A Week in Lahore (8)

by Rudyard Kipling
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First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 19 April 1886

Background
Sussex Scrapbooks 28/3, pp. 19-20

Kipling’s further remarks on the horse-training system of Captain Hayes: see ‘A Week in Lahore’, 14 April. [T.P.]




What are Captain Hayes’s notions of nerve? He says, verbally and in print, that his system may be acquired by anyone, even if he has nothing more than ordinary coolness. ‘Anyone who isn’t afraid to go into the same yard as a horse, can do what I can.’

The Captain is a great man, and a clever, and exceedingly wise; but surely he makes a mistake here. I admit that it does not require superhuman bravery to go and look at — peradventure walk round — a loose horse, so long as that horse stands still and thinks about his friends and family. But what are you to do when he doesn’t stand still? When he rises on end with a joyous squeak, opens his mouth and comes down on you like a wolf on the fold. You can’t quell him with a glance of the human eye divine, because he doesn’t wait to look at you. You can’t hit him over the head, because his head is about eight feet off the ground; and you can’t whack him over the legs, because that might spoil his value. Last of all, you can’t very well stay where you are, because he will hurt you. Will Captain Hayes explain what is the best thing for ‘taking the starch’ out of a horse who fears not God neither regards man — a confirmed man-eater? I admit cheerfully — have not these eyes seen the trick? — that Hayes himself plus ‘Ted Kerr’ can do anything he pleases with any beast, but I do not think that it will be given to five per cent of his pupils to successfully follow out his instructions.

Even as those last lines were written, a letter came in confirmation of my doubt. A man has been Hayesifying a horse and she — it was a lady — nearly Hayesified him. He seems to have written the account under the influence of extreme fear, and I should like to know if it is all true: —
‘Dear .
It was awfully easy to look at, and I had seen Hayes go through the business twice, so I went home and had the mare out of the cart to ‘unstarch’. She is quiet as a lamb in harness — only troubled with the slows; and as I wanted a sober beast to try my ‘prentice hand’ on, I took her. I rigged up a bamboo and string sort of enclosure; supplied myself with punkah ropes and the long feather-headed bamboo that the mehter (sweeper) uses for sweeping down cobwebs from room corners, and set to work. The old mare thought I meant to give her bread when I brought her in to the ring, and began nuzzling my shoulder. I hit her on the nose, and she backed off looking thoughtful and walked over to her sais (groom). Then I sat down making knots in a rope — same as Hayes does — and the saises said shabash ('well done!'), and all the servants gathered round and applauded. The mare stood in a corner dozing, and I began fishing for her — same as Hayes does — though it would have been much easier to have slipped a halter over her head, or even called her to me.

'Something went wrong with the knots. I don’t think I had the hang of them correctly — and the next that I remember was the mare running back at an awful rate on a taut line, and choking herself in a slip noose. She was grunting pretty freely by the time the sais got the rope off; and she wouldn’t let me fish any more after that. She backed into a corner, and rolled her eyes and snorted. Then I smiled, same as Hayes does — and went out to talk to her, and she came out with her mouth open to talk to me. Seemed that I’d shattered her feelings with that slip-knot business. I stepped back quickly and got to the other side of the bamboos. I tickled her in the face a bit with the fluffy end of the broom but that only made her worse. Then I thought that the sais would be the best man to manage the rest of the unstarching, so I lit a cheroot and gave him the necessary directions as far as I remembered them. He said the mare was perfectly gureeb (docile), and would do anything he told her. I said he was to do what I told him and he did — for about ten minutes; apologizing abjectly to the mare for making a fool of her in her old age. She put up with him for some time — though I could see she didn’t like it — until the smash came. Then she fought for her own hand, and the sais ran; and the punkah rope snapped; and there was a gaudy row. You take my word for it — a savage horse may be bad, but a quiet beast, with her feelings hurt, and her nose full of dust, and her coat studded with burrs is ten times worse. I never saw any horse carry on like the old mare did — not even the budmashes (rascals) Hayes handles. The sais came to me with tears in his eyes, while the old lady flopped about like a newly hooked roach, to say it was a sin, and a shame to treat a good horse so; and that she would never love him again. (The sais is not a bit like Ted Kerr which disappointed me.) I lit another cheroot and said he had to go through with the unstarching. He tried some more, but the old lady unstarched him, and she dragged him about two miles down the Ferozepore road before I could understand how it was done.

Now my advice is this. First get another man’s horse to unstarch; second see that it’s a bad beast that cannot be made worse; third see that you go through with the business; and fourth see that you understand what to do — specially the knot part. I fancy I forgot one or two items of the schooling, and I know that the sais forgot a good deal more. The long and the short of it is, that I have about ruined the old mare. She won’t let me ride her; she won’t go in a cart, and she will go for me if she gets a fair chance. It looked so blamed easy when Hayes did it, that I didn’t think I could go wrong. Maybe if I hadn’t started by trying to hang her, she wouldn’t be so wrathy now when we meet.

‘P.S. The worst of it is that the sais has told all his friends that I have gone pagal (crazy) and try to kill my horses by pulling them in two with punkah ropes.’
How much stern fact there is in this sad tale I don’t know; but true or not, it furnishes an awful warning to the gilded youth of the Punjab not to try their hand on horses because they have seen the Captain work wonders — once, or twice even or thrice. Pick up the knot and rope hints one by one, and then slowly and by degrees go the whole animal. [ . . . ]