Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 861
My Breaking In
Darkie is growing handsome. His coat is fine and bright black, and he has one white foot and a white star on his forehead. His master will not sell him until he is four years old, believing boys do not work like men and colts should not work like grown-up horses. When Darkie is four, Squire Gordon comes to look at him. He examines Darkie’s eyes, mouth, and legs and has him walk, trot, and gallop while he watches. The Squire seems to like what he sees and says the horse will do quite well once he is broken in well. The master says he will break Darkie, as he does not want him hurt or frightened. He begins the next day.
Breaking a horse is teaching him to wear a saddle and bridle so that he can carry a person on his back and go where he is directed to go. A horse must also learn to wear a collar, a crupper, and a breeching, and he must learn to stand still while all of these things are being put on him. He must learn to have a cart or chaise fixed behind him and to go as fast or slow as the driver wishes. A horse must never get startled by anything he sees; he must never speak to other horses or express his own will by biting or kicking. Instead, he must follow the will of his master. Of greatest importance is that a horse must never jump with joy or lie down out of weariness once the harness is on him. Breaking a horse is an important thing.
Though Darkie has worn a halter and a headstall, the bridle is something new and unpleasant. The thick piece of steel inserted into his mouth and over his tongue until it settles into the corner of his mouth is “a nasty thing,” but Darkie knows his mother always wears one when she goes out, as do all grown-up horses. With the enticement of oats, kind words, and gentle pats, Darkie learns to wear his bit and bridle. Adjusting to the feel of the saddle is much easier for Darkie, and soon his master is able to ride on his back. Being ridden feels odd to Darkie, but he is proud to carry his master and is soon used to it.
The iron shoes he has to wear are unpleasant to think about, but his master comes with him to the forge to ensure Darkie is neither frightened nor hurt. First the blacksmith cuts off part of the horse’s hooves, and it does not hurt. Neither does the iron shoe the blacksmith nails to each hoof, but Darkie’s feet now feel heavy and stiff. The harness is next, including a stiff, heavy collar and blinkers for each eye so that he can see nothing but straight ahead of him. The most unpleasant piece of equipment is the crupper, a strap that goes directly under his tail. Darkie feels most like kicking when the crupper is put on him, but he knows he cannot kick such a kind master and refrains. In time, he is equipped to work as well as his mother.
One important part of the training happens in a neighbor’s meadow which is bordered by train tracks on one side. There are sheep and cows in the field, and Darkie joins them. He is frightened by the noise, smoke, and rush of a train, and he gallops along with it, “snorting with astonishment and fear.” Trains often stop at a depot nearby, and the groaning and squeaking noises are terrible. While the trains make Darkie feel distraught, the other animals do not react to them in any way. For several days Darkie cannot eat in peace with the prospect of a train nearby; however, once he discovers that a train will not come into the field or do him any harm, he is able to ignore the passing of a train just as the cows and sheep do. Since then, Darkie has met many horses who are “alarmed and restive” at the sight or sound of a train, and he is thankful to his kind master for helping him feel as comfortable near a railway station as he does in his own stable.
This is the best way to break a young horse. Darkie is often harnessed with his mother so that she can teach him better than a strange horse could. Duchess tells her son the better he behaves the better he will be treated, so it is always best to do whatever he can to please his master. She warns him that there are many kind masters, but there are also cruel masters who should never own a horse or a dog. Others are foolish, vain, ignorant, or careless; these masters mistreat their animals without particularly meaning to. She hopes her son will be kept by a good master, but a horse never knows who will buy him or who will drive him. No matter what, she says, her son should keep his good name and do his best.