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It is natural that, to those who are skeptical as to a horse’s brain capacity, there should be some doubt as to the reality of Captain’s performances. Suggestions of trickery, of Captain’s being controlled by visual or aural cues that are unobserved and generally unobservable by the public, arise in the mind. The skeptic denies, positively and unquestionably, any asser­tion of the animal’s intelligence. He laughs and scoffs at the idea that the horse really thinks, adds, subtracts, multiplies or counts; that he knows colors; that he has any idea whatever of tone values, or, indeed, can tell one note from another. He believes in suggestions, or cues, or even that, unconsciously, Mr. Sigsbee hypnotizes the horse and thus personally directs all his actions, and he does not seem to see that these involve the explanation of mysteries as deep as the one of animal intelligence.

The first thing, however, is to be assured that the horse actually does the things it is asserted he does, and that, as far as the trained and scientific observer can detect, there is no conscious deception. In the case of Captain this has been done by Dr. G. V. Hamilton, a veterinarian, whom the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Press asserts is “nationally recognized as an expert in these avenues of investigation.” After witnessing a public performance he conducted a series of private tests and from the Press of February 27, 1916, I quote the following account from Dr. Hamilton’s pen:

Several days elapsed between the visit at which I took the notes recorded above and my private interview with Captain and Mr. Sigsbee. This enabled me to plan various tests which might enable me to check up on the following possibilities:

In performances of this kind it is at least possible for a confederate to conceal himself behind the curtains, under the stage or elsewhere, and to direct the activities of the animal.

A short whip or stick might easily carry a long, thin, black wire, which would be invisible from the front of the stage.

My experience with laboratory animals leads me to believe that it would be possible for a shrewd animal trainer to direct a dog’s or a horse’s activities by means of eye, facial muscle and bodily movements which are of a too slight excursus to be apparent to ordinary human observation. It is not to be forgotten, in this connection, that some dogs are notoriously dependent on their masters for directive cues, and that this may be characteristic of horses of a certain type.

It is conceivable that repetition of a given routine over a period of years might enable a horse to stereotype a highly complex set of habits.

On the morning of my appointment with Mr. Sigsbee I found the horse in his stall, unattended. A colored groom, who seems to be the only person, other than Mr. Sigsbee, to have any responsibility for Captain, shortly appeared. He discussed the horse with me without manifesting either suspiciousness or constraint. A little later Mr. Sigs­bee came to the stall and asked me to decide how and where to make the tests. He seemed to be wholly unaware of the possibility that my tests might seriously impair the “show” value of his animal. I decided to work with the horse on the stage, and to have Mr. Sigsbee with me. Captain is a nervous, highly excitable animal, and I had previously seen him make a poor showing when not in good condition, hence my desire to have the familiar presence of the master.

A careful examination of the stage revealed no evidence of provision for the concealment of a confederate, so I had Captain led upon the stage and began my tests, which were given in the following order:

1. I asked him, “How do you walk when you go to see your girl?”

Captain gave an appropriate response, although his master was not within the horse’s field of vision, and did not carry his whip. Mr. Sigs­bee who seems to have a great affection for his horse, now inter­polated, “What do you give me for sugar?” Captain “kissed” him.

2. At my request Mr. Sigsbee asked Captain to play “Nearer My God to Thee.” I stood between horse and master while the former played the chimes with but one mistake. He received no direction for this after the initial command. Mr. Sigsbee then told me that Captain knew how to run the scale, so I asked for that. The horse made one mistake, due to his failure to strike the trip hammer opposite one of the metal tubes with sufficient force. When he had passed from the low to the high end of the chimes his master commanded him to “come right back,” and this was promptly obeyed. Still no visual cues. As a matter of fact, the horse seemed to pay almost no attention to Mr. Sigsbee with its eyes, as it were, but kept its ears in almost constant movement.

3. The leather blindfold was now applied. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind as to the entire adequacy of Captain’s blindfold for purposes of excluding visual stimuli. At my request Mr. Sigsbee stood facing me and called for 2, 9, 3, 1, and 7 separately and in the order given. The horse stood where I had previously decided to have him stand, and I made sure that no directive stimuli were reaching him either from the stage or from the rear and sides.

He stamped twice for “2,” nine for “9,” etc., until this test was com­pleted. The only mistake occured when, in response to the command to “give us three” he stamped three times and struck his toe on return­ing his foot to the standing position. His master accused him of this mistake and Captain gave us three clean-cut taps.

4. I gave the command, “Give me your right foot,” “Give me your left foot,” “Put your head down and bite your right knee,” and “Scratch your head.” He responded appropriately, although it was necessary for me to repeat these commands to satisfy the inquiry contained in Captain’s wiggling ears. Mr. Sigsbee stood by my side, a wholly negligible factor for the moment. I am thoroughly satisfied that Cap­tain’s activities were solely directed by my commands.

5. Captain, still blindfolded, was given the following problems by his master, from whom I had concealed my program. It seemed to be difficult for the horse to follow my unfamiliar voice, and since Mr. Sigsbee was invisible to the horse and wholly under my control I decided to employ him as interlocutor;

“Divide ten equally between your two feet, the first half with your right foot, the second half with your left foot.”

Captain stamped five times with his right foot, then pawed tentatively, apparently in doubt as to the correctness of his answer, and awaiting a cue. He received no cue, and soon withdrew his right foot to the standing position and tapped five times with the left foot. His master accused him of inaccuracy, telling him that he “got one too many” with his right foot. Captain corrected his mistake by giving us a clean-cut and accurate response.

“Divide twelve equally between your two feet, the first half with the right foot, the second half with your left foot.”

This command elicited a perfect response.

“How much is three times three?”

A perfect response was again obtained. Captain gave nine taps with his right forefoot.

“How much is two times two?” I gave this command.

Captain tapped four times, stopped, and began to paw in a doubtful manner. His master scolded him for this, and he tried it again, but again at the end of four taps, hesitated and pawed. Mr. Sigsbee told him he knew better than that, and commanded him to try again. I gave the problem clearly, and obtained a correct and clean-cut response.

6. Mr. Sigsbee was instructed to give the following commands:




“Say ‘Yes’.”

“Wiggle your ears.” “Scratch your head.” “Stick out your tongue.”

“Stretch out like a hobby horse.”

I showed this list of written commands to Mr. Sigsbee, but instead of following my instructions he urged me to give them myself. It is still a source of surprise to me that this horse, while blindfolded and with no directive cues from his master (Mr. Sigsbee stood beside me and neither moved nor spoke), responded appropriately to these commands. It was necessary for me to repeat only one command – the last one.

7. At my direction Mr. Sigsbee tied the white strip of cloth to the blindfolded horse’s left hind leg, and the red cloth to his right foreleg. At the end of this performance he cautioned Captain again and again not to forget that the “white rag is on your hind leg – here (patting the left hind leg), and the red rag is on your foreleg.” After much patting of both legs and many warnings against forgetting, Mr. Sigsbee withdrew and allowed me to decide upon the command. I called for the red strip, and Captain obeyed without displaying the least hesitation. It will be remembered that on a previous occasion he found the red strip on his hind leg.

8. The blindfold was now removed, and was not reapplied. Correct responses were obtained to the commands, “Bring me a silver dollar” and “Bring me a quarter.” Mr. Sigsbee stood where it was impossible for him to direct Captain’s choice by pointing with eyes, facial muscles or body.

9. I arranged the numerals in the number rack in the following order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0. Mr. Sigsbee stood behind the horse and gave the following command:

“How many people are there in the front row?”

Mrs. Hamilton was the only “audience” for the performance, and sat in the front row from the moment when Captain was brought upon the stage. The horse responded to the command by advancing to the railing over the footlights, extending his head and neck far forward and examining the front row of seats. He followed this by backing vigorously and pulling number “1” from the rack. In a flash of inspiration I asked, “How many people are there in the second row?” Captain walked forward again, looked into the second row and shook his head. I am glad that I have Mrs. Hamilton and my note book to remind me that this occurred when I was wide awake and in a very critical frame of mind. Mr. Sigsbee was standing to my left and the horse was to my right and several feet in front of us when this oc­curred. I expressed my unwillingness to believe my own senses, and Mr. Sigsbee quite seriously expressed the opinion that the horse had been influenced by the master’s mind to shake his head.

10. I eliminated Mr. Sigsbee by placing him where I could keep my eye on him, but where he was outside the horse’s field of vision. Then I commanded Captain to bring me number “6” from the rack. He obeyed and followed this by bringing me “4,” “9,” and “7.”

11. I exchanged “1” and “4” and commanded Captain to tell me how many people were in the front row. He brought me number “1.”

12. Mr. Sigsbee, at my direction, gave Captain the number, “30,724.”

The numbers in the rack were in the unfamiliar order, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0.” By obstructing Captain’s view of his master I was able to eliminate the possibility of directing gaze-cues from master to horse. Long experience with my quadruple choice method has enabled me to control the movements of my ocular muscles, and to depend a good deal on peripheral vision, so that I am sure that I did not involuntarily direct the horse during this test.

Captain promptly pulled “3” from the rack, pulled “8” part way out and let go before he had fully withdrawn it, then withdrew “0,” “7,” “2,” and “4” in rapid succession.

13. I put “4,” “1,” and “8” on the floor, sent Mr. Sigsbee to the rear of the stage and gave the following commands:

“Two times nine.” “Seven times twelve.” “Nine times nine.”

The horse took up “1” and “8” in the response to the first command, and dropped them. I arranged the three numbers in the same order in which they lay on the floor before the first command was given (“4 was at the left end, “1” in the middle and “8” at the right end.) The second command was given, and answered correctly, without hesitation. I now reversed the positions of “4” and “8” and gave the third com­mand, which was also answered correctly.

14. After I had rearranged the colored strips on the color rack so that black and white were near the middle (it will be remembered that they were end strips during the public performance), directed Mr. Sigs­bee to command Captain to match Mrs. Hamilton’s garments.

Captain went as far forward on the stage as he could go, craned his neck forward, and closely scrutinized Mrs. Hamilton. At the com­mand, “Match the color of the lady’s hat” (Mr. Sigsbee gave these com­mands), Captain went to the color rack, which was close to and near the middle of the right wing, and took the black strip in his teeth. (Correct.) His master stood behind him, facing Mrs. Hamilton, who sat in the first row as “audience.” Following this the horse matched the white waist, tan gloves and black pocketbook.

I now engaged Mr. Sigsbee in a conversation as to how he had trained his horse to match colors, when Mrs. Hamilton called to Cap­tain, “Can you match this?” Captain nodded his head and came up to the rack and took the yellow strip in his teeth. Neither Mr. Sigsbee nor I saw the pencil, and even when Mrs. Hamilton told us that it was a pencil I could not tell its colors from where Mr. Sigsbee and I stood, since the audience room was dimly lighted. On our way to the exposi­tion that morning Mrs. Hamilton and I jested about my pencil-stealing proclivities, and I had reminded her that I had returned her red-white-and-blue pencil. This accounts for the certainty with which I declared that Captain had taken the wrong color until Mrs. Hamilton showed me that her pencil was really a yellow one.

Captain had grown friendly toward me, and as he stood facing me, apparently inviting attention, I said, “Match my necktie” and pointed to my red tie. He promptly pulled the red strip from the rack. Mr. Sigsbee was definitely behind Captain when this occurred.

Although my examination of Captain was too brief to justify me in presenting this as more than a preliminary report, there are a few tentative conclusions which I have drawn from it, and which I wish to present for the consideration of persons who may be interested in the training feats of men like von Osten, Krall, and Sigsbee.

1. The inquiring liveliness of Captain’s ears and the freedom with which Mr. Sigsbee employs verbal directions when the horse is tired and inattentive suggests the possibility that this animal may receive auditory cues that are given involuntarily by his master. It is not only conceivable but even likely that Captain is sensitive to changes in his master’s respiratory sounds. A spasmodic inspiration, a faint sigh or a sudden quickening of respiration might easily serve as cues for Captain. One need only translate Rendlich’s and Pfungst’s explanation of Hans’ behavior from visual into auditory terms to arrive at a fairly satisfying guess as to how it is possible for Captain to perform his wonderful feats.

2. My observations, although incomplete and inconclusive in many respects, have convinced me that Captain can give correct answers in entire independence of directive visual stimuli. There was no trickery about his blindfold: Captain wore a leather mask which so well ex­cluded the light that he had to be led from place to place on the stage. Even when he was not blindfolded, and seemed to be keen to under­stand and to obey them correctly, he attended only with his ears.

3. I am convinced that Mr. Sigsbee is sincere in his belief that Captain is capable of abstract thought, and that he resorts to no trick­ery in his public performances. It is also gratifying to know that he is of the hard-headed type to whom a scientifically established explana­tion would be acceptable, even though it might run counter to his own presuppositions. If it proves to be the case that his horse is accessible to stimuli to which human ears are obtuse, and that master as well as public has been literally “taken in” by horse-cleverness the humorous aspect of the situation will appeal to him. From a purely commercial standpoint he need have no fear as to the “show” value of a horse which can beat a crafty old trainer at his own game by training the master to give such exquisitely delicate cues that the master himself is not aware of giving them. It is not surprising that Mr. Sigsbee had to fall back upon telepathic explanations.


Captain's own Story

How I bought and trained Captain

A Scientific Investigation

Captain's Prayer of Thanksgiving

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