Lost Skills of the Old West Horse Trader - American Cowboy | Western Lifestyle - Travel - People

Lost Skills of the Old West Horse Trader

A savvy horse trader could make even the slickest car salesman look like an angel.
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Credit: Erwin Sherman

Credit: Erwin Sherman

A savvy horse trader could make even the slickest car salesman look like an angel. Here are some tricks unscrupulous traders employed during their wheeling and dealing.


Get yerself a horse
At some point or another, every farmer, pioneer, and rancher had to replace a horse. When they did, they often waited until a traveling horse trader passed through town. The horse traders of the Old West were analogous to today’s car dealers, and with no better a reputation. A horse trader’s ultimate business goal was to turn a profit, and the best way to do so was to obtain a horse cheaply, then sell him for an inflated sum. An old, sick, or lame horse could be made to look young, healthy, and sound through a variety of duplicitous tricks. These deceits ranged from clever to cruel, and often weren’t discovered until the horse trader’s pockets were well padded and he was on his way to the next town and gullible buyer. 

Bishoping
Years could be shaved off a horse’s age through the practice of “Bishoping,” where horse traders would file down an elderly horse’s teeth and stain them with silver nitrate, so that they appeared to be much younger.

Sponges
Issues with roaring or illness could be stopped by inserting a sponge into the horse’s nostrils. The sponge would muffle labored breathing and stop up a runny nose.

The shoe trick
A horse trader would pull one shoe off a chronically lame horse to convince a buyer that the horse wasn’t always unsound, but simply that way because he had recently lost a shoe. 

Competition
For a cut of the profit, a horse trader might convince a friend or two to show up to his sale and feign interest in the horse being exhibited. Unaware that his competition has been planted, the unwary horse buyer spends more money than he might have otherwise, spurred by the thrill of outbidding everyone else. 

The gasoline cure
A horse with muscle soreness could be made to look fluid and sound with the help of some gasoline. The night before the affected horse was to be shown to a prospective buyer, the trader would pour gasoline over the horse’s withers and back, and let the gasoline flow down the limbs. Allegedly, this contracted the capillaries and diminished nerve sensitivity, allowing the horse to temporarily move pain free. Of course, the soreness returned as soon as the effects of the gasoline wore off. 

Credit: Erwin Sherman The "gasoline cure."

Credit: Erwin Sherman The "gasoline cure."