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By His Owner, W. A. SIGSBEE
(EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION. To render the story of Captain complete it was essential that the reader should know something of his trainer, his educator, the man to whose enthusiasm and ability we owe the pleasure the horse has afforded us. Consequently I have questioned Capt. Sigsbee, again and again, as to his methods and the story which here follows contains his answers to these many questionings which I have put into consecutive and readable form, but, as nearly as is possible, in his own words.)
I was brought up in the horse business. My father and uncles were horsemen before I was born. They lived in Dane County, Wisconsin, twelve miles from Madison, and there I first saw the light. One of my uncles had trotting horses, and almost as soon as I could do anything I used to go and help him. When I was fourteen years old I was regularly employed by him during my vacations, to help on the farm, in the stables, and to accompany him to the trotting track. I soon learned to ride, as a jockey, and up to the time I was eighteen years old that was my occupation. Then I began to work for myself. I bought, educated or trained, and then sold horses and dogs. I was much interested in them, and always seemed to have fair success in their management.
As I grew older I used to go with my own horses to the County and State Fairs, the latter being held at Madison. When I was twenty-four years old I married, settled down on a farm, and as horse-trading seemed to be the business I was especially adapted for, naturally I followed it. Whenever my neighbors wanted a horse that was extra well trained they would come to me, and if I showed them one that could do a few tricks, they liked it none the less, and were not unwilling to pay a little extra for the pains I had taken.
The year after I was married I moved to Humboldt, Iowa, where I bought another farm and for four more years continued my work as farmer and horse-trader. Then I bought the Park Hotel, in the town of Humboldt, which I ran for eleven years, never, however, for one moment losing my interest in horses. In fact, it was one of the most profitable parts of my business. Many farmers, show-men, circus-men and others came to the town and stopped at my hotel, so I was never away from the atmosphere of the horse ring. Many a time, when they were in a tight place, the show- or circus-men would come and ‘ask me to help them out, for my reputation as a trainer had spread, and it was pretty generally understood that I was an exceptional hand for teaching horses and dogs rather unusual and interesting tricks.
In time the great circus-masters, like Barnum and Bailey, Al Ringland and others, came to me and asked me to train horses for them, so that my horse business grew, and with it my reputation. Naturally I was always on the look out for colts that promised well, or horses that seemed extra intelligent, and my eyes were keen for mares that showed a superior order of intelligence that were soon to have colts.
About this time my eyes were attracted to a beautiful mare, evidently with foal. No sooner did I see her than I wanted her. I found on inquiry that she had been bred to a spotted Arabian, as fine and beautiful a creature as she herself was. Satisfied that she was what I wanted, I purchased her. Already I had begun to speculate as to what I should do with her colt. If it was a prettily shaped animal, was as intelligent as the father and mother, I decided it should receive the best education I was capable of giving. As the days of the mare’s time passed I grew more and more anxious. My hopes were raised high, and I was correspondingly expectant and at the same time afraid. What if the colt should prove stupid? I awaited the birth of that colt as eagerly as a royal family awaits the birth of the child of a king, hence you can understand my delight and satisfaction, when the little lady came, that I found her faultless in appearance, neat, trim, dainty and beautiful, with intelligent eyes and face and every indication of being a most superior animal.
From the hour of her birth I watched her far more closely than many a child is watched. I was in and out of the stable a score of times a day. While she appeared intelligent, I wanted to know with certainty as soon as I could. I was not long in discovering, and this was how it was done. My barn had double doors – one on each side. As it was warm weather I had both doors open to allow a current of air through the building. When the colt was four or five days old, I wished to hitch up the mare and drive her, but did not think it wise to let so small and young a colt go along. So I closed the doors and left her inside. She became much excited at being separated from her mother; ran around wildly, whinnied, and generally fretted. But I felt she would have to learn to lose her mother, so I drove away and left her to fight it out as best she could.
The next day I went into the barn and groomed down the mare, the colt apparently paying no attention, but the moment I took the harness from its peg and began to put it upon the mother the little miss ran out of doors. I thought I had scared her in some way and paid no particular attention, but when I was ready to drive away and tried to get her back into the barn she positively refused to go or be driven. She was as resolved to stay out as I was to have her go in, and it was only when I secured additional help that I was able to get her inside.
The same thing occurred on the following day, and then I began to suspect that the colt knew as well as I did what was going on, and was resolved not to be left behind. So I called to my wife to come and watch with me, while we experimented. So long as I merely fussed around with the mare, cleaning her, etc., it was all right, but the moment I touched the harness and made it appear I was going to hitch up, out shot the colt from the barn in a moment. We tried this out a dozen times and always with the same result. This occurred when she was nine days old, and with conviction I turned to my wife and exclaimed: “She’ll do, the little Trixey; she’s got brains, and I’ll begin to train her right away.” Thus she got her name, and I started upon her education.
In my past experience I had taught many horses to respond to questions with a Yes or No, to paw out numbers, to kiss me, to sit down, lie down, roll over, and other similar simple tricks. I would ask if they would like a drink, a feed of oats, a lump of sugar, etc., and teach them how to answer with a nod of the head, and with a shake when I asked: “Shall I whip you?” or “I guess you don’t want any feed today,” but with Trixey I determined to go further than this and see if she really could be trained, or, better still, educated in any degree. ,
Thus began Trixey’s education, which continued persistently for eighteen months. Every day I kept at it, and it might be interesting here to state that while I was educating Trixey, she was educating me. I learned a great deal about horses and horse nature in those eighteen months. In due time I had trained her so that she could pick out numbers on call, colors, could add, subtract, multiply and divide; could count with her feet, sit in a chair, on my lap, and answer questions.
I then decided to take her out on the road and give exhibitions with her. But first of all I decided to give a test exhibition at our County Fair, at Humboldt, my own town. Of course I was well known, and my horse-training proclivities were the subject of conversation all throughout the country, but few knew how much I had accomplished with Trixey. Hence that first appearance was a great surprise to my neighbors. Needless to say, it was also a wonderful success. Every one was delighted with the exhibition and marveled at the intelligence the beautiful little creature displayed.
I now started to go throughout the country with confidence.
I knew what Trixey could do and what the effect of the exhibition would be upon an audience. In those days an educated horse was unknown. There were a few trained circus horses, but a horse like mine excited great wonder and interest. My method was to go to County and other Fairs, explain what Trixey could do, and I would undertake to exhibit her before the grand stand between races. The Fair Associations would engage me, and thus I would earn a good financial return.
Soon after we began to travel I changed the colt’s name to Princess Trixey, and this was the name by which she was ever afterwards known. About this time I came in contact with William Harrison Barnes, of Sioux City. He had been a newspaper reporter, but was naturally a showman, and shortly before I met him he had drifted into the show business. He was exhibiting such horses as “The Pacing Wonder,” “Johnny, the Guideless Wonder,” and when he saw the Princess there was nothing for it but that he should become my partner and go along with us. For four years we traveled together, Barnes making the business arrangements for our appearance at Carnivals, State Fairs, Amusement Parks, and under the auspices of various organizations. Then I sold Princess Trixey to him, continuing to travel with him for four years, after which I returned to Humboldt, bought another farm and for two or three years did a little desultory training of horses, as before.
Let me here, in parenthesis, tell of Princess Trixey’s unfortunate end. Barnes showed her all over the country to the great delight of all who ever saw her, until about ten years ago, when she was killed in a railway wreck at Baltimore.
Soon after my return to Humboldt I was urged by Dode Fisk, of Wonewoc, Wis., to plan and organize for him a show of trained horses, dogs, monkeys, etc., with a one-ringed circus. I did so – doing all the training of the animals myself. When we were ready to travel we had a sixteen-wagon show and I was appointed the arenic director. For four years I occupied this position, helping build up the show all the time, and at the end of three years we ceased traveling in wagons and became an eleven-car railway show. It was my regular duty to keep the animals in good condition, see that they were healthy and kept up to their work, and to train any new stock we might buy,
Four years of this life tired my wife, and she expressed the desire to get away from a large show. She wanted a rest at home, she said, and then, if I desired to travel she suggested I buy a young horse or a colt, train or educate it, and we would travel with that, without all the hard work, flurry and daily excitement attendant upon a large show.
In the main I agreed with my wife and, anyhow, I felt that she ought to be considered as much as myself, so I began looking out for such a horse as I had in mind. I wanted another Trixey or better, but scarcely hoped to find one very soon, or very easily. I was nearer to the end of my search, however, than I supposed, for almost immediately I heard of just such a colt as I was looking for at Oregon, Ill. Right away I went to see him, and there, to my unspeakable delight, I found Captain. His owner was Judge Cartwright, a great lover of and breeder of good horses. Captain was of standard bred trotting stock, and was half brother to the famous Sydney Dillon. His sire was the well-known horse Syed and his dam was the almost equally well known Robey. At first sight he pleased me immensely, and I sought to gain all the information possible about him. I learned that as a colt he was very friendly and playful, showing keen intelligence. He also possessed great speed, sometimes pacing in the pasture as fast as his mother could run. This had led his owner, as soon as he was two years old, to train him for ninety days for the development of speed, so that he was able to step his mile in 2:16. He undoubtedly would have made a fast pacing horse with further training. but fate had another destiny in store for him. I resolved to buy him. Naturally Judge Cartwright hated to part with so promising an animal, but I candidly laid my heart’s desire before him. I showed him the influence it would have upon the rising generation if I could demonstrate that animals can reason, that they are capable of thought. Then I expatiated upon the easier life Captain himself would live than if he were to become a regular race-horse, and I appealed to the feeling of pride he – the judge – would possess were I successful – as I knew I should be – at having introduced so world-famous a horse as Captain would become, that he had bred and reared. And, finally, to clinch the matter, I produced a certified check for a thousand dollars, which I placed in his hand. Thus the purchase was made, with the express understanding that Judge Cartwright should always be given the credit for the raising of Captain.
Perhaps here I ought to state that the colt’s name up to this time had been Sid Bell. As I felt my whole future life’s work and fame were going to center on this beautiful, young and intelligent creature, I renamed him, calling him by the name by which I was known to all my professional associates, Captain Sigsbee.
It was not long before we became intimately acquainted. He was a handsome fellow, a dappled chestnut, fifteen and one-half hands high, with broad forehead, large, intelligent eyes, well-shaped ears, deep, sensitive nostrils, mobile mouth, strong nose, a most pleasing face, and perfectly formed in every way.
I was satisfied from the first that in Captain I had a great subject for education. Already I began to plan what I would teach him. I was assured I could go far beyond anything I had hitherto done, even with the clever Trixey. One day in conversation with a group of horsemen, among whom was Al Ringland, the great circus master, I stated some of my expectations. Ringland laughed at me, especially when I declared my intention of so educating a horse that he could do things blindfolded. He freely declared that he had no faith in horse education. He believed that horses could be trained only under the whip and spur. Said he: “I know you’ve done some wonderful things with Trixey, but animals are animals, and I don’t believe that you can educate them. Let me give you some advice. Don’t waste your time. Many a man has gone crazy by allowing a fool idea like this of yours to take possession of him.”
I defended my ideas, however, and argued that my years of study of the horse had revealed things of horse-nature and character few even dreamed of. I was sure they could think and reason. Everybody knew that they had memory, and I was satisfied that I could educate this, or any other intelligent horse, to use his reason, no matter how small it was – in other words to think.
Ringland listened with interest, but made no pretense to hide his doubts, and again said I was going crazy when I affirmed my positive conviction that I could, and would, train Captain to take and obey orders blindfolded. He was certain it never could be done.
How well I have succeeded the hundreds of thousands who have seen Captain can best tell. It may also be interesting to recount Mr. Ringland’s expressions when he saw Captain some time after I began to give exhibitions with him. He said: “I confess myself beaten, Sigsbee, I take off my hat to you. What you have accomplished will be a revelation to the world, as it has been to me. In spite of my years of association with horses I never dreamed they had such powers in them. You have opened my eyes, and as others begin to see they will treat their animals with greater consideration, they will think more favorably of them, and no longer treat them as if they were mere brute instruments of their will or pleasure, without feeling or intelligence.”
Mr. Ringland well stated what it has been one of my constant endeavors to bring about. I have always loved horses. I wanted to see them better treated, and it is with great satisfaction that I am learning every day that my exhibitions with Princess Trixey and now with Captain are bearing this kind of fruit.
When my purchase of the colt was completed, I took him to my training barn in Chicago and there began his education. The first thing to do was to get well acquainted and gain his affection. This was done by giving him plenty to eat, the best of care, speaking gently and kindly to him, petting him, and giving him dainties now and again, such as carrots, apples and sugar. My friends and acquaintances often laughed at me, and said I should never accomplish what I was after, but I persevered. They knew I was wasting time, money and energy for nothing, but “I know” that what “they knew’” wasn’t so.
It did not take Captain long to learn that I was kind to him; that I was his true and wise friend; and was to be relied upon. These are three things, the importance of which I cannot over-estimate. Many people try to be kind to animals, but they are not wise in their treatment, and they are not to be relied upon. I knew that Captain trusted me for the little extra dainties he enjoyed. I never disappointed him. I never lied to him – that is promised him anything I did not intend to perform, and thus he soon learned I was to be trusted.
When left alone he became very uneasy. Like children he wanted companionship of some kind, so I hired a groom, Chili by name, whose duty was to remain with Captain, day and night. He was never to attempt to teach the horse anything, as that would lead to confusion, but was to care for him and be his companion at all times. Chili remained with him for several years and they became very fond of each other. I should never have parted with him, but when we came to San Francisco, he got careless and I had to let him go. Then I was fortunate enough to secure an equally good man in his present groom, Jasper. Jasper is a natural-born horseman. He has ridden, broken, and owned some very famous horses, and has been on the track for years, hence he thoroughly understands horse-nature, and he and Captain get along famously.
As I have before explained Captain likes company. He strongly resents being left alone. Every night-time before he goes to sleep he listens for the footsteps of his groom and if he is not there he signifies his disapproval by pawing, whinneying, etc., and generally keeps it up until Jasper returns and talks to him. Then, content and restful, he goes to sleep.
Once, when he was being brought south by rail, Jasper had to leave him in the Los Angeles freight yards – still in his car – to see that their tickets were properly endorsed, and he was gone for a half an hour or more. When he returned poor Captain was in a complete lather of perspiration. The unusual noises of the railroad yard in a large city, as he was shut up in a car so that he could not see, had fretted him into a frenzy. As soon as the groom returned he signified his satisfaction with whinneyings and nose-rubbings and in a very short time was cool again.
Every night before he lies down and goes to sleep, he peeks out to see if Jasper is there. If not, he awaits his return, and then stretches out with his head towards the place where Jasper sleeps.
Soon after we arrived in San Diego a lady presented Jasper with a pigeon. The bird was taken to the stable, and Captain became much interested in her. As the pigeon perched on the partition he reached up and nuzzled it in the most affectionate manner. Not only did the pigeon not resent it, but she seemed actually to enjoy it, showing no fear or desire to get away. Now they are almost inseparable friends, and Captain spends hours with his head upon the partition, snuggling close up to the bird. Prior to its coming, Captain often showed considerable nervousness when he heard strange footsteps approaching his stable, or just before a performance, but the presence of the pigeon has changed this. Its mere presence is a soothing influence, and when the show is over he goes back to the stable and greets his bird friend with evident pleasure and affection.
One of my experiences with Captain demonstrated his superior intelligence over most horses. My training barn was two stories high, and a wide pair of stairs led from the ground to the second floor. When my grandson was born Captain took a great liking for him. He loved to “kiss” him and nuzzle him while he was in the cradle, or baby-buggy, or even in his nurse’s arms. As the child grew older we used to place him on Captain’s back and Captain would march back and forth, as proudly as a king, apparently conscious of the trust we placed in him.
One day while I was working with Captain the child was in the barn, and he kept going up and down the stairs. I noticed that Captain’s attention was more often fixed upon the child than upon me and he seemed much interested. Someone called me away for a few moments, and when I returned there was no Captain to be seen. Then I heard a peculiar noise from above, and looking up, what should I see but Captain following the child up the stairs. I am free to confess I got scared, for I couldn’t see how I could get him down. But I went up, controlled my fears, and then quietly talked to Captain and told him he’d come up the stairs and now he’d have to go down them. And I backed him down, a step at a time, as easily and as safely as could be. And, strange to say, ever after that, whenever he wanted to go upstairs I let him, and he came down alone. I never had to back him down again. He comes down that way of his own volition.
People often ask me how I train an animal. Personally I would not use the word “train,” in speaking of such a horse as Captain, not because it is the wrong word, but because it conveys a wrong idea. I would say “educate,” for I firmly believe that horses and dogs and elephants and other animals possess the power of reason, though, of course, in a limited degree. And I believe that by patient and kindly treatment we can “draw out,” – educate – the intelligence possessed.
I have no set rules or fixed system by which I work. There are a few principles that control me. First of all I study the animal’s nature and disposition. No two animals are alike, any more than any two children are alike. Some animals are very nervous, are easily excited, while others are placid and docile and nothing seems to disturb them. But whatever the natural disposition nothing can be done without gaining the animal’s complete confidence. This I do by uniformly kind treatment. I always speak gently, mildly, never angrily or impatiently. Then I pet the animal at every opportunity, though with some, one must approach them at first, cautiously. As soon as possible get an animal accustomed to the feel of your hands, and to know that they always come gently, and with soothing effect. Find out what they particularly like to eat, and every once in a while, give this to them as a relish, a luxury, a reward for something well done. As I have explained elsewhere horses like carrots, apples and sugar. Too much of any of these, however, is not good, as their natural food is grass, hay, cereals, and the like. Yet it should never be overlooked that a horse, like a man, can more easily be reached through his stomach than any other way.
Though you must be kind you must also be firm. Many people confound and confuse kindness with mushiness. No animal must be allowed to have his own way, when that way conflicts with his master’s will. (Yet a caution, here, is necessary. One who is training either a horse or a child should remember his natural proclivities and tendencies. There should be no attempt to “break the will.” It is to be trained, disciplined, brought under control. Hence, never set your will against the will of your animal unless it is in a matter where you know you are right.) For instance, if a horse wants to cut up and frolic when you wish him to attend to business, there are two ways of doing. One is to leave him alone for awhile and then firmly bring him to attention, even though he still desires to continue his fun. Another is to crush the spirit of fun and frolic and not allow him to play at all. This latter method is unnatural, unreasonable, and cruel, and therefore not to be thought of for one moment by any rational or kind man. The former is both kind and disciplinary. The horse is allowed to follow his natural instincts, but is also taught to control them at his master’s word. This is training and education. A third method is to allow the horse to frolic to his heart’s content and then get him to do what you desire. Here there is no discipline whatever. This is the way of “mushiness,” and it is often followed by parents and others in handling their children. It is about as bad as the cruel method of suppressing the natural instincts, for an uncontrolled will or appetite soon becomes the child’s, animal’s, or man’s master, and nothing is more disastrous than such a bondage.
Hence be firm in control. It is not necessary to whip to punish. A horse, as well as a child, will learn self-control through appetite, or the giving of something that is a pleasure. Where you have trouble in gaining control, or where the animal is lazy, hold back on the tidbit, or the free run, or something of the kind the horse enjoys. He will soon learn to associate the loss with his disobedience. Equally so be prompt and certain in rewarding his good conduct. It is a good thing in dealing with a stubborn or refractory animal (or child) to let him get “good and hungry.” It does not take him long to learn to associate obedience with food, or disobedience with hunger.
Then it is most important that you never lie to an animal. Be strictly truthful. When you promise anything - or by forming a habit imply a promise-do not fail to keep that promise. If your animal expects an apple, a carrot, a piece of sugar or a frolic at the close of his hour’s training, do not disappoint him. A horse,. a child, instinctively hates a liar. One soon loses confidence, and where there is no confidence there can be no pleasure in working together, and as soon as pleasure goes, the work becomes a burden, a labor, a penalty, and a curse, to be dreaded, shunned, avoided. So win your animal’s confidence and then be sure to keep it.
When it comes to actual teaching always be very patient, never excited, always talk gently and keep your voice pitched low, and remember that all animals are curious, possess more or less of the imitative faculty, and have good memories. To remember these things is of great importance. N ever lose sight of them. Talk to your animal as you would to a child. Whether you think or believe he understands you, or not, act and talk as if he did. Then show him what you want him to do. Do it before him, again and again. Thus you will excite his imitative faculties and at the same time, train his memory.
Occasionally you may be able to give him extra aid. For instance, you want to teach your horse to shake his head to express the idea No! When you say No! tickle the horse’s ear, and he will shake his head. Then you also shake your head, and say with emphasis, No! Repeat this several times, and you will find that when you say No! the horse will shake his head without your having to tickle his ear. As soon as he responds to your question with a shake of the head be sure to pet and reward him with a lump of sugar, at the same time talking encouragingly to him.
Then repeat the process, again and again, until it is well fixed in his memory.
Every day go over this same thing; for, if you neglect what he learns today for a week or two, it is very possible he will forget and you will have to begin afresh. Review perpetually, until you know that he knows.
In assisting him to nod his head when you want him to signify Yes! when you use the word tap him under the chin. This leads him to throw his head up and down. Soon he will nod at the mere saying of Yes! and later, he will respond with a nod when you ask him a question to which he should reply with the affirmative.
Remember always, in all you do, that you are dealing with an animal whose brain power is far less than that of an ordinary child, and be patient, kind and persevering. Never allow yourself to believe the animal does not possess intelligence. Believe he has it, hope he has it, trust God that he has it and work in that belief, hope, trust, and you will accomplish wonders. Faith, hope and love are the abiding and moving powers of life. With them there is no limit to what can be done, for they belong to the infinite.
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