At the distance

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the research of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


Published in Quartette, with the heading:

5th RACE. Ladies’ Nomination.For all bona-fide [genuine] polo ponies, owners up. 13-2 to carry 10-7; 4 lb. allowed for every 1/4 inch under. Distance 3/4 mile on the flat. Prize, a gold locket.
Any Gymkhana Prospectus.

Quartette was a Christmas Annual by Four Anglo-Indian Writers, the work of Kipling, his sister Trix, his father and his mother, published in December 1885 by the Press of the Civil and Military Gazette, the Lahore newspaper for which Kipling was Assistant Editor. Pinney notes (p. 2254) that Kipling signed his name at the end of the poem in a copy of Quartette presented to Meta de Forest by Lockwood Kipling, now in the British Library.

It was never collected by Kipling but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 300) and Pinney (p. 1782).

The Poem

The poem offers a stream of consciousness at the climax of a race from the points of view of the two riders. Green is the worse rider on the poorer horse, but he is desperate to win the prize locket for his sweetheart Kitty. Brown knows this, so he lets Green win, remembering a race when he was wooing his wife in which another rider did the same for him. In the last two lines he apologises to his horse for holding him back. Kipling would never have ridden in such a race, but he would have known many young men with that experience.

Notes on the Text


The technicalities on handicapping etc. are of the kind regularly used in advertising and reporting race-meetings in India.

bona-fide genuine (Latin).

13-2 13 hands 2 inches, the maximum height for a mount to be classified as a pony under Calcutta Turf Club Rules. A ‘hand’ as a measure for horses was 4 inches, 100 mm, the width of a clenched fist. 13.2 equals 1m 35 cm. Height is measured from the withers, the highest point of the body.These were polo ponies, small and quick on their feet. See “The Maltese Cat.

to carry 10-7 10 stone 7 pounds (lb.) One stone was 14 lb; 1 lb. = 0.45 kg. So 10-7 equals 66.15 kg.

distance 3/4 mile 1200 metres. 1 mile = 1.6 km.

[Part 1]

Jezebel, g.c.b.m A grey, country-bred, mare.

Can she stay? can she last the distance.

throat-latch a strap under his horse’s throat, so the other horse is almost level.

Here goes! /One welt he starts to use his whip.

Swaine and Adeney A well-known firm supplying saddlery etc.

He gives me three good he can carry an extra three stone (19 kg) handicap and still win.

pice the plural of pie a copper coin worth 1/64th of a rupee.

tat country-bred pony.

cat-gut the whip.

Her bolt’s shot she’s done all she can.

[Part 2]

Robin, ch.c.b.p. chestnut, country-bred, pony.

a furlong 1/8 mile, 220 yards, 200 metres. He could give Green that much start in the race and still beat him.

Cabuli dealer a horse-trader from Cabul (now Kabul) in Afghanistan.

Dehra capital of the Dehra Dun district of the North-West Provinces. He and Robin had a surprise win there.

My arms are nigh wrenched from their sockets He is pulling on the reins as hard as he can to slow his horse and let Green win.

‘pulled’ deliberately lost.

anna 1/16 of a rupee There were 4 pice to the anna.

‘spin’ gallop, spurt.

caster A horse no longer fit for service (e.g. in the artillery or cavalry) and therefore sold off by public auction.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved