Rarey now proceeded to pass his hand down the animal’s side, just as any one of us might do to a horse which he was fondling or petting. This lasted some minutes, the horse evidently pleased to be relieved from his terrors, and appearing to enjoy the tamer’s caress. At length Mr. Rarey began to stroke his fore legs, more especially the left fore leg. Here was the critical moment. In an incredibly short space of time (it was almost like a trick of legerdemain) Mr. Rarey got the strap out of his pocket, took up the horse’s left fore leg, and slipped a loop over it, so that he could not get it down. There was nothing, however, abrupt or jerking about the way this was done; it was just as though he had been continuously stroking the leg; but the thing was done. I was told that this is the real instant of victory. From the moment the horse’s leg is strapped up, he is conquered. Plenty, however, remains to be told.

I had supposed that as soon as the horse felt one of his fore legs thus confined, he would at once recommence his struggles. This did not happen in the cases which I witnessed. The horse stood quiet, and suffered himself to be caressed. Mr. Rarey stroked him over his back, his shoulders, his left side, and then began to make fresh appeals to his right leg. This took some minutes more. At length he took a long strap out of his pocket, and fastened it by a buckle around the right fore leg, just above the hoof: he then carried the other end through the circingle, holding the end firmly in his right hand. The next step was to take a short hold of the halter, and to pull with great strength, but slowly and continuously—not by a jerk—on both, but mainly, as it seemed to me, on the halter.

The horse now took alarm again, but the upward spring which he gave to relieve himself from restraint, of course lifted the right leg from the ground, and when he came down again, it was on both his knees. I should have said that Mr. Rarey had fitted the horse with knee-caps before he pulled him down. A considerable time—about ten minutes—elapsed from this period of the operation until the animal was fairly rolled over; and this was one of the most remarkable parts of the exhibition.

Throughout, let him struggle as he might, Mr. Rarey never quitted his left shoulder, nor relaxed his grasp on the strap. The horse reared up into the air, making frantic beatings with his handcuffed fore legs, but it was all in vain. Let him fight as ho would, he was invariably brought down on his knees; and in this truncated attitude he stood, panting, snorting, foaming, until at last the fierceness of his spirit seemed to give way, and he looked around him rather in a pitiable than a ferocious way, as much as to say, “This is really too bad!”

But whether he struggled, or whether he remained quiet, the even pressure was never taken off his left shoulder. Before he yielded to it finally, he made one straggle more determined than all that had gone before, but with this his fury was spent. At length he suffered himself to be literally “tumbled” over, thoroughly tamed. I noticed that when he was fairly on his side, the poor creature gave a great sigh, which seemed to my fancy to be one of relief, as though he had thought within himself, “Well! I’ve nothing to blame myself with; but that’s well over at any rate.” When once upon his side, the horse was effectually tamed: he was as passive in the hands of his conqueror as one of the well-trained circus-horses, which at a given signal fall upon the floor of the arena, and simulate death.

Whilst the animal lay in this condition Mr. Rarey patted and stroked him over, or, to use his own quaint phrase, “gentled, ” first one side then the other; now this leg—then that. From his expressions you would have inferred that he had magnetised the whole of the horse’s frame in detail, and that had he neglected to make his passes over any particular section of the horse—that section would still have remained in a state of savagery. Thus you might have had three tame legs, and a wild one. This, no doubt, implies an exaggeration. I only mean to convey an idea of the importance which the operator seemed to attach to familiarising the animal with contact with the human hand over its whole frame. The straps which had confined his fore legs were soon removed, hut still the horse lay perfectly passive, and seemingly content with his situation. Mr. Rarey lay upon him; stepped over him, sate upon his head, took his fore-legs, rubbed them and moved them backwards and forwards as you would do if you had intended to restore checked or impeded circulation.

The same process took place with the hind legs, and here it was evident that volition, and the power of independent muscular action was gone. The hind-legs were soft and flaccid; they moved as they were pulled, and remained where they had been placed. Mr. Rarey lay down upon the ground, and taking one of the horse’s hind-feet, placed the armed hoof on his forehead. Had there been but one momentary spasm of volition, or return of ferocity, the horse tamer was a dead man. He was like a man tied to the mouth of a gun; nothing could have saved him had the fire been applied to the charge.
This portion of the operation may have lasted about a quarter of an hour. Mr. Rarey then made the horse get up, which he did readily enough, but now every spark of his original ferocity seemed extinct. Saddle and bridle were brought in. They were first presented to the horse, and were carefully examined by him. The examination was conducted entirely by the sense of smell.

When the process of saddling, mounting, and dismounting had been freely accomplished, a drum was brought in by one of the attendants. This also was presented to the horse, who carefully smelt it all over, and soon appeared satisfied that no harm was intended. The drum was passed over his head, neck, shoulders; his sides were rubbed with it, and finally it was placed upon his back, and softly tapped at first. The horse merely pricked up his ears. It was sounded louder and louder by degrees, until at last the most enthusiastic drummer would have been satisfied with the disturbance and clatter. This seemed to be the crucial test, and the animal was led out meek, and entirely subdued. Now, this is a faithful and unexaggerated account of what I saw. How far the effect produced upon the horse by Mr. Rarey’s method may be permanent I have no means of judging.

In the “Times” of this morning, July 2(3,1 observe a letter in which it is stated that Cruiser, forgetful of Mr. Rarey’s lessons, has inflicted injuries of so grave a character upon his groom, that he is now lying at St. George’s Hospital at the last extremity. We cannot, however, venture to draw conclusions from this lamentable occurrence, unless we knew how far this unfortunate man had treated the horse in accordance with Mr. Rarey’s instructions. Even if there are exceptional cases in which the improvement is transitory, not permanent—apparent, not real—we must remember that we find incorrigible and untrainable cases even amongst human beings. Why should not a horse be afflicted with homicidal mania as well as a man? A system of education may be the best which the wit of man can devise; but no one would affirm that it would never fail in particular cases. The system of Mr. Rarey must be judged of as a whole, and by its general results; as such we may confidently affirm that it will be productive of great good both to man and to the horse.
Aauthor: A. A. Knox.. 1859


Cover: Japanese Art Ceramic


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