- Historic Sites
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
And then, almost three years to the day after he had left the United States, Rarey sailed homeward with Cruiser, his fame running well in advance. While the Civil War engulfed his homeland, Rarey continued on tour with spectacular performances in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. Prizes were offered for the most vicious horses that could be found to test his skill. At Niblo’s Gardens in New York City, Rarey and Edwin Forrest, the great tragedian, were the star attractions, appearing on alternate nights. In Boston, Ralph Waldo Emerson was so impressed that he as- serted that the horse tamer’s methods had “turned a new leaf in civilization.” William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist, hailed Rarey for substituting “the law of love for the spirit of brutality” and unblushingly invoked for him “the horse-pitality of the world.” On December 14, 1862, at the invitation of Major General Henry Halleck, Rarey paid a visit to the Army of the Potomac, where he gave instruction in his method to Union cavalry officers.
The war, however, had brought uncertainty to theatrical tours with Cruiser; moreover, although still a young man, Rarey was exhausted. Returning to Groveport, he busied himself with the construction of a mansion for himself and his widowed mother on the site of the modest home in which he had been born. With the end of the war came plans for a new tour of Europe, where the sweetest memories of triumph still lingered. Groveport was beginning to lose some of the charm remembered from boyhood. Geniuses have little standing in “the old home town,” and scandal has a long tongue. “My grandparents seemed more concerned about his reputation with the ladies than his fame,” a present-day member of the Rarey family recalls. “Poor man, his travels were a little too much for the conservative town of Groveport.”
A paralytic stroke in December of 1865, shortly after his thirty-eighth birthday, blasted Rarey’s plans for the new tour. He seemed to be recovering when death came suddenly on October 4, 1866, as he was visiting in Cleveland. Nearly twenty years later, his old pupil Sidney wrote of him: “Rarey’s reputation has suffered from the inevitable reaction after an extraordinary season of sensation, and it is often sneered at by writers who are ignorant of, or incapable of comprehending the principles of horse breaking which he illustrated in his lectures.”
Today in the land of his birth Rarey remains virtually unknown. No tourists now come to see his grave in the Groveport cemetery or to ask about the story (untrue) that Cruiser, who was provided for in his will and outlived him nine years, lies besides him. The football team of the Groveport-Madison High School, which stands on the site of the old Rarey mansion, remains one tiny link with an American legend that is now all but forgotten: the players call themselves The Cruisers.