Captain Hayes and the Horse

First publication:

Civil and Military Gazette, 14 April 1886


Sussex Scrapbooks 28/3, p. 18

Captain Matthew Horace Hayes (1842-1904), famous as a trainer of horses, was now touring India to demonstrate his methods. He was the author of such works as A Guide to Training and Horse Management in India, 1875, and Illustrated Horse Breaking, 1889. In his autobiography, Among Men and Horses, 1894, Hayes remembered the meeting that Kipling describes in this article:

At Lahore I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time, Mr Rudyard Kipling, who was then a clever lad of about nineteen, and as yet unknown to fame. He was on the staff of the Civil and Military Gazette, and was doing much to brighten its hitherto somewhat staid columns. Although his tastes were wholly literary, he wrote for his paper a graphic and interesting account of my horsebreaking performances, which he witnessed, and which seem to have impressed him, if I may judge by his mention of my name in one of his Plain Tales from the Hills.

The reference that the Captain has in mind is in “The Rescue of Pluffles”: ‘I have seen Captain Hayes argue with a tough horse’. [T.P.]

The Article

(From a Correspondent)

‘The horse is a noble animal, but when irritated will not do so.’ Of his nobility opinions vary; of his unwillingness to do so no one who has ever had the misfortune to own an irritable horse can for a moment doubt. At this point — for Nature leaves none of her works imperfect — steps in Captain Hayes. He makes the horse ‘do so’, and instructs the owner how that horse may be made to do so as long as he has a leg to stand on. Captain Hayes is, therefore, the complement of the irritable horse; the one being incomplete without the other. As Saturn is ordained to spin round inside a ring of flame — even so is the young, lusty, and headstrong, or the old, angular and vicious horse ordained to spin round Captain Hayes until such time as it becomes a useful member of society. Everyone knows that the Captain’s methods are ‘occult, witheld, untrod’. He surrounds the stray-yard in which he teaches morality, obedience and order, with a line of kanats (canvas enclosures), and he objects to strangers looking on at his lessons. He objects also to his practices being revealed in print, but admits openly that the one and infallible way of teaching a horse anything is ‘to take the starch out of him’. No horse will bolt, shy, kick, or otherwise misconduct himself from vice, if he has had the starch taken out of him, more Hayesiatico.

On Monday morning sixteen or seventeen gentlemen, and four ladies met at seven o’clock at the back of the Veterinary School, and after being duly sworn to secrecy, studied the taming of horses. There was a chestnut, a slim-built trapster (a horse that pulls a trap, a small carriage) belonging to Colonel Home. He had pronounced views on the subject of coming out of a cart after being unharnessed; quitting the shafts, it is said, as the Devil went through Athlone — ‘in standing leps’. Otherwise he was absolutely quiet. Standing on the knee-deep straw of the enclosed yard, he seemed a thing for women to pet and men to pat — a country-bred in whom there was no guile. He allowed himself to be got ready for the ‘un-starching’ (softening: starch is used to stiffen fabric) process with almost painful docility, Captain Hayes lecturing merrily meanwhile, and showing divers secrets connected with knots, hitches and halters, and the best method of catching horses by the hind-leg, etc. (His way was a sound one, but a better method still is to send a sais (groom) to pick up legs or heads or tails or anything aggressive of that kind.) Then the manipulation began, and the chestnut trapster laid him down to his work as scientifically as the Captain and his Assistant. (By the way the Assistant’s name is ‘Ted’, and his nationality is Australian. He is popularly supposed to be able to sit anything with four legs, and is as deathly silent over his work as a mute. In the middle of a most exciting struggle with the young idea — all hoofs and teeth — he may be observed to smile softly to himself as thinking of something that amused him a long time ago. Now and then he speaks but always in subdued tones; and he may sometimes be seen to sorrowfully provoke a beast to kick just to gauge the length of its hind leg. He seems absolutely without fear of any kind, and the sight of him waltzing a dumb deux temps (two-step) with or round a horse is worth going some way to see.) But to return to the trapster. He fought well, not getting himself blown or lathered at the outset, and not showing the slightest degree of temper for more rounds than I should care to say. Ted and the Captain skirmished about him, and defeated him time upon time, but he came to the scratch (contest) for the two and twentieth time as composedly as though the game had just begun. All he wanted was his own way, and all that the Captain wanted was his own. In the intervals of the conflict — conducted with the greatest fairness and moderation on both sides — the Captain lectured, and showed how everything was done practically, and the male portion of the audience sat down on the straw and smoked attentively. It was delightful for every one except the trapster, for his own master had deserted him in his extremity, and was heartlessly speculating on the length of time necessary to unstarch him.

Round after round came and went; the sun became hotter, so did the horse, and Captain Hayes, cool, eloquent and masterful, placidly waited for the end. The trapster lost his temper and his belief in himself, and the first step of the process was at an end. A cart received him next, and herein, under the guidance of ‘Ted’ the silent, he behaved like a gentleman. Coming out of the shafts it is true that he stepped somewhat hastily; but this was accounted for by an overzealous sais making a mistake with one of the shafts, and hitting him behind. No horse worth his gram would stand still under these circumstances. Finally, he was taken away thankful, humbled and repentant. To him succeeded a small bay mare with her head in a muzzle, and a mild and cow-like expression in her eyes. She was only an inveterate man-eater, and was merely theorized over for a few minutes.

Someone admitted having a horse that let no European mount or saddle him. It was then close upon nine o’clock, but Captain Hayes expressed a willingness — even a yearning — to be introduced to that horse. ‘Ted’ smiled sorrowfully as one aware of the desperate wickedness of horseflesh and buttoned his jacket. A sais came up hanging on to the nose of a red, half Arab looking beast with the sign of the savage visibly impressed upon him, and the audience, after safely installing
themselves behind the wooden bars of a shed, waited for the curtain to draw up.

Under Captain Hayes’ orders, saddle and bridle were stripped off, and the handsome creature was left alone in the centre of the straw yard. Then the fun began. A naked horse does not offer any obvious points to lay hold of, and this one lashed out in front, and behind; and filled in the pauses with trying to bite. Ted and the Captain waded out into the straw, and fished for him with a rod and a line. Anyone who doesn’t know how it is done, may fish for horses to all eternity without getting anything more than a kick in the stomach. The horse suspected something wrong, and moved about quickly, then more quickly. Then he was hooked, and casting off the small remnant of decency that remained to him, he showed himself as vicious a devil as ever yet came under coercion. He bit his tongue; worried the ground; chewed his own knee in spleen(rage); groaned; grunted; fought with his fore-legs against the anglements that beset him; reared, plunged, kicked, and if speech had been given him in that hour, would have sworn fearfully. It wasn’t fright, because he attempted to rush his teachers; and it wasn’t stupidity, because he had the clearest notion of the traps laid for him It was Original Sin, 14.2 (fourteen hands and two inches – just under 5 feet to the withers) in its shoes; and like Sir Galahad, blessed with the strength of ten. Victory crowned his efforts after some ten minutes savage fighting, and the red devil broke from its fetters and escaped quivering with indignation. ‘Ted’ smiled pensively, and retired up the stage to elaborate a fresh ruse; while the Captain, hot, panting, but still placid, continued his lecture. Once again the allied forces advanced to the attack, and so disposed their measures that the horse fell into their hands amid applause from the gallery, and fearful protestations on his own part. When a horse is really savage he grunts like a pig. This is very impressive. Also you never realise the full beauty of the contours of the body till you see a horse trying to stand on its head, or waving an indignant foreleg heavenward, or dancing a schottische (a lively dance, like the polka) round a man. Everything held this time, and except for one exciting minute, the horse never had a look in. He succumbed, grandly fighting to the last, about ten o’clock. Then the Captain moralized on the sinfulness of pride, and drank lemonade, being warm; while ‘Ted’ looked mournfully at the victim, as one who said: — ‘I told you it was no good, and now I’m going to ride you.’ Unfortunately the writer could not stay for what was doubtless the finest feature of the programme. He left at ten, and the last sight he saw was the horse that could not stand a European — the centre of an admiring crowd of Englishmen and ladies, a baffled beast, black with sweat, white with lather, and to all appearance cowed completely.