Monday, July 16, 2018

Baron de Berenger—Horse Whisperer?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Thomas Alken, A Gentleman Riding With a Groom, and Coversing
Loretta report:

Last year, during my visit to the Kensington Central Library, Dave Walker introduced me to the Baron de Berenger’s gun. Thanks to Dave's introducing me to this colorful character, I’ve spent some time with de Berenger’s Helps and Hints: How to Protect Life and Property. It surprised me in a number of ways.

At the time of my stories, animals tended to be treated brutally. I won’t go into the ugly details, but, generally speaking (of course there were many exceptions) if human life was cheap, non-human life was close to worthless, the RSPCA notwithstanding. And while life was kinder to humans of the privileged classes, they were not necessarily kinder to their animals, especially their horses. And so I was struck with de Berenger’s views on the subject:
“[A] rider should, to appearance at least, be a part of his horse; in the efforts of both these component parts there should seem as if there was but one and the same impulse,— a generous and reciprocal attention to please,—to serve, and to spare; and when that is accomplished, most horses will display as much delight in being rode, as the rider will be delighted in riding such a horse; but to accomplish this to perfection, an intimacy, nay, an affection, must be established between yourself and the generous animal; but which ... cannot be attained by the intercourse which, by far too generally, prevails between fashionable characters and their horses; these poor, willing, and faithful animals, rarely experiencing any other notice, save that of being urged on by whip and spur, to exertions but too frequently woefully distressing to a willing frame ... What has secured to the dog the reputation of being more affectionate, more intelligent, and more faithful, than the horse? Because, even the exquisite will deign to hold a familiar and encouraging intercourse, nay, conversation, with him: not so with the poor horse; except when being cleaned or fed, it stands unnoticed for many hours in dull solitude, at least as far as man is concerned. With him the cheering influence and the enjoyments of the sun are embittered by a portion of severe, because generally inconsiderate, labour; even then, and although enduring willingly, hardly ever to experience the pattings of a condescending hand as a cheap encouragement!  ... nevertheless, and aware as the horse must be that it is led forth to endure straining labour, we see him cheerfully leave the stable, ever as willing slavishly to serve his master, as to please him, in any way, which he is taught to know as agreeable to him. Only familiarize with and pet him, as much as you do the dog, and his best endeavours at least to rival canine affection, intelligence, and fidelity, will soon be placed beyond all doubt.
The entire entry, from which I’ve also included a clipping (at right), is well worth reading. I’d be especially interested in the reactions of our horse-loving/riding/driving Nerdy History persons.

Image: Henry Thomas Alken, A Gentleman Riding With a Groom, and Conversing (undated), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.


Anonymous said...

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Unknown said...

I read with great interest Baron Berenger's plea to develop a closer relationship with your horse. A lifelong horsewoman, riding, driving, training, breeding, etc. I can only commend his sensitivity in an era where "dumb animals" endured ill-treatment of all kinds. While I would argue that a horse is not of the same sensitive temperament of a say, a dog, there is no arguing that they do have the ability to develop a close rapport with their owners and such a rapport is regularly required whatever the skill you pursue--be it show jumping or pleasure driving. When driving a horse, your voice is as useful an aide as whip or rein and can frequently encourage, cajole or chastise with excellent effect, but then, this means you must know your horse and the horse must know you and have regularly heard your voice speaking to him/her in a variety of circumstances. This is only gained by close interaction consisting of habitual talking on your part. Again, when approaching an unfamiliar and imposing jump, vocal encouragement can give your horse courage where he might normally stall and refuse to go. But again, this predisposes that you have established a relationship with him where he recognizes and understands the tone of your voice. And Berenger is right. They laugh. They sorrow. They play and they sulk. They will talk to you, but you have to be listening.

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