Obama on Black Beauty on Whips.

January 2010, Horse and Hound with the caption, “Ben Vestey of the winning Cotswold Hunt team, giving it some welly.”

To understand my comments, you need to understand how I, Obama, a pony, am blogging. Here are three paragraphs from the introduction to my book.

This isn’t an autobiography, it’s an essay on literature, on the rage that inspires great literature, on the rage that results from great literature being ignored, re-categorised as “children’s” literature, all with a bit of my story on the side. It’s all thanks to Wireless Broadband. I haven’t got an Anna Sewell, whose intelligence and empathy were unbelievably high for one of her species, I’ve got Simon Mulholland, in his own words, a serious fruitcake, and Wireless Broadband.

Wireless Broadband is magic, pure and simple. The air around you is full of knowledge, and you can pull out the bits you want, they can be pictures, words, ideas. I say it’s magic but humans apparently put it there, yet they can’t read it, or see it or hear it. Their computers can, and they can ask the computers how Wireless Broadband works, and the computers tell them humans made it work. And the humans believe them and are happy..

But I can hear it and see it without a computer. At first I was scared, especially as I was the only one in the field who could hear it. Then I started to read Black Beauty’s story, and I realised I had to write the bits Beauty had missed. But for this I need Simon. I need an account I can use to write. Searching is easy, reading what is up there is easy, but to get stuff up on that magic web, you need an account; you try opening one as a pony by thought transference.

Obama on Black Beauty on Whips.

I have been gossiping about myself, my feelings, who I am, to get a feel of writing, to give you a feel of where I am coming from, but this book is at heart an analysis of Black Beauty’s autobiography.

All analysis starts with the text so lets look at Black Beauty, and what may be taken as one of my over riding fetishes. I am not sure that is exactly the right word, but I have been reading “50 Shades of Grey”, for research you understand, (it would be challenging to read for pleasure, so I suppose the word has stuck.

The fetish is whips. The text is Black Beauty, the version is “The Project Gutenberg EBook of Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell”

Chapter 2

“Now we shall see the hare,” said my mother; and just then a hare wild with fright rushed by and made for the woods. On came the dogs; they burst over the bank, leaped the stream, and came dashing across the field followed by the huntsmen. Six or eight men leaped their horses clean over, close upon the dogs. The hare tried to get through the fence; it was too thick, and she turned sharp round to make for the road, but it was too late; the dogs were upon her with their wild cries; we heard one shriek, and that was the end of her. One of the huntsmen rode up and whipped off the dogs, who would soon have torn her to pieces. He held her up by the leg torn and bleeding, and all the gentlemen seemed well pleased.

As for me, I was so astonished that I did not at first see what was going on by the brook; but when I did look there was a sad sight; two fine horses were down, one was struggling in the stream, and the other was groaning on the grass. One of the riders was getting out of the water covered with mud, the other lay quite still.

It isn’t a horse being whipped, but it shows the purpose of a whip clearly. To hit an animal so they stop doing something. It is interesting that the best selling book about horses of all time is so clearly anti hunting, and that this fact never seems to get mentioned. The death toll from this brief passage is one man, one horse, one hare. Positive images for whips, zero, negative, one.

Chapter 4

Of course, it is a very bad habit; but I am sure, if all she says be true, she must have been very ill-used before she came here. John does all he can to please her, and James does all he can, and our master never uses a whip if a horse acts right; so I think she might be good-tempered here.

Beauty is introducing Ginger, who has the unfortunate habit of biting people. Personally I find it an effective form of communication, other ponies and horses know exactly what you mean, though humans are a bit slow on the uptake, and tend to see an attack where we only want a scratch. Though from the sounds of it, Ginger wanted to attack humans, and with good cause.

This passage clearly implies that “master” will use a whip if necessary. We must now jump to the passage where the master feels it is necessary.

Chapter 12

So back we went and round by the crossroads, but by the time we got to the bridge it was very nearly dark; we could just see that the water was over the middle of it; but as that happened sometimes when the floods were out, master did not stop. We were going along at a good pace, but the moment my feet touched the first part of the bridge I felt sure there was something wrong. I dare not go forward, and I made a dead stop. “Go on, Beauty,” said my master, and he gave me a touch with the whip, but I dare not stir; he gave me a sharp cut; I jumped, but I dare not go forward.

“There’s something wrong, sir,” said John, and he sprang out of the dog-cart and came to my head and looked all about. He tried to lead me forward. “Come on, Beauty, what’s the matter?” Of course I could not tell him, but I knew very well that the bridge was not safe.

The “master” was a good man, and a good horseman, he used the whip gently first, as a signal, as an extension of his arm, and then, as all whip users do eventually, he upped his game to a sharp cut. Beauty admits he jumped, it must have hurt, and his master knew it would hurt, and did it to hurt, in the belief it was necessary. Simon may be a pillock, and not much of a horseman, but he has to get off and lead me if I won’t go. And it hurts him more than it does me, because if I am scared, I bite. Simon doesn’t enjoy it, I can tell from the filthy language, and the blood, but I only have one way to tell him how scary it is, so I use it.

Back to the text, and back to Chapter 5 and John training me.

He rode me first slowly, then a trot, then a canter, and when we were on the common he gave me a light touch with his whip, and we had a splendid gallop.

Clearly a positive attitude to the whip and John gives the reason

They were shooting rabbits near the Highwood, and a gun went off close by; he pulled up a little and looked, but did not stir a step to right or left. I just held the rein steady and did not hurry him, and it’s my opinion he has not been frightened or ill-used while he was young.”

Beauty at this stage understands the whip as a simple signal to accelerate. But when his master uses it on the bridge he sees it as pain forcing him into fear. To his credit he has the courage to refuse to move, and to his master’s credit, he has the sense to see that the whip isn’t the answer.

Now we can return to Chapter 5 where Beauty describes working with Ginger.

We had both the same sort of courage at our work, and John had oftener to hold us in than to urge us forward; he never had to use the whip with either of us

Another negative image for whips, good horses don’t need the them, but Ginger describes her training,

But when it came to breaking in, that was a bad time for me; several men came to catch me, and when at last they closed me in at one corner of the field, one caught me by the forelock, another caught me by the nose and held it so tight I could hardly draw my breath; then another took my under jaw in his hard hand and wrenched my mouth open, and so by force they got on the halter and the bar into my mouth; then one dragged me along by the halter, another flogging behind, and this was the first experience I had of men’s kindness; it was all force.

Further on Ginger says

I had scarcely had an hour’s rest, when he came again for me with a saddle and bridle and a new kind of bit. I could never quite tell how it came about; he had only just mounted me on the training ground, when something I did put him out of temper, and he chucked me hard with the rein. The new bit was very painful, and I reared up suddenly, which angered him still more, and he began to flog me. I felt my whole spirit set against him, and I began to kick, and plunge, and rear as I had never done before, and we had a regular fight; for a long time he stuck to the saddle and punished me cruelly with his whip and spurs, but my blood was thoroughly up, and I cared for nothing he could do if only I could get him off.

Not positive about whips, and not much of an advert for bits or spurs either. And absolutely no suggestion anywhere in Ginger’s testimony that a whip could have been used better. Whips are seen as relentlessly negative. Now we come to the best known, or at least best remembered, section from Beauty’s memoir, the check or bearing rein.

“After my breaking in,” she said, “I was bought by a dealer to match another chestnut horse. For some weeks he drove us together, and then we were sold to a fashionable gentleman, and were sent up to London. I had been driven with a check-rein by the dealer, and I hated it worse than anything else; but in this place we were reined far tighter, the coachman and his master thinking we looked more stylish so. We were often driven about in the park and other fashionable places. You who never had a check-rein on don’t know what it is, but I can tell you it is dreadful.

“I like to toss my head about and hold it as high as any horse; but fancy now yourself, if you tossed your head up high and were obliged to hold it there, and that for hours together, not able to move it at all, except with a jerk still higher, your neck aching till you did not know how to bear it. Besides that, to have two bits instead of one—and mine was a sharp one, it hurt my tongue and my jaw, and the blood from my tongue colored the froth that kept flying from my lips as I chafed and fretted at the bits and rein. It was worst when we had to stand by the hour waiting for our mistress at some grand party or entertainment, and if I fretted or stamped with impatience the whip was laid on. It was enough to drive one mad.”

“Did not your master take any thought for you?” I said.

“No,” said she, “he only cared to have a stylish turnout, as they call it; I think he knew very little about horses; he left that to his coachman, who told him I had an irritable temper! that I had not been well broken to the check-rein, but I should soon get used to it; but he was not the man to do it, for when I was in the stable, miserable and angry, instead of being smoothed and quieted by kindness, I got only a surly word or a blow. If he had been civil I would have tried to bear it. I was willing to work, and ready to work hard too; but to be tormented for nothing but their fancies angered me. What right had they to make me suffer like that? Besides the soreness in my mouth, and the pain in my neck, it always made my windpipe feel bad, and if I had stopped there long I know it would have spoiled my breathing; but I grew more and more restless and irritable, I could not help it; and I began to snap and kick when any one came to harness me; for this the groom beat me, and one day, as they had just buckled us into the carriage, and were straining my head up with that rein, I began to plunge and kick with all my might. I soon broke a lot of harness, and kicked myself clear; so that was an end of that place.

The bearing rein is clearly the source of the constant problem faced by Ginger and her partner. Bits and whips take a subsidiary role as devices to force them to submit to the torture. In this passage on bearing reins, Ginger refers to the whip, to blows and to being beaten. The main target is the bearing rein, but whips and their use are still hated.

Here’s Ginger again after she has been hoofed out for fighting the check rein.

This man was as hard-tempered and hard-handed as Samson; he always spoke in a rough, impatient voice, and if I did not move in the stall the moment he wanted me, he would hit me above the hocks with his stable broom or the fork, whichever he might have in his hand. Everything he did was rough, and I began to hate him; he wanted to make me afraid of him, but I was too high-mettled for that, and one day when he had aggravated me more than usual I bit him, which of course put him in a great rage, and he began to hit me about the head with a riding whip. After that he never dared to come into my stall again; either my heels or my teeth were ready for him, and he knew it. I was quite quiet with my master, but of course he listened to what the man said, and so I was sold again.

Ginger is lucky and Birtwhistle Hall is her next home where she learns about kindness.

“I don’t mean to,” she said, “while they are good to me. I did bite James once pretty sharp, but John said, ‘Try her with kindness,’ and instead of punishing me as I expected, James came to me with his arm bound up, and brought me a bran mash and stroked me; and I have never snapped at him since, and I won’t either.”

Surely this is an obvious time for a whip. And if this isn’t an obvious time for a whip, when is a whip necessary? Simon gets a lot of flak for objecting to whips, but then Simon gets a lot of flak for insisting on safety, for making comfortable harness that doesn’t LOOK correct, indeed for most of the things he does. He even gets flak for putting pictures of disabled people on the able bodied bits of horsey websites, I don’t know, maybe he has a magnetic attraction for flak. But back to the point, I have persuaded Simon to start asking what the whip SHOULD be used for.

And going back to Black Beauty, we haven’t found many positives so far. But we are about to meet Merrylegs. If anyone can see the good side of anything, it’s MerryLegs. Here he is on whips.

It is not them, it is the boys; boys,” said he, shaking his mane, “are quite different; they must be broken in as we were broken in when we were colts, and just be taught what’s what. The other children had ridden me about for nearly two hours, and then the boys thought it was their turn, and so it was, and I was quite agreeable. They rode me by turns, and I galloped them about, up and down the fields and all about the orchard, for a good hour. They had each cut a great hazel stick for a riding-whip, and laid it on a little too hard; but I took it in good part, till at last I thought we had had enough, so I stopped two or three times by way of a hint. Boys, you see, think a horse or pony is like a steam-engine or a thrashing-machine, and can go on as long and as fast as they please; they never think that a pony can get tired, or have any feelings; so as the one who was whipping me could not understand I just rose up on my hind legs and let him slip off behind—that was all. He mounted me again, and I did the same. Then the other boy got up, and as soon as he began to use his stick I laid him on the grass, and so on, till they were able to understand—that was all. They are not bad boys; they don’t wish to be cruel. I like them very well; but you see I had to give them a lesson. When they brought me to James and told him I think he was very angry to see such big sticks. He said they were only fit for drovers or gypsies, and not for young gentlemen.”

Children, don’t you love them. But you notice that the whips weren’t issued with the pony, the boys had to cut their own. So unlike the Pony Club where the whip is standard issue and ten year old children are tested to see they can

Hold the reins correctly and carry a whip in either hand.

I try not to scream too much, but just this once I am going to cry WHY????

I am stopping here to recover my breath, and will be back to carry on the textual analysis later, but if you like whips, you aren’t going to enjoy the next bit. Not that there was a lot to support your enthusiasm for whips in this bit. Go to the text. Black Beauty, and see if you can find all the positive bits about whips that I have missed.

©Simon Mulholland 2012

1 Response to Obama on Black Beauty on Whips.

  1. Shelia A Addair says:

    I have throughly enjoyed the piece of writing, you shared with me. I, too, do not agree using whips or bits that are cruel to the animal. The only time I’ve used a “crop” was to teach the horse to stay on the rail, practicing for our horse shows. I used a small crop, in my right hand along side of my reins. Never did I have to use force, just touch the crop to the side of his neck to move him out to the left of the rail. That’s all it took..he stayed on the rail during the show and took a blue ribbon for first place.

    Shelia A Addair

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