In days past, most trades, horse handling and training included, had their fair share of secrets. One of the most famous examples of a group that preserved and passed on tried and tested knowledge was the Society of Horsemen.
The secret society was founded sometime in the 19th century, and is more famous for its bizarre initiatory rituals, and for the claim that its members possessed the Horseman’s Word. According to folklore, the word gave them the power to control horses and, believe it or not, women.
A Glance At the Society
The Society of Horsemen attracted a membership of horse trainers, ploughmen, and blacksmiths, none of whom enjoyed high status. The society protected and preserved trade secrets, trained members, acted as a union to defend members against exploitation by farmers, and even included quasi-religious rituals.
Before being initiated into the society, younger trainers would experience all sorts of behaviour problems from horses in their care. Rather than them being boisterous animals, it has been suggested by some folklorists that society members were responsible. They may have placed irritants under the horses’ collars, only to remove them secretly later. The sudden changes in behaviour must have impressed the young, semi-literate trainers. If you want to see something impressive, check out real money bingo.
Horsemen’s Secrets Revealed
Among the secrets of the successful handling of horses by the members of the society was a keen understanding of the bond between humans and the animals. The understanding, which could be described as psychology for horses, influenced how the horsemen handled the animals.
Other secrets were used in conjunction with horse-sense. The most potent of them were those that used horses’ sense of smell to influence behaviour. The substances were used either for jading or for drawing. To jade a horse meant to affect it in a way that it refused to move. To draw it was to get it to move again.
Among the substances used to jade horses were the dried livers of rabbits and stoats. They were powdered and mixed with dragon’s blood, a resin obtained from dracaena and other plants. Placed near a horse’s nose or on a stable door, for example, the foul-smelling substances would prevent the horse from taking another step further.
Drawing substances were often used to calm horses, and to neutralise the effects of jading substances. One example of a drawing mixture contained the oils of cinnamon, fennel, oregano, and rosemary. Other substances that were used were far more common, such as sweet cakes, gingerbread, and sugar cubes.
The Real Philosophy
In a 1879 book, Eleven Years At Farm Work, a former ploughman who was a member of the Society of Horsemen made a very telling statement. Rather than betraying the society’s secrets, he explained that the core of its philosophy dealt with caring for animals.
He also said that it required the developing a thorough knowledge of their anatomy and physiology. The original secret word is said to be the phrase, ‘Both as one’. It seems the society’s approach was nothing less than an active expression of that idea; an idea that all horse-lovers can learn from.