Beautiful Jim Key was a famous performing horse around the turn of the twentieth century. At the time, he was known as the smartest horse on Earth. His promoters claimed that the horse had many talents, but his trainer’s story is also something to be admired!
“Dr.” William Key was a former slave, a self-trained veterinarian, and a patent medicine salesman. He was a skilled horseman who rescued an Arabian mare, a badly abused former circus horse, and bred her to a Standardbred stallion. He had hoped to get a racehorse; instead he got a clumsy, sickly colt that he named after the town drunk.
But William noticed Jim had been letting himself out of gates, opening drawers to get himself apples, and learning tricks from the dog. He developed a training program for Jim and spent seven years nurturing the horse’s unusual talents. Jim eventually learned to spell short words, solve basic math problems, tell time, identify playing cards, use a cash register, make change, dial a phone, sort mail, cite Bible passages, and faint on command! William emphasized that he used only patience and kindness in teaching the horse, and never a whip.
The duo periodically toured the United States in a special railroad car to promote the fledgling cause of the humane treatment of animals. They performed in venues in most of the larger American cities, including New York’s Madison Square Garden. The horse was among the most popular attractions at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
Jim became the number one box office star in the nation and energized the worldwide animal welfare movement, making the phrase “be kind to animals” a household ideal. When William started a club called “The Jim Key Band of Mercy” to promote the fledgling cause of the humane treatment of animals, more than 2 million people joined. Millions of children took the “Jim Key Pledge” to always be kind to animals.
President William McKinley saw Beautiful Jim Key perform at an exposition in Tennessee and declared, “This is the most astonishing and entertaining exhibition I have ever witnessed.” The President also commented that it was an example of what “kindness and patience” could accomplish.
Horses are extraordinary animals! Another popular horse in the early twentieth century was Brooklyn Supreme. The red roan rose to fame due to his incredible size. Read more about him here!