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Gilbert Kelly Jeffery (1875–1954)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Gilbert Kelly Jeffery (1875-1954), horse-handler, was born on 23 October 1875 at Omeo, Victoria, ninth child of English-born parents Edward Jeffery, storekeeper, and his wife Selina, née Tonkin. Kell was sent to school in Melbourne. At the age of 12, for reasons of health, he spent a year in the country where he had his first contact with horses. After some years he was forced by illness to abandon plans to study law at the University of Melbourne and convalesced on an uncle's property near Guyra, New South Wales. Although he knew nothing of horse-handling, he successfully befriended an unbroken mare and rode her by the end of the first day. Intuition had led him to the basis of his subsequent 'method'—kindness and control—which he developed and refined over the next sixty years.

While employed as a journalist at Charleville, Queensland, Jeffery married 19-year-old Alice Brown on 3 May 1900 at Roma with Methodist forms. For a time they lived at Cowra, New South Wales, where he owned the Local News. In 1914 an action against the rival Cowra Guardian for £400 damages was settled out of court; the News folded during World War I after a fire on the premises. Styling himself 'Kell B. Jeffery', he began to give public demonstrations of horse-handling.

The key to his method was the 'magic hold' exerted by a 22-ft (6.7 m) bullock-hide lasso (with a metal ring on one end) placed around the horse's neck. Split-second holds (pulls) and releases were then applied to control the horse and to allow the handler to advance and retreat so as, in time, to stroke and mount it. The emphasis was on persuasion, not submission. The headstall bridle and saddle were then introduced. Jeffery deplored the cruelty of the usual station method of breaking-in (a term he avoided) and of special tackle for mouthing. He conceded that some old-time, skilful breakers, like L. A. Skuthorp, had unwittingly applied the 'magic hold', but failed to appreciate its fundamental role.

Jeffery demonstrated his 'revolutionary' method all over Australia, claiming to have finally perfected it at the Cheriton Stud, Western Australia, in 1949. His method was widely popularized by H. J. Geddes, officer-in-charge of the University of Sydney's McGarvie Smith Animal Husbandry Farm at Badgerys Creek, where in 1950 Jeffery made a 15-minute film, New Deal For Horses, sponsored by the Rural Bank of New South Wales. That year the wiry and slightly built Jeffery summed up his technique: 'I talk to the horse and play with it gently. After a while it realizes I'm not such a bad guy, and I can do anything with it'. He had, however, his share of recalcitrant horses, for he added, 'I've had practically every bone in my body broken'. In 1952, when he published a four-part account of his method in the Pastoral Review, he claimed that, although he was 'stiff and slow' and had double-vision, he could still handle 'a six-year-old lively blood colt, without the slightest concern, let alone apprehension'.

Survived by his wife and two sons, Jeffery died on 18 February 1954 at Kurri Kurri and was buried in the local cemetery. After his death Maurice Wright devised a modified form of the Jeffery method which is now widely used.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Wright, The Jeffery Method of Horse Handling (Armidale, NSW, 1973)
  • G. Walsh, Pioneering Days (Syd, 1993)
  • Pastoral Review, June, July, Aug, Sept 1952, Mar, Apr, June, Aug 1953, Mar 1954
  • Cowra Free Press, 18 Apr, 26 Aug 1914, 9 Oct 1920
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Feb 1926, 14, 23 Jan 1953
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 May 1950.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Jeffery, Gilbert Kelly (1875–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 October, 1875
Omeo, Victoria, Australia


18 February, 1954 (aged 78)
Kurri Kurri, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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