The Bravery of a Heroic Horse
The poem ‘In the Stable’ by Paterson tells an engaging story about a heroic horse who helps its rider escape from notorious bushrangers. Written in Paterson’s characteristic folk ballad style, it brings the Australian bush vividly to life through rhyming verses, colorful language, and emphasis on storytelling.
The poem opens by describing the less-than-impressive appearance of the aging horse, who the speaker nevertheless deeply appreciates. We soon learn why – the horse had saved the speaker from the deadly trio of outlaws Gilbert, O’Malley and Hall.
Paterson captures the frontier lawlessness of old Australia as he describes the bushrangers’ cruel actions, from stealing horses to leaving ominous threats. The speaker makes it his mission to get revenge, leading to an exciting chase where the gang hunts the speaker on his half-tamed colt.
The horse is heroically described leaping impossible fences and galloping at full speed despite being shot, showcasing courage and loyalty to his rider. The colt succeeds in helping the speaker narrowly escape, though is left with a permanent bullet wound.
The wartime themes of bravery, trust, and sacrifice in the face of violence strongly suggest Paterson channeled his battlefront experiences with horses into this poetic tribute.
- Paterson served in the Boer War as part of the Australian cavalry, working closely with horses in harsh conditions. This gave him first-hand knowledge of horses’ capabilities and bonds with riders.
- The poem vividly describes the horse leaping barricades and galloping at intense speeds while under fire from the bushrangers. Paterson witnessed similar feats of courage and athleticism from war horses charged in battle or retreating under fire.
- He portrays the deep mutual understanding and trust between rider and horse. This bond of loyalty reflects the relationships cavalrymen like Paterson had with their mounts. They relied on each other for survival.
- Details like the bullet wound the horse sustains is reminiscent of the injuries war horses endured. It highlights their toughness and unwillingness to fail their rider.
- The speaker’s great admiration for the horse’s spirit and stamina despite his unimpressive looks mirrors how veterans came to respect the heart and sacrifice of even humble-looking war horses.
- The idea of a horse heroically saving his rider from deadly peril aligns with stories of war horses continuing to carry soldiers to safety when wounded.
The horse described ‘In the Stable’ embodies all the traits Paterson witnessed from equine comrades during the Boer War.
While an entertaining tale, Paterson also romanticizes the rugged frontier spirit embodied by the horse and speaker. The poem is a tribute to the tenacity and bravery required to survive in the raw Australian bush. Paterson crafts a folk legend out of a violent time, suggesting that courage and mateship can triumph over lawlessness.
In the Stable
What! You don’t like him; well, maybe—we all have our fancies, of course:
Brumby to look at you reckon? Well, no: he’s a thoroughbred horse;
Sired by a son of old Panic—look at his ears and his head—
Lop-eared and Roman-nosed, ain’t he?—well, that’s how the Panics are bred.
Gluttonous, ugly and lazy, rough as a tip-cart to ride,
Yet if you offered a sovereign apiece for the hairs on his hide
That wouldn’t buy him, nor twice that; while I’ve a pound to the good,
This here old stager stays by me and lives like a thoroughbred should:
Hunt him away from his bedding, and sit yourself down by the wall,
Till you hear how the old fellow saved me from Gilbert, O’Mealley and Hall.
Gilbert and Hall and O’Mally, back in the bushranging days,
Made themselves kings of the district—ruled it in old-fashioned ways—
Robbing the coach and the escort, stealing our horses at night,
Calling sometimes at the homesteads and giving the women a fright:
Came to the station one morning—and why they did this no one knows—
Took a brood mare from the paddock—wanting some fun, I suppose—
Fastened a bucket beneath her, hung by a strap round her flank,
Then turned her loose in the timber back of the seven-mile tank.
Go! She went mad! She went tearing and screaming with fear through the trees,
While the curst bucket beneath her was banging her flanks and her knees.
Bucking and racing and screaming she ran to the back of the run,
Killed herself there in a gully; by God, but they paid for their fun!
Paid for it dear, for the black-boys found tracks, and the bucket, and all,
And I swore that I’d live to get even with Gilbert, O’Malley and Hall.
Day after day then I chased them—’course they had friends on the sly,
Friends who were willing to sell them to those who were willing to buy.
Early one morning we found them in camp at the Cockatoo Farm
One of us shot at O’Mally and wounded him under the arm:
Ran them for miles in the ranges, till Hall, with his horse fairly beat,
Took to the rocks and we lost him—the others made good their retreat.
It was war to the knife then, I tell you, and once, on the door of my shed,
They nailed up a notice that offered a hundred reward for my head!
Then we heard they were gone from the district; they stuck up a coach in the West,
And I rode by myself in the paddocks, taking a bit of a rest,
Riding this colt as a youngster—awkward, half-broken and shy,
He wheeled round one day on a sudden; I looked, but I couldn’t see why,—
But I soon found out why, for before me, the hillside rose up like a wall,
And there on the top with their rifles were Gilbert, O’Malley and Hall!
’Twas a good three-mile run to the homestead—bad going, with plenty of trees—
So I gathered the youngster together, and gripped at his ribs with my knees.
’Twas a mighty poor chance to escape them! It puts a man’s nerve to the test
On a half-broken colt to be hunted by the best mounted men in the West.
But the half-broken colt was a racehorse! He lay down to work with a will,
Flashed through the scrub like a clean-skin—by heavens we flew down the hill!
Over a twenty-foot gully he swept with the spring of a deer
And they fired as we jumped, but they missed me—a bullet sang close to my ear—
And the jump gained us ground, for they shirked it: but I saw as we raced through the gap
That the rails at the homestead were fastened—I was caught like a rat in a trap.
Fenced with barbed wire was the paddock—barbed wire that would cut like a knife—
How was a youngster to clear it that never had jumped in his life?
Bang went a rifle behind me—the colt gave a spring, he was hit;
Straight at the sliprails I rode him—I felt him take hold of the bit;
Never a foot to the right or the left did he swerve in his stride,
Awkward and frightened, but honest, the sort it’s a pleasure to ride!
Straight at the rails, where they’d fastened barbed wire on the top of the post,
Rose like a stag and went over, with hardly a scratch at the most;
Into the homestead I darted, and snatched down my gun from the wall,
And I tell you I made them step lively, Gilbert, O’Malley and Hall!
Yes! There’s the mark of the bullet—he’s got it inside of him yet
Mixed up somehow with his victuals, but bless you, he don’t seem to fret!
Gluttonous, ugly, and lazy—eats any thing he can bite;
Now, let us shut up the stable, and bid the old fellow good night:
Ah! We can’t breed ’em, the sort that were bred when we old ’uns were young.
Yes, I was saying, these bushrangers, none of ’em lived to be hung,
Gilbert was shot by the troopers, Hall was betrayed by his friend,
Campbell disposed of O’Mally, bringing the lot to an end.
But you can talk about riding—I’ve ridden a lot in the past—
Wait till there’s rifles behind you, you’ll know what it means to go fast!
I’ve steeplechased, raced, and “run horses”, but I think the most dashing of all
Was the ride when the old fellow saved me from Gilbert, O’Malley and Hall!