I never started a colt under saddle until the summer of 1947. I was working for a ranch in Cochise County, Arizona. They had half a dozen colts to “break”, most of them four year olds, so they hired a “colt breaker”, also known as a “bronc buster”, a “bronc peeler” or a “bronc stomper”. The names of course, illustrate the traditional cowboy method of the era, using coercion and physical restraint to get the previously unhandled and fearful young horses saddled and mounted and then “bucking them out” until they stopped resisting.
Despite the crudeness of the method, most of these horses actually became useful and compliant stock horses.
I asked the bronc breaker to show me how to “break broncs”. He did so, selecting the gentlest colt of the six, and, somehow, we got the job done. However I thought a less frightening and abusive method could be available, so when I got back home to Tucson at the end of the summer I visited two of the community’s most respected horse trainers to see if they could teach me a softer method.
To my disappointment both men said that “bucking the colts out” was traditional, effective, fast, and proven, so they therefore approved of it.
So, I went to The University of Arizona campus library. I was a freshman student there, in the College of Agriculture, majoring in Animal Husbandry. This was before it ever occurred to me to do postgraduate studies in veterinary medicine.
There, and also in Tucson’s town library, I found several books which described more benign methods of starting colts to ride.
The book that impressed me most was written by a 19th century resident of Groveport, Ohio. His name was John S. Rarey and he went on to become internationally famous. Although he died, prematurely, at 36 years of age, his training methods were so innovative and effective that Queen Victoria invited him to come to England. There, he tamed a stallion famous for his vicious behavior. The horse’s name was Cruiser and his dangerous aggressiveness had made him legendary.
Rarey transformed Cruiser so dramatically that he became very well known in Europe and traveled, doing demonstrations and teaching in several other nations.
When Rick Lamb and I co-authored our book, The Revolution in Horsemanship in 2005 we learned that there is a museum in Groveport honoring its most famous native, John Rarey. So, when I was invited to be a speaker at the 2016 Midwest Veterinary Conference in Columbus, Ohio, I was fortunate to be invited to go to the Groveport Museum to see the Rarey exhibits. I was thrilled to do so because Rarey’s book had such an effect upon me, helping to motivate me to adopt ways of handling horses that changed my life.
So, if you are ever in Groveport, Ohio, and better horsemanship is one of your goals, go see the Rarey exhibits.
At the museum I purchased a DVD, The Story of John S. Rarey and Cruiser. The video honors Rarey’s life, but his book explains his methods and philosophy.
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