By Rick Palsgrove
Most everyone in the Groveport Madison school district is aware of the story of the close bond between the internationally famous, 19th century horse trainer John S. Rarey of Groveport and his fiery stallion, Cruiser, but not much is known of Cruiser’s life after the death of Rarey in 1866.
We know that Rarey provided for the care of Cruiser in his will and that the proud stallion lived out his days in his familiar stable and paddock behind Rarey’s former mansion on Main Street. But what was life like for the horse without his friend Rarey?
Thanks to the efforts of historian Wayne Motts, we now have a glimpse of Cruiser’s life after Rarey’s passing. While conducting research on Groveport residents who served in the Civil War, Motts came across an article in a Wisconsin newspaper from 1869 entitled, “Cruiser: A Little Gossip about a Once Noted Horse.”
“Who has not heard of Cruiser, the savage horse that acknowledged no master but Rarey?” begins the article. “Well, Cruiser is still an object of curiosity, though the hand that subdued him has felt the palsying touch of death.”
The article notes that the new owner of Rarey’s former property faithfully carried out the provisions in Rarey’s will to care for the horse, “The Rarey estate is now owned by an estimable lady, Mrs. Jones, who is not unmindful of Cruiser.”
The article quotes a reporter from the Columbus Morning Journal who went to visit Cruiser. The reporter describes Cruiser’s dark color and massive build as well as the shape of Cruiser’s head, “He is unlike most horses that instead of a gradual decrease from the forelock to nostril, immediately next the eyes, the dimination in size is very acute.”
The reporter described Cruiser as friendly and approachable and that he would trot to the fence when called by Mrs. Jones. Cruiser also was accompanied by Shetland ponies in his paddock, which seemed to have had a calming influence on him.
But, the reporter added, “Yet there is that old fire still left in his eye, which indicates there is still life in him, enough so for the maintenance of his reputation made historic by his fierce nature and unconquerable will, save to that of the lamented John Rarey.”
The reporter then recounted a disturbing story of a man who visited the Jones estate who took it upon himself to master Cruiser by “brute force” by knocking him down with a club. Mrs. Jones, who no doubt disapproved of the man’s actions, said the incident “materially changed” Cruiser.
Wrote the reporter, “It is yet impossible to attend him as he has his ‘fits’ ever and anon, and no one can tell when they will occur, hence he is left to his own will.” But, he continued, “With the Shetland ponies he enjoys much pleasure, and a green apple or ear of corn can be a ticket of leave to pat him.”
The reporter ended by writing that a visit to Groveport to see Cruiser and the handsome grounds where he lived was enjoyable and that the “estimable” Mrs. Jones “deems it a pleasure to show the animal to all who may wish to see.”
Except for the incident where the man was brutal to Cruiser, the article paints a picture of a somewhat peaceful retirement for the great horse. It’s nice to imagine Cruiser trotting about in his paddock (which was located behind what is now Middle School Central in Groveport) on a pleasant sunny day with his Shetland pony friends.
Cruiser passed away on a rainy July 4, 1875 at age 23 and his notoriety was further confirmed by the fact his obituary appeared in the New York Times. His fame continues to this day in books about horse training and as the mascot of the Groveport Madison athletic teams.