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The Man Who Could Talk To Horse
John Solomon Rarey was possibly the greatest horse tamer the world has ever seen; his incredible feats made him the toast of Victoria, Napoleon III, and the Czar
April 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 3
While in the popular mind the taming of Cruiser was always the peak of Rarey’s triumphs, it did not represent the most tiring of his battles. It took four hours for him to train a zebra to the saddle, and a half-mad coaching stallion, Stafford, nearly ended the exposition of the Rarey method when it fastened its teeth on the horse tamer’s shoulder during a private confrontation in Paris. Only hasty action by manager Goodenough, armed with a pitchfork, saved Rarey. The Paris Illustrated Journal recited the scarcely believable details of the Ohioan’s public demonstration with the animal: Mr. Rarey concluded his first exhibition by beating a drum on Stafford’s back and passing his hand over his head and mouth. Stafford was afterward ridden by a groom, and showed the same docility in his hands as in those of Mr. Rarey.
Mr. Rarey succeeded on the first attempt in putting him in harness with a mare, although he had never had his head through a collar before; and he went as quietly as the bestbroken carriage horse in Paris. Mr. Rarey concluded by firing a six chambered revolver from his back.
Novelist Théophile Gautier joined the French Emperor Louis Napoleon in public praise of the remarkable American, while the lion of German science, Baron Alexander Von Humboldt, nearing his ninetieth year, expressed the hope that he would live long enough to meet the horse tamer from Ohio. His wish was granted, and the Baron attended a dinner in Rarey’s honor.
For most of his triumphs—and he averaged several public exhibitions a week—Rarey’s quiet approach, his seemingly intuitive understanding of the psychology of the horse, his measured gestures, and his wellmodulated voice were sufficient. But when confronted by hard cases, such as Cruiser and Stafford, Rarey took additional steps, and they were all dangerous ones. Moving with a light, springy step about the horse, he would draw up the animal’s near foreleg close to its body and fasten it in that position with a short strap. With one foreleg drawn up in this manner, the horse had difficulty maintaining balance and could not kick or buck. Next Rarey fastened one end of a long strap around the lower part of the horse’s far foreleg and passed the other end through a loop in a belt which he had put around the animal’s belly. Now the trainer could quickly bring the horse to its knees. Rarey explained the procedure this way: Keep the strap tight in your hand, so that he cannot straighten his leg if he rises up.
Hold him in this position, and turn his head towards you; bear against his side with your shoulder, not hard, but with a steady, equal pressure, and in about ten minutes he will lie down. As soon as he lies down, he will be completely conquered, and you can handle him as you please.
No cruelty had been involved, no spurs, whips, twitches, beatings, or blood-letting to weaken the animal. Instead, the beast soon began to undergo an experience unlike any it had ever known before.
One of Rarey’s pupils, S. Sidney, hunting correspondent of the Illustrated London News , described the next step in the proceedings: Smooth his ears, rub his legs, scrape the sweat off him gently with a scraper, rub him down with a wisp or brush, give him a drink of water, then go over him again as if you were a shampooer at a Turkish bath … rubbing his head, breathing in his nostrils.
One of the curious results of the Rareyfying or strapping up and laying down is, that after being duly shampooed or mesmerized, the moment he rises he seems to have contracted a personal affection for the operator.
Rarey maintained that since “seeing, smelling, feeling and hearing are the senses by which the horse examines every strange object, we may, by allowing him to exercise these senses, reconcile him to any object or sound that does not hurt him.” While “Rareyfying” a horse, the Ohioan was able to convince the animal that it was quite all right to have a pistol fired near its head, a drum beaten loudly, or a whip cracked above its ears. So astonishingly effective was the procedure that Punch suggested the extension of the Rarey methods to obnoxious politicians, and Harper’s Magazine foresaw them as a cure for wayward husbands.
Honors continued to be showered on the Ohioan: Victoria’s court danced to the “Rarey Waltz,” and the King of Sweden expressed his gratitude for an exhibition in Stockholm by presenting Rarey with a medal giving him entrance to all royal palaces and arsenals. Launched on a world tour, Rarey astounded Czar Alexander at St. Petersburg by his mastery of the wildest animal that could be corralled on the steppes. In the Middle East he rode with the Arabs and found they had nothing to teach him. When he returned to England in the spring of 1860, his audiences at the Crystal Palace averaged eight thousand a night.