The Complete Horse Tamer, Part 4

by John Solomon Rarey

When your horse balks, or is a little excited, or if he wants to start quickly, or looks around and don't want to go, there is something wrong, and he needs kind treatment immediately. Caress him kindly, and if he don't understand at once what you want him to do, he will not be so much excited as to jump and break things, and do everything wrong through fear. As long as you are calm, and can keep down excitement of the horse, there are ten chances to have him understand you, where there would not be one under harsh treatment; and then the little flare up would not carry with it any unfavorable recollections, and he would soon forget all about it, and learn to pull true. Almost every wrong act the horse commits is from mismanagement, fear or excitement; one harsh word will so excite a nervous horse as to increase his pulse ten beats in a minute. When we remember that we are dealing with dumb brutes, and reflect how difficult it must be for them to understand our motions, signs and language we should never get out of patience with them because they don't understand us, or wonder at their doing things wrong. With all our intellect, if we were placed in the horse's situation, it would be difficult for us to understand the driving of some foreigner, of foreign ways and foreign language. We should always recollect that our ways and language are just as foreign and unknown to the horse as any language in the world is to us; and should try to practice what we could understand were we the horse, endeavoring by some simple means to work on his understanding rather than on the different parts of his body. All balked horses can be started true and steady in a few minutes' time; they are willing to pull as soon as they know how; and I never yet found a balked horse that I could not teach to start his load in fifteen, and often in less than three minutes' time.

Almost any team, when first balked, will start kindly if you let them stand five or ten minutes, as though there was nothing wrong, and then speak to them with a steady voice, and turn them a little to the right or left so as to get them both in motion before they feel the pinch or the load. But if you want to start along a team that you are not driving yourself, that has been balked, fooled, and whipped for some time, go to them and hang the lines on their hames, or fasten them to the wagon, so that they will be perfectly loose; make the driver and spectators, if there are any, stand off some distance to one side, so as not to attract the attention of the horses; unloose their check reins, so that they can get their heads down, if they choose; let them stand a few minutes in this condition, until you can see that they are a little composed. While they are standing you should be about their heads gentling them; it will make them a little more kind, and the spectators will think you are doing something that they do not understand, and will not learn the secret. When you have them ready to start, stand before them, and as you seldom have but one balky horse in a team, get as near in front of him as you can, and if he is too fast for the other horse, let his nose come against your breast; this will keep him steady for he will go slow rather than run on you; turn them gently to the right, with the wagon; have it stand in a favorable position for starting out, letting them pull on the traces as far as the tongue will let them go; stop them with a kind word, gentle them a little, and turn them back to the left, by the same process. You will have them under your control by this time, and as you turn them again to the right steady them in the collar, and you can take them where you please.

There is a quicker process that will generally start a balky horse, but not so sure. Stand him a little ahead, so that his shoulder will be against the collar, and then take up one of his fore feet in your hand, and let the driver start them; and when the weight comes against his shoulders, he will try to stop - then let him have his foot, and he will go right along. If you want to break a horse from balking that has long been in that habit, you ought to set a day apart for that purpose. Put him by the side of some steady horse; have check lines on them; tie up all the traces and straps; so that there will be nothing to excite them; do not rein them up, but let them have their heads loose. Walk them about together for some time as slowly and lazily as possible; stop often and go up to the balky horse and gentle him, but keep him just as quiet as you can. He will soon learn to start off at the word, and stop whenever you tell him.

As soon as he performs right, hitch him to an empty wagon. It would be well to shorten the stay chain behind the steady horse, so that if it is necessary he can take the weight of the wagon the first time you start them. Do not drive but a few rods at first; watch your balky horse closely, and if you see that he is getting excited, stop him before he stops of his own accord, caress him a little, and start again. As soon as they go well, drive them over a small hill a few times, and then over a large one, occasionally adding a little load. This process will make any horse true to pull.


This is another method of conquering a skittish, stubborn or refractory horse. It is resorted to in cases where the measures before described fail to produce the desired effect. The principles on which the plan of choking are based are that you must make a powerful appeal to the intelligence of the animal by physical means before you can subdue him. Now we know that most animals, in fighting, seize each other by the throat, and that a dog thus held by his antagonist for a few minutes, on being released, is often so thoroughly cowed that no human artifice can induce him to again resume the unequal contest. It is, then, reasonable to suppose that choking will have a similar effect on the horse. When it can be done without injuring the animal, it is an easy mode of subduing him, for by its operation he becomes docile, and will thereafter receive any instruction which he can be made to understand. Teaching the horse, by this means, to he down at our bidding tends to keep him permanently gentle towards man, for it is a perpetual reminder of his subdued condition.

It requires a good deal of practice to tame a horse successfully by choking; also a nice judgment to know when he is choked sufficiently, as there is a bare possibility that he might get more than would be good for him. We advise persons not perfectly familiar with a horse to resort rather to the strapping and throwing-down process, unless the animal to be operated upon is so vicious and intractable that he cannot be cured by it. It is the fault of most people who have owned a horse to imagine that they are experts in his management; while, on the contrary, many professional horsemen are the very worst parties to attempt his subjugation.

In practicing the choking process, retire with the animal to be operated upon into a close stable, with plenty of litter upon the floor (tanbark or sawdust is preferable). In the first place fasten up the left fore-leg with strap No.1 (mentioned above) in such a manner that it will be permanently secured. Then take a broad strap with a buckle or buckle-frame at the end, and pass it around the neck just back of the jaw-bone, in the position given in the engraving. Draw the strap as tight as possible, so tight as to almost arrest the horse's breathing. The strap must not be buckled, but held in this position to prevent slipping back. The animal will struggle for a few minutes, when he will become perfectly quiet, overpowered by a sense of suffocation; the veins in his head will swell; his eyes lose their fire; his knees totter and become weak; a slight vertigo will ensue, and he will grow gradually exhausted. By now backing him around the stable, he will come down on his knees, in which position it is an easy matter to push him on his side, when his throat should be released. You must now operate with the horse in the same manner as described after getting him down by straps. Speak kindly to him, rub him gently the way the hair lies, fondle him in various ways, and he will be completely subdued. You should not attempt to fondle him, however, until you are satisfied that he has got over the excitement which the choking caused in him. It is only necessary in extreme cases to repeat the operation of choking, as no horse can effectually resist its terrible effects.

It should be constantly borne in mind that the operator must not be boisterous or violent, and that the greatest possible degree of kindness is absolutely essential. When the horse is prostrate he should be soothed until his eyes show that he has become perfectly tranquil.

Another process of choking is described by the above engraving. After tying up your horse to the manger, make friends with him by some one of the coaxing processes heretofore given, and when you get him in thorough good humor with you, begin the choking by seizing him on the throat near the jaw, at the same time holding on to his mane with your left hand. When you have exhausted him sufficiently, let go the mane and rap him gently on the fore-legs until he lies down; or you may touch him with your foot instead. After he is down, rub him gently, speak kindly to him, and as soon as he is properly composed, fondle and caress him.


In taming the horse either by choking or any of the other processes here given, the following rules should be observed: First - When forcing down the horse in either of the ways described, be careful of his neck. Do not let him fall upon that, or he may break it, as the spine of the horse is easily broken. Second - Do not force him down violently under any circumstances. The way to get him down is by patiently choking him and waiting until he goes down easily and from sheer exhaustion. Thirdly - Keep him very quiet by stroking or patting him with your hand in a gentle and delicate manner, until he is entirely over the excitement which your operations have caused in him. You can generally tell when he is appeased by the expression of his eyes. Fourthly - In backing the horse, never use violence. Hold the halter and off rein in your left hand, while managing him to bring him down.

In teaching a horse to follow you, and in curing him of kicking or biting or balking, or indeed any bad habit, the choking operation is resorted to with equal success as in the case of taming or breaking. If he continues stubborn, you have only to repeat the operation, giving him one or two lessons a day and in a short time he will be perfectly subdued. A young horse learns to obey quicker than an older one. When you get a horse down by any of the processes we have mentioned, a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes is ample time to keep him prostrate for the purpose of subjugation. Breathing into a horse's nostrils when he is down is practiced by some horse-tamers, and this is undoubtedly a soothing operation, as it brings you into close contact with the animal, thus giving him an opportunity of examining you with his nose - a process peculiar to horses. You should always litter your stable well when you perform these operations of flooring the horse. Clean straw or tanbark, or anything to make a soft stable bottom will answer.


Turn him out into a large stable or shed, where there is no chance to get out, with a halter or bridle on. Go to him and gentle him a little; take hold of the halter and turn him towards you, at the same time touching him lightly over the hips with a long whip. Lead him the length of the stable, rubbing him on the neck, saying, in a steady tone of voice, as you lead him, "Come along, my boy!" or use his name instead of my boy, if you choose. Every time you turn, touch him slightly with the whip, to make him step close up to you, and then caress him with your hand. He will soon learn to hurry up to escape the whip, and be caressed, and you can make him follow you around without taking hold of the halter. If he should stop and turn from you, give him a few sharp cuts about the hind legs, and he will soon turn his head towards you, when you must always caress him. A few lessons of this kind will make him run after you, when he sees the motion of the whip - in twenty or thirty minutes he will follow you around the stable. After you have given him two or three lessons in the stable, take him in a small lot and train him; and from thence you can take him into the road, and make him follow you anywhere, and run after you.


After you have well broken him to follow you, stand him in the center of the stable - begin at the head to caress him, and gradually work backwards. If he moves, give him a cut with the whip, and put him back to the same spot from where he started. If he stands, caress him as before, and continue gentling him in this way until you can get around him without making him move. Keep walking round him, increasing your pace, and only touch him occasionally. Enlarge your circle as you walk around, and if he then moves, give him another cut with the whip, and put him back to his place. If he stands, go to him frequently and caress him, and then walk round him again. Do not keep him in one position too long at a time, but make him come to you occasionally, and follow you around the stable. Then stand him in another place, and proceed as before. You should not train him more than half an hour at a time.


This process is very simple. Whenever a horse scares at objects on going along the road, always stop him, and let him face the object. Lead him slowly towards it, and let him touch it with his nose. Take the pains to do this on every occasion, and it will soon break him entirely. If your horse is frightened at an umbrella, you can soon learn him to be used to that. Go into the stable with him, and first let him look at the umbrella before it is opened - let him touch it with his nose. Open it a little way, and then let him see it, and finally open it wide. By ordinary patience you can soon learn the horse to have the umbrella opened suddenly in his face, without his being afraid. By a similar treatment you can break any horse from scaring at almost anything that may look frightful to him. If you wish to make a trial of this theory, just take a horse into the stable, and let him examine the frightful object a few minutes, after his mode of examining things, and you will be perfectly satisfied. There is a singular fact connected with taming the horse and I would have never believed if I had not tried it. If you accustom him to any particular object by showing it to him on one side only he will not be afraid when he sees it with the eye on that side, but he will be afraid if you approach him with it on the other side. It is therefore necessary to pacify him on both sides in all cases. After you have accustomed him to the umbrella, or whatever you may wish to make him familiar with, on his right side, repeat the operation on the left side in the same manner as if you had not approached him at all.


All my experience with and observation of horses, proves clearly to me that blinkers should never be used, and that the sight of the horse, for any reasons, should not be interfered with in any way. Horses are only fearful of objects which they do not understand, or are not familiar with, and the eye is one of the principal mediums by which this understanding and this familiarity are brought about. The horse, on account of his very amiable nature, can be made in the course of time to bear almost anything in any shape; but there is a quicker process of reaching his intelligence than that of wearing it into him through his skin and bones. However wild or nervous a horse may be, he can be taught in a very short time to understand and not to fear any object however frightful in appearance. Horses can be broken in less time, and better, without blinkers but horses that have always worn them will notice the sudden change, and must be treated carefully the first drive. After that they will drive better without the blinkers than with. I have proved by my own experiments that a horse broken without blinkers can be driven past any omnibus, cab, or carriage, on a parallel line as close as it is possible for him to go, without ever wavering or showing any disposition to dodge. I have not in the last eight or ten years, constantly handling horses, both wild and nervous, ever put blinkers on any of them, and in no case have they ever shied at passing objects.

The horse's eye is the life and beauty of the animal, as well as the index of all his emotions. It tells the driver, in the most impressive characters, what the horse's feelings are. By it he can tell the first approach of fear in time to meet any difficulty; he can tell if he is happy or sad, hungry or weary. The horse, too, when permitted to see, uses his eyes with great judgment. He sees better than we do. He can measure distances with his eyes better than we can, and, if allowed free use of them, would often save himself, by the quickness of his sight, from collisions when the driver would fail to do so by a timely pull of the reins. It would also save many accidents to pedestrians in the streets, as no horse will run on to any person that he can see. Blinkers are rapidly going out of use in the United States, and I have yet to find the man who, having once left them off, could ever be persuaded to put them on again. They are an unnecessary and injurious encumbrance to the horse, and in years hence will be a thing to be read of as one of the follies happily reformed in the nineteenth century.


Never give a horse whole grain. By bruising it, and wetting it with soft water, you save thirty per cent. of its nutritious effects. Steam it in preference to wetting, if you have facilities for doing so. Feed your horse two hours before he begins his day’s work. Give him the largest feed at night. Never tie him up to a rack; it is cruel to thus prevent a horse from lying down when he is tired. The best way is to take away your rack altogether, and arrange your stable so as to make it unnecessary to tie up the horse. The stable should always be dry and well littered. Never give your horse hard water to drink if soft water is to be had. If you cannot get soft water, draw the hard water out of the well two hours before you let him drink it. Beans should be full a year old before they’re fit to feed to horses; they should be bruised, the same as grain, not ground. Youatt recommends for horse feed the following, mixture: Cut hay, two parts; cut straw, three parts - add to this a quantity of bruised beans, oats, or other grain - wet the whole with soft water, and mix it well. Do not feel your horse too much hay, as it is not only a waste of provender, but when he is put to work with an overloaded stomach it endangers his wind. If left to pull hay out of the rack at pleasure, a horse will eat and waste some thirty pounds a day, whereas, by cutting up his hay and mixing it with other feed, as above described, ten pounds is an ample abundance for twenty-four hours. Horses, when worked, should be fed three or four times a day with a mixture of hay, straw and grain, as above described. Give them their food in the manger, and be careful that it is sweet and clean. By following these rules, your horses will always be in good condition - will not have that swelled belly so peculiar to animals who are allowed to fill their stomachs with hay - and will usually enjoy good health.


When you are looking to purchase a horse, first examine the eyes well. The best judges are sometimes deceived in the eyes, therefore you cannot be too careful. Clearness of the eyes is a sure indication of their goodness; but this is not all that should be attended to: the eyelids, eyebrows, and all the other parts, must also be considered; for many horses whose eyes appear clear and brilliant go blind at seven or eight years old. Therefore be careful to observe whether the parts between the eyelids and the eyebrows are free from bunches, and whether the parts round the under eyelids be full, or swelled; for these are indications that the eyes will not last. When the eyes are remarkably flat, or sunk within their orbits, it is a bad sign; also when they look dead and lifeless. The iris, or circle that surrounds the sight of the eye, should be distinct, and of a pale, variegated, cinnamon color, for this is always a sure sign of a good eye, and it adds beauty to the appearance of the animal.

In the next place, examine the teeth, as you would not wish to purchase an old horse, nor a very young one for service.

The feet should next be regarded; for a horse with bad feet is like a house with a weak foundation, and will do little service. The feet should be smooth and tough, of a middle size, without wrinkles, and neither too hard and brittle, nor too soft; the heels should be firm, and not spongy and rotten; the frogs horny and dry; the soles somewhat hollow, like the inside of a dish or bowl. Such feet will never disappoint your expectations, and such only should be chosen.

Particular regard should be had to the shoulders; they should not be too much loaded, for a horse with heavy shoulders can never move well; and on the other hand, one that has very thin shoulders, and a narrow chest, though he may move briskly so long as he is sound, yet he is generally weak, and easily lamed in the shoulders; a medium should therefore be chosen.

The body, or carcass, should neither be too small nor too large. The back should be straight, or have only a moderate sinking below the withers: for when the back of a horse is low, or higher behind than before, it is both very ugly and a sign of weakness. The back should also be a proper length. The ribs should be large, the flanks smooth and full, and the hind-parts, or uppermost hackles, not higher than the shoulders. When the horse trots before you, observe if his haunches cover big fore-knees. A horse with a short hind-quarter does not look well.

The next thing to be regarded in a horse is his wind, which may be easily judged of by the motion of his flanks. A broken-winded horse also pinches in his flanks, with a very slow motion, and drops them suddenly, which may be easily perceived. Many horses breathe thick that are not broken-winded; indeed, any horse will in foggy weather, or if foul fed, without sufficient exercise; but if a horse has been in good keeping, and had proper exercise, and yet has these symptoms, there is some defect, either natural or accidental; such as a narrow chest, or some cold that has affected the lungs.

There are other particulars that should be observed in choosing a horse. If his head be large and fleshy, and his neck thick and gross, he will always go heavy on the hand, and therefore such should never be chosen. A horse that has his hocks very wide, seldom moves well, and one that has them too near will chafe and cut his legs by crossing them. Fleshy-legged horses are generally subject to the Grease, and other infirmities of that kind, and therefore should not be chosen.

The temper of a horse should be particularly attended to. Avoid a fearful horse, which you may know at first sight by his starting, crouching, or creeping, if you approach him. A hot and fretful horse is also to be avoided, but the buyer should be careful to distinguish between a hot, fretful horse, and one that is eager and craving. The former begins to fret the moment he is out of the stable, and continues in that humor till he has quite fatigued himself; and the latter only endeavors to be foremost in the field, and is truly valuable; he has those qualities that resemble prudence and courage; the other those of intemperate heat and rashness.

A horse that goes with his fore feet low is very apt to stumble; and there are some that go so near the ground that they stumble most on even roads; and the dealers, to remedy to this, put heavy shoes on their feet, for the heavier a horse's shoes are, the higher he will lift his feet. Care also should be taken that the horse does not cut one leg with the other. A horse that goes near the ground will cut the low side of the fetlock joint, but one that goes high cuts below the knee, which is called the speedy cut. A horse that lifts his feet high, generally trots fast, but is not the easiest for the rider. Some horses cut with the spurn of the foot, and some with the heel; but this you may soon perceive by their standing; for if a horse points the front of his foot inward, he cuts with the spurn, and if outward, with the heel.

These few instructions may be of use in your choosing horses; but I advise every one to get some experimental knowledge of them before he trusts to his own judgment, for the dealers have so many arts to hide the defects of their horses, that the best judges are often deceived.

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