While looking for something completely different on Flickr today, I happened across a few very dramatic advertisements for rein-holders.
“Invaluable in fly time.” I have a vision of a horse snapping his head around to bite at a fly on his abdomen, pulling his reins loose from the box, and then trampling on them, frightening himself, breaking the reins, and disappearing down the road… Something typically horsey!
How dramatic it must have been to be entrusted with a strong horse in a time when women were regarded as delicate flowers in every other way! As a horsewoman, I’m always aware of the potential at any given moment for a horse to do something unexpected, dangerous, and usually both. And driving to me feels much more precarious than riding. I’m always nervous when driving or riding along with someone in a carriage. Let’s face it: you just don’t have the same control over the horse when you’re sitting behind it, rather than sitting on it.
And yet ladies, who could not be exposed to any number of daily dangers, including knowledge of their own bodily functions, could drive horses.
The images from Thomson’s Security Rein Holder advertisements are a reminder of the sort of trouble horses can get themselves into. Imagine leaving your nice quiet cob at the gate while you just pop into the milliner’s to pick up a length of ribbon. And while you’re in there, a dog runs under your cob’s hooves, causes him to spook, the reins come loose from the box and he treads upon them, which sends him into a panic… it’s no good! Now you’ve caused a disturbance and everyone in the village is out to offer their opinion on what sort of horsewoman her ladyship is, and meanwhile you’ve got a broken rein and an upset horse.
If only you’d had a Thomson’s Security Rein Holder…
What I find especially impressive is that we read of many young ladies driving phaetons, which were a two-horse conveyance. Ladies, for all that they were not given very much credit by males in society, were entrusted with two half-ton animals to draw them through the park or the countryside, and only their reins to control them. It’s really something to think about, especially if you’ve personal experience with horses.
This ad brought up some interesting questions for me. It looks like the Thomson’s Security Rein Holder was patented around 1870, so before that, I wonder what happened with your horse if you didn’t have someone to stand at his head. I believe you would have wrapped the reins around the whip socket. Tying the horse by the reins is an invitation for a broken bridle – if the horse can’t relieve pressure on his mouth easily, he will panic – so I assume if you could tie your horse to a ring or a carriage weight, you were using a lead that attached to the bridle’s noseband, not to the bit. Perhaps you just told your horse to stand and hoped for the best. Or perhaps drama with reins wasn’t as common as Thomson would like you to believe.
For a simply wonderful look at the variety of horse-drawn conveyances used in Jane Austen’s era, see this article at the Jane Austen Society of North America, complete with images and text references.