My Kingdom For a Good Horse


“If you find a good horse, keep him,” was the advice given to British soldiers in South Africa in the 1850s.  They were instructed to look for “a horse that could be pulled up in his stride and one that would not mind a gun going off between his ears.”  They were also warned against “bolters” and “rearers.”  One officer maintained the best way to deal with a ‘rearer’ was to “slip your feet out of the stirrups, as the horse rises up, drop off his back, pull his head hard down and then remount.”

Some soldiers, however, were “totally horrified at chargers who reared up and fell over backwards.”  One reported seeing a horse rear right over with an ‘inebriated’ settler on his back.  “The settler never quitted the saddle, and when the horse struggled to his feet again, actually came up, still in the saddle, smiling affably and without a scratch.”

A “bolter” once charged a wall, with an officer on his back.  He “gave me a tremendous purl and grazed off half of my moustache which was in a most promising state,” lamented T J Lucas in Camp Life and Sport in S A. Lucas added: “a major problem is finding a horse that can be trusted to remain where you’d left him for any length of time.  I know of nothing more aggravating than a tricky brute, who waits quietly until you come up to him.  Then, just as you reach out to catch hold of the reins to remount, sends both heels flying at your head, and trots off gently, repeating the manoeuvre every time you approach. Such an animal could lead you well into this desert land, leaving you miles away from anyone who could help.”


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