The Modern Art of Taming Wild Horses/Chapter 10

The Modern Art of Taming Wild Horses  (1858)  by John Solomon Rarey
Powel's System of Approaching the Colt

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But, before we go further, I will give you Willis J. Powel's system of approaching a wild colt, as given by him in a work published in Europe, about the year 1814, on the "Art of Taming Wild Horses." He says, "A horse is gentled by my secret in from two to sixteen hours." The time I have most commonly employed has been from four to six hours. He goes on to say, "Cause your horse to be put in a small yard, stable, or room. If in a stable or room, it ought to be large, in order to give him some exercise with the halter before you lead him out. If the horse belongs to that class which appears only to fear man, you must introduce yourself gently into the stable, room, or yard, where the horse is. He will naturally run from you, and frequently turn his head from you; but you must walk about extremely slow and softly, so that he can see you whenever he turns his head towards you, which he never fails to do in a short time, say in a quarter or half an hour. I never knew one to be much longer without turning towards me.

"At the very moment he turns his head, hold out your left hand towards him, and stand perfectly still, keeping your eyes upon the horse, watching his motions, if he makes any. If the horse does not stir for ten or fifteen minutes, advance as slowly as possible, and without making the least noise, always holding out your left hand, without any other ingredient in it than what nature put in it." He says, "I have made use of certain ingredients before people, such as the sweat under my arm, &c., to disguise the real secret, and many believed that the docility to which the horse arrived in so short a time was owing to these ingredients; but you see from this explanation that they were of no use whatever. The implicit faith placed in these ingredients, though innocent of themselves, becomes 'faith without works.' And thus men remained always in doubt concerning this secret. If the horse makes the least motion when you advance towards him, stop, and remain perfectly still until he is quiet. Remain a few moments in this condition, and then advance again in the same slow and almost imperceptible manner. Take notice - if the horse stirs, stop, without changing your position. It is very uncommon for the horse to stir more than once after you begin to advance, yet there are exceptions. He generally keeps his eyes steadfast on you, until you get near enough to touch him on the forehead. When you are thus near to him, raise slowly, and by degrees, your hand, and let it come in contact with that part just above the nostrils, as lightly as possible. If the horse flinches (as many will), repeat with great rapidity these light strokes upon the forehead, going a little farther up towards his ears by degrees, and descending with the same rapidity until he will let you handle his forehead all over. Now let the strokes be repeated with more force over all his forehead, descending by lighter strokes to each side of his head, until you can handle that part with equal facility. Then touch in the same light manner, making your hands and fingers play around the lower part of the horse's ears, coming down now and then to his forehead, which may be looked upon as the helm that governs all the rest.

"Having succeeded in handling his ears, advance towards the neck, with the same precautions, and in the same manner; observing always to augment the force of the strokes whenever the horse will permit it. Perform the same on both sides of the neck, until he lets you take it in your arms without flinching.

"Proceed in the same progressive manner to the sides, and then to the back of the horse. Every time the horse shows any nervousness, return immediately to the forehead as the true standard, patting him with your hands, and thence rapidly to where you had already arrived, always gaining ground a considerable distance farther on every time this happens. The head, ears, neck, and body being thus gentled, proceed from the back to the root of the tail.

"This must be managed with dexterity, as a horse is never to be depended on that is skittish about the tail. Let your hand fall lightly and rapidly on that part next to the body a minute or two, and then you will begin to give it a slight pull upwards every quarter of a minute. At the same time you continue this handling of him, augment the force of the strokes as well as the raising of the tail, until you can raise it and handle it with the greatest ease, which commonly happens in a quarter of an hour in most horses, in others almost immediately, and in some much longer. It now remains to handle all his legs; from the tail come back again to the head, handle it well, as likewise the ears, breast, neck, &c., speaking now and then to the horse. Begin by degrees to descend to the legs, always ascending and descending, gaining ground every time you descend, until you get to his feet.

"Talk to the horse in Latin, Greek, French, English, or Spanish, or in any other language you please; but let him hear the sound of your voice, which at the beginning of the operation is not quite so necessary, but which I have always done in making him lift up his feet. 'Hold up your foot' — 'Lève le pied' — 'Alza el pié' — 'Aron ton poda,' &c.; at the same time lift his foot with your hand. He soon becomes familiar with the sounds, and will hold up his foot at command. Then proceed to the hind feet, and go on in the same manner; and in a short time the horse will let you lift them, and even take them up in your arms.

"All this operation is no magnetism, no galvanism; it is merely taking away the fear a horse generally has of a man, and familiarizing the animal with his master. As the horse doubtless experiences a certain pleasure from this handling, he will soon become gentle under it, and show a very marked attachment to his keeper."