The Complete Horse Tamer, Part 3

by John Solomon Rarey


Having given full instructions relative to my system of dealing with young colts, I will now proceed to detail the plan of operations for taming or subduing wild or vicious horses. The principles of the method are the same as those in managing colts - kindness and gentleness - but the practice differs. When you desire to subdue a horse that is very wild, or has a vicious disposition, take up one fore-foot and bend his knee till his hoof is bottom upwards, and nearly touching his body; then slip a loop over his knee, and shove it up until it comes above the pastern-joint, to keep it up, being careful to draw the loop together between the hoof and pastern-joint with a second strap of some kind to prevent the loop from slipping down and coming off This will leave the horse standing on three legs; you can now handle him as you wish, for it is utterly impossible for him to kick in this position. There is something in this operation of taking up one foot, that conquers a horse quicker and better than any. thing else you can do to him; and there is no process in the world equal to it to break a kicking horse, for by conquering one member, you conquer, to great extent, the whole horse.

You can do anything you wish with the horse in this condition, as when he becomes convinced of his incapacity to cope with man, he will abandon all antagonistic demonstrations, and become willing to obey, and generally docile. Operate on your horse in this manner as often as the occasion requires, and you will soon find him as gentle as his nature will permit him to be. By these means the most vicious, uneasy, unruly or fretful horse may be cured, though it depends upon the age and disposition of the animal how long it will take to make him amiable. When you first fasten up a horse's foot, he will sometimes get very mad, and strike with his knee, and try every possible way to get it down; but as he cannot do that, he will soon give up.

Conquering a horse in this manner is better than anything else you could do, and leaves him without any possible danger of hurting himself or you either; for after you have tied up his foot, you can sit down and look at him until he gives up. When you find he is conquered, go to him, let down his foot, rub his leg with your hand, caress him, and let him rest a few minutes; then put it up again. Repeat this a few times, always putting up the same foot, and he will soon learn to travel on three legs, so that you can drive him some distance. As soon as he gets a little used to this way of traveling, put on your harness and hitch him to a sulky. If he is the worst kicking horse that ever raised a foot, you need not be fearful of his doing any damage while he has one foot up; for he cannot kick, neither can he run fast enough to do any harm. And if he is the wildest horse that ever had harness on, and has run away every time he has been harnessed, you can now hitch him to a sulky and drive him as you please. If he wants to run, you can let him have the lines, and the whip too, with perfect safety; for he can go but a slow gait on three legs, and will soon be tired and ready to stop; only hold him enough to guide him in the right direction, and he will soon be tired and willing to stop at the word. Thus you will effectually cure him at once of any further notion of running off. Kicking horses have always been the dread of everybody; you always hear men say, when they speak about a bad horse, "I don't care what he does, so he don't kick." This new mode is an effectual cure for that worst of all habits. There are plenty of ways by which you can hitch a kicking horse, and force him to go, though he kicks all the time; but this don't have any good effect towards breaking him, for we know that horses kick because they are afraid of what is behind them, and when they kick against it and it hurts them, they only kick the harder; and this will hurt them still more and make them remember the scrape much longer, and make it still more difficult to persuade them to have any confidence in anything dragging behind them ever after. But by this new method you can harness them to a rattling sulky, plow, wagon, or anything else in its worst shape. They may be frightened at first, but cannot kick or do anything to hurt themselves, and will soon find that you do not intend to hurt them, and then they will not care anything more about it. You can then let down the leg and drive along gently without any further trouble. By this new process a bad kicking horse can be learned to go gentle in harness in a few hours' time.


Everything that we want to teach the horse must be commenced in such a way as to give him an idea of what we want him to do, and then be repeated till he learns it perfectly. To make a horse lie down, bend his left fore-leg and slip a loop over it, so that he cannot get it down. Then put a surcingle around his body, and fasten one end of a long strap around the other fore-leg, just above the hoof. Place the other end under the before-described surcingle, so as to keep the strap in the right direction take a short hold of it with your right hand; stand on the left side of the horse; grasp the bit in your left hand, pull steadily on the strap with your right; bear against his shoulder till you cause him to move As soon as he lifts his weight, your pulling will raise the other foot, and he will have to come on his knees. 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. Take off the straps, and straighten out his legs; rub him lightly about the face and neck with your hand the way the hair goes; handle all his legs, and after he has lain ten or twenty minutes, let him get up again. After resting him a short time, make him lie down as before. Repeat the operation three or four times, which will be sufficient for one lesson. Give him two lessons a day, and when you have given him four lessons, he will lie down by taking hold of one foot. As soon as he is well broken to lie down in this way, tap him on the opposite leg with a stick when you take hold of his foot, and in a few days he will lie down from the mere motion of the stick.


In practicing the foregoing method upon a colt, he should be first accustomed to be handled, and taught to lead easily. In approaching a spiteful or vicious horse, you had better make your advances with a half-opened door between you and him; gradually make his acquaintance, and teach him that you do not care for his open mouth; but a regular biter must be gagged with a wooden bit made for the purpose, so large that he cannot close his mouth.

Here is the kind of bit to be used.

Of course there is no difficulty in handling the leg of a quiet horse or colt, and by constantly working from the neck down to the fetlock, you may do what you please. But many horses, and even colts, have a most dangerous trick of striking out with their fore-legs. There is no better protection against this than a cart-wheel. The wheel may either be used loose, or the animal may be led up to a cart loaded with hay, when the horse-tamer can work under the cart through one of the wheels, while the colt is nibbling the load.

Having, then, so far soothed a colt that he will permit you to take up his legs without resistance, take the strap No. 1, pass the tongue through the loop under the buckle so as to form a noose, slip it over the near fore-leg and draw it close up to the pastern-joint, and fasten it as represented in the engraving. But you must not be rash in lifting the leg, and employ but little force in doing so. It is better to wait until he lifts it willingly by the use of gentle means. Do not get out of temper if you have to make a dozen ineffectual attempts to raise it. The near fore-leg being securely strapped, and the horse secured from biting, if necessary, with the wooden bit, (described elsewhere,) you will then make him hop about as before stated. This he will learn to do easily. The trainer must, however, take care to keep behind his horse's shoulder and walk in a circle, or he will be likely to be struck by the animalís head or strapped up leg.

A horse can hop on three legs for two or three miles, if you give him his own time, and no plan that has ever been tried is equal to this for curing a kicking or balky horse. After you have tired him out pretty well in this manner, you proceed to make him lie down, which process requires considerable patience and skill. For this purpose take strap No. 2, and making a loop with it put it round the off fore-leg. With a very quiet horse this can easily be done; with a wild or vicious horse you may have to make him step into it; at any rate, when once the off fore-leg is caught in the noose it must be drawn tight round the pastern-joint. Then put a stout glove on your right hand, pass the strap through the belly part of the surcingle, take a firm short hold of it with your gloved right hand, standing close to the horse behind his shoulders, and with your left hand take hold of the near rein; by pulling the horse gently to the near side he will be almost sure to hop; if he will not, he must be led.

The moment he lifts up his off fore-foot, you must draw up strap No. 2 tightly and steadily. The horse will then go down on his knees, for if you hold the strap tight he will not be able to stretch out his foot again. As soon as a horse recovers from his astonishment at being brought to his knees, he begins to resist; that is, he rears up on his hind legs, and springs about in a manner that will sometimes alarm the trainer.

During these struggles you must not try your strength against the horse's strength, but merely follow him about, holding the strap just tight enough to prevent him from putting out his off foreleg.. As long as you keep close to him and behind his shoulder, you are in very little danger. The bridle in the left hand must be used like steering lines, by pulling to the right or left as occasion requires: the horse turning on his hind legs, may be fatigued by being forced to walk backwards. The strap passing through the surcingle keeps, or ought to keep, the trainer in his right place - he is not to pull or in any way fatigue himself more than he can help, but, standing upright, simply follow the horse about, guiding him with the bridle so he will not precipitate himself against the side of the stable or room in which you are exercising him. When held and guided properly, he will soon sink down. Corn-fed horses will hold out longer than grass-fed ones, and the most energetic horse will scarcely struggle more than ten or fifteen minutes.

Usually, at the end of eight minutes' violent struggles, the animal sinks forward on his knees, sweating profusely, with heaving flanks and shaking tail. If he still resists he may be forced by the bit to walk backwards and forwards, but this is generally unnecessary, as by pushing gently at his shoulder, or pulling steadily the off-rein, you can get him to fall, in the one case on the near side, in the other on the off side; but this assistance should be so slight that the horse will not attempt to resist it. The horse will often make a final spring when you think he is quite beaten; but at length he slides over, and lies down, panting and exhausted, on his side. If he is a pretty spirited animal, take advantage of the moment to tie up the off foreleg to the surcingle, as securely as the other, in a slip-loop knot.

Now let your horse recover his wind, and then encourage him to make a second fight. It will often be more stubborn and more fierce than the first. The object of this tying-up operation is that he shall thoroughly exhaust without hurting himself, and that he shall come to the conclusion that it is you who by your 'superior strength have conquered him', and that you are always able to conquer him.

Under the old rough-riding system, the most vicious horses were occasionally conquered by daring men with firm seats and strong arms, who rode and flogged them into subjection; but these conquests were temporary, and usually personal; with every stranger, the animal would begin his game again.

One advantage of this system is that the horse is allowed to exhaust himself under circumstances that render it impossible for him to struggle long enough to do himself any harm. It has been suggested that a blood-vessel would be likely to be broken, or apoplexy produced by the exertion of leaping from the hind legs; but, up the present time, no accident of any kind has been reported.


If the horse has fought hard in going down, he will then usually lie perfectly still, and you can gentle him, scrape the sweat off, and rub him down, smoothing the hair of his legs, and drawing the fore one straight out. In this position you have the opportunity of making him perfectly familiar with you, and the more you fondle him and reconcile him to you the better. If you are treating an unbroken colt in this way, you may now mount his back, and thus, by finding out that you mean him no harm, he will learn to submit to being mounted when he stands up. You can also lay a saddle or harness on him and familiarize him with those articles. His head, tail and legs should now be handled with freedom, caressing and talking to him all the while. If he has hitherto resisted shoeing, handle all his legs with a view to accomplish it, and if he attempts to resist, continue until you subdue him, speaking to him with a voice of authority. If he is a bad kicker you may be obliged to confine his forelegs; and with those tied, you may spend an hour in handling his legs, tapping the hoofs with your hand or a hammer - all this to be done in a firm, measured, soothing manner; only now and then, if he resist, crying, as you paralyze him with the ropes, "Wo!" in a determined manner. It is by this continual soothing and handling that you establish confidence between the horse and yourself. After patting him as much as you deem needful, say for ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, you may encourage him to rise. Some horses will require a good deal of helping, and it may be necessary to draw out their fore-legs before them. The handling of the limbs of colts in this condition particularly requires caution. A colt tormented by flies will kick forward nearly up to the fore-legs. If a horse, unstrapped, attempts to rise, you may easily stop him by taking hold of a fore-leg and doubling it back to the strapped position. If by chance he should be too quick, don't resist, for it is an essential principle of this system never to enter into a contest with a horse unless you are certain to be victorious. In all these operations you must be calm, and never be in a hurry, or in a passion.

The principle established by this mode of treatment is that you show no violence to frighten the horse, and yet you force him to submit to your will, caressing him when he assents and gently forcing him when he does not. Repeated lessons will convince the most vicious horse that you are his master, and your gentle caresses consequent on his submission will at the same time give him confidence in you. It has been suggested that a novice should begin his practice on a gentle horse that he can handle at pleasure, and the plan is a good one. He may thus become familiar with the process before trying it in earnest on a vicious or unbroken animal.

A singular fact in illustration of the beauty of this treatment of refractory horses is mentioned in an English periodical. A beautiful gray mare, which had been fourteen years in the band of one of the Life Guards regiments, and consequently at least seventeen years old, would never submit quietly to have her hind-legs shod; the farriers had to put a twitch on her nose and ears, and tie her tail down: even then she resisted violently. After three days' treatment similar to that above described, she was easily shod with her head loose. And this was not done by a trick, but by proving to her that she could not resist even to the extent of an inch, and that no harm was intended her.


Horses know nothing about balking until they are forced into it by bad management. When a horse balks in harness, it is generally from some mismanagement, excitement, confusion, or from not knowing how to pull, but seldom from any unwillingness to perform all that he understands. High-spirited freegoing horses are the most subject to balking, and only so because drivers do not properly understand how to manage this kind. A free horse in a team may be so anxious to go that when he hears the word he will start with a jump, which will not move the load, but give him so severe a jerk on the shoulders that he will fly back and stop the other horse. The teamster will continue his driving without any cessation, and by the time he has the slow horse started again, he will find that the free horse has made another jump, and again flown back. And now he has them both badly balked, and so confused that neither of them knows what is the matter, or how to start the load. Next will come the slashing and cracking of the whip, and hallooing of the driver, till something is broken, or he is through with his course of treatment. But what a mistake the driver commits by whipping his horse for this act! Reason and common sense should teach him that. the horse was willing and anxious to go, but did not know how to start the load. And should he whip him for that? If so, he should whip him again for not knowing how to talk. A man that wants to act with reason should not fly into a passion, but should always think before he strikes. It takes a steady pressure against the collar to move a load, and you cannot expect him to act with a steady, determined purpose while you are whipping him. There is hardly one balking horse in five hundred that will pull truly from whipping: it is only adding fuel to fire, and will make him more liable to balk another time. You always see horses that have been balked a few times turn their heads and look back as soon as they are a little frustrated. This is because they have been whipped and are afraid of what is behind them. This is an invariable rule with balky horses, just as much as it is for them to look around at their sides when they have the bots; in either case they are deserving of the same sympathy, and the same kind of rational treatment.


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