A review of horsemanship in early literature: “The Arabian Art of Taming and Training Wild and Vicious Horses”

Arabs Watering their Horses, oil on canvas painting by Eugène Fromentin, c. 1850 (?), San Diego Museum of Art / From Wikimedia Commons

While doing some reading and research on early horsemanship methods, I came across a little gem of a book written by Kinkaid and Strutzman (1856): “The Arabian Art of Taming and Training Wild and Vicious Horses”. This book is filled with interesting notes and ways to go about the horse, but one should not forget the context in which the book was written. Prevailing worldviews and our understanding of the complexities of life have changed considerably since then, at least in some places.

I especially enjoyed the 3 fundamental principles outlined by P.R. Kinkaid (1856) as follows:

Founded on the Leading Characteristics of the Horse.
FIRST.–That he is so constituted by nature that he will not offer resistance to any demand made of him which he fully comprehends, if made in a way consistent with the laws of his nature.
SECOND.–That he has no consciousness of his strength beyond his experience, and can be handled according to our will, without force.
THIRD.–That we can, in compliance with the laws of his nature by which he examines all things new to him, take any object, however frightful, around, over or on him, that does not inflict pain, without causing him to fear.

Tattersall's Training School (Unknown artist) Image from Wiki Commons

I must admit, I thought the three principles were brilliant! The remainder of the text is equally interesting, and you will find some areas of the text high-lightened. Interesting bits are mingled together with “just so” stories, so be prudent and critical in your reading, but enjoy!

To take these assertions in order, I will first give you some of the reasons why I think he is naturally obedient, and will not offer resistance to anything fully comprehended. The horse, though possessed of some faculties superior to man’s being deficient in reasoning powers, has no knowledge of right or wrong, of free will and independent government, and knows not of any imposition practiced upon him, however unreasonable these impositions may be. Consequently, he cannot come to any decision what he should or should not do, because he has not the reasoning faculties of man to argue the justice of the thing demanded of him. If he had, taking into consideration his superior strength, he would be useless to man as a servant. Give him mind in proportion to his strength, and he will demand of us the green fields for an inheritance, where he will roam at leisure, denying the right of servitude at all. God has wisely formed his nature so that it can be operated upon by the knowledge of man according to the dictates of his will, and he might well be termed an unconscious, submissive servant. This truth we can see verified in every day’s experience by the abuses practiced upon him. Any one who chooses to be so cruel, can mount the noble steed and run him ’till he drops with fatigue, or, as is often the case with more spirited, fall dead with the rider. If he had the power to reason, would he not vault and pitch his rider, rather than suffer him to run him to death? Or would he condescend to carry at all the vain imposter, who, with but equal intellect, was trying to impose on his equal rights and equally independent spirit? But happily for us, he has no consciousness of imposition, no thought of disobedience except by impulse caused by the violation of the law of nature. Consequently when disobedient it is the fault of man.

Then, we can but come to the conclusion, that if a horse is not taken in a way at variance with the law of his nature, he will do anything that he fully comprehends without making any offer of resistance.

Second. The fact of the horse being unconscious of the amount of his strength, can be proven to the satisfaction of any one. For instance, such remarks as these are common, and perhaps familiar to your recollection. One person says to another, “If that wild horse there was conscious of the amount of his strength, his owner could have no business with him in that vehicle; such light reins and harness, too; if he knew he could snap them asunder in a minute and be as free as the air we breathe;” and, “that horse yonder that is pawing and fretting to follow the company that is fast leaving him, if he knew his strength he would not remain long fastened to that hitching post so much against his will, by a strap that would no more resist his powerful weight and strength, than a cotton thread would bind a strong man.” Yet these facts made common by every day occurrence, are not thought of as anything wonderful. Like the ignorant man who looks at the different phases of the moon, you look at these things as he looks at her different changes, without troubling your mind with the question, “Why are these things so?” What would be the condition of the world if all our minds lay dormant? If men did not think, reason and act, our undisturbed, slumbering intellects would not excel the imbecility of the brute; we would live in chaos, hardly aware of our existence. And yet with all our activity of mind, we daily pass by unobserved that which would be wonderful if philosophised and reasoned upon, and with the same inconsistency wonder at that which a little consideration, reason and philosophy would be but a simple affair.

Thirdly. He will allow any object, however frightful in appearance, to come around, over or on him, that does not inflict pain.

We know from a natural course of reasoning, that there has never been an effected without a cause, and we infer from this, that there can be no action, either in animate or inanimate matter, without there first being some cause to produce it. And from this self-evident fact we know that there is some cause for every impulse or movement of either mind or matter, and that this law governs every action or movement of the animal kingdom. Then, according to this theory, there must be some cause before fear can exist; and, if fear exists from the effect of imagination, and not from the infliction of real pain, it can be removed by complying with those laws of nature by which the horse examines an object, and determines upon its innocence or harm.

A log or stump by the road-side may be, in the imagination of the horse, some great beast about to pounce upon him; but after you take him up to it and let him stand by it a little while, and touch it with his nose, and go through his process of examination, he will not care anything more about it. And the same principle and process will have the same effect with any other object, however frightful in appearance, in which there is no harm. Take a boy that has been frightened by a false-face or any other object that he could not comprehend at once; but let him take that face or object in his hands and examine it, and he will not care anything more about it. This is a demonstration of the same principle.


On another note, and the bit in the book that caused me to think of all the Natural Horsemanship methods (old wine in new bottles) that are based on similar precepts and ways, was this (again highlighting is mine):

Powel’s System of Approaching the Colt.

Powell 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 belong 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 of 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 that what nature put in it.” He says, “I have made use of certain, ingredients before people, such as the sweat under my arm, etc., 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 toward 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 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 further 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 from 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, etc., 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—’Live la pied’—’Alza el pie’—’Aron ton poda,’ etc., at the same time lift his foot with your hand. He soon becomes familiar with the sounds, and will hold his foot up 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.

Boy on a Horse circa 1877 (unkown artist) Image from Wiki Commons

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.”

The excerpts above are taken from:

The Arabian Art of Taming and Training Wild  and Vicious Horses, by P. R. Kincaid & John J. Stutzman (Published in Cincinatti-Ohio, 1856)

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