BOOKS: Harmony With Horses

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1992:

Harmony With Horses. By Maurice Wright.
J.A. Allen Horsebooks (1 Lower Grosvenor Place,
Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0EL, United
Kingdom). 1991. 127 pages. Inquire for current
U.S./Canadian price.
If more of us understood the generous and willing
spirit of horses, fewer horse people would approach them
as “a gladiator, not an educator,” as horsetamer John
Solomon Rarey put it nearly 150 years ago––and fewer ani-
mal rights activists would attack the use of horses for work,
pleasure, and performance. Strangely, however, despite
the prominence of horses in human culture since prehistory,
understanding horses hasn’t been a priority even for many of
those most involved with them. There was a gap of nearly
2,000 years between Xenophon’s instructions to cavalry
masters to treat horses gently, without whips, and the 1550
publication of Federico Grisone’s book on horse training,
which emphasized dominance, and became the basis for
many of the myths, misunderstandings, and downright cru-
elties afflicting horses today. It was only within the last few
years, for example, that the veterinary profession banned
“firing,” the medieval practice of applying hot irons or
caustics to an ailing horse. Tail-docking is still commonly

In Harmony With Horses, Maurice Wright exam-
ines the contradictions and anomalies of practice among
those who claim they know horses. Like Grisone, many are
more mechanics than psychologists, as the use of hobbles,
side-lines, sackings, cruel bits, drugs, and surgery to mod-
ify horse behavior all testify. Not for them the book pub-
lished 70 years after Grisone’s: Antoine de Pluvinel urged
the benefits of knowledge in horse training, showing
Science, her nose in a book, leading a winged, spirited
steed with ease. Force, next to her, cannot control his
unruly animal even with a spiked bludgeon.
Wright was riding the thousands of acres of his
family’s Australian cattle station before he could walk. In
World War II he was a member of the Australian Light
Horse cavalry. He has been a Royal Show judge and
exhibitor throughout Australia, a rodeo participant, polo
player, racehorse man, and campdrafting competitor at the
championship level. He continues to raise and train
Australian stock horses at his New South Wales station.
From this perspective, Wright assesses an historic register
of trainers, with appreciation of the intelligence some hors-
es use in resisting abuse. He demonstrates that these horses
deserve much better than they get. Wright learned a gentler
and more effective approach over 35 years ago from the late
Kel Jeffrey. Like Rarey, Kel manipulated a horse’s balance
to keep him or her under control while the horse learned to
accept his approaches.
Wright detailed the Jeffrey Method in two previ-
ous books, The Jeffrey Method of Horse Handling (1975)
and The Thinking Horseman (1983). Cited results include:
a five-year-old stallion, fresh off the range in the morning
and never handled, used for cattle droving in the afternoon;
racehorses, Jeffrey-trained by Bill and Vicki Kelly, whose
ease of handling and consistent winnings are the wonder of
Australia; and two dozen unbroken quarter horses trained
by Wright and his wife in days for the sale ring––and sold.
Harmony With Horses examines the historical
prejudices that work against sympathetic training despite its
proven success. Appealing to stockmen, drivers, and rid-
ers, whether professional or for pleasure, this book could
also prove useful to humane advocates as a demonstration
that there is, indeed, a better way to treat horses than much
of what we see going on around us.
––Sharon Cregier
(Sharon Cregier is vice president of the Canadian Wild
Horse Society.)
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