Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 23, 1858 --- The American Horse Tamer

At the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, "the American Horse Tamer," James Rarey gives a command performance for the Queen and Prince Albert. In addition, the audience includes many of the crowned heads of Europe who had assembled in London for the approaching wedding of the Princess Royal. 

Rarey is a slightly built man of 30, a horse-breeder's son from Ohio.  His reputation precedes him as a man who can tame the most intractable steed. His methods are mysterious. For the performance, he requests unbroken horses from the Royal stud and dismisses his audience for fifteen minutes.  Upon their return, they are amazed to see completely docile beats.  Rarey sits astride one unsaddled mount while pounding a drum. The official account notes that the exhibition is "witnessed with the most evident tokens of interest and wonder."

Using the Palace show as publicity, Rarey is soon the toast of England's considerable horse-loving community. While his methods must remain a secret, Rarey insists he used no trickery, no drugs, no mesmeric influence and inflicts no pain on the animals. Rather, he appeals to the "intellect and affections of the horse." For ten guineas a head, 600 people - willing to sign a pledge of secrecy - attend a series of lectures and demonstrations at stables in Belgravia. Adding to his lore, Rarey tames an infamously savage horse, Cruiser, rendering the animal, in the words of an onlooker, "subdued, perhaps saddened, yet mild and contemplative." Rarey met with Prime Minister Palmerston and representatives of the War Office who sought his advice on the training of cavalry horses.

In a final stunt before leaving England, Rarey tamed a zebra brought to him from the Regent's Park Zoo. The Spectator compared him to St. Francis of Assisi: "He has reversed the old rules of discipline and confirmed the most philosophical and spiritual trust in kindness. It is an experience which is very likely to have a material interest on the progress of civilization." Rarey's vogue was short-lived. He traveled across Europe and soon returned to America where he died a young man in 1866.

[Photograph from]

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