Wooden horse (device)
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A wooden horse (or Spanish donkey) is a torture device, of which there exist two variations; both inflict pain by having the subject straddle a narrow board. The French called this instrument the Chevalet, from the French diminutive of cheval, horse.
The first is a sharply angled device with the sharp point of the angle pointing upward, mounted on a saw-horse like support. The victim is made to straddle the triangular "horse" and place their full body weight on their crotch, which rested on the point of the angle. Weights or additional restraints were often added to keep the victim from falling off. A punishment similar to this called "riding the rail" was used during the American colonial period and later. The victim was often carried through town in this predicament, often in conjunction with the punishment of tarring and feathering. The crotch can be injured and the victim could be left unable to walk without pain.
The Jesuit Relations say that in 1646, a man "was sentenced to make reparation, by the Civil authority, and to mount the Chevalet," and "a public blasphemer, was put on the Chevalet. He acknowledged his fault, saying that he had well deserved punishment, and came of his own accord to confess, that evening or the next day," and that another man "acted at the fort as such a glutton, that he was put on the Chevalet, on which he was ruptured."
The device was used during the American Civil War by Union guards against their Confederate prisoners:
|“||There were some of our poor boys, for little infraction of the prison rules, riding what they called Morgan's mule every day. That was one mule that did the worst standing stock still. He was built after the pattern of those used by carpenters. He was about fifteen feet high; the legs were nailed to the scantling so one of the sharp edges was turned up, which made it very painful and uncomfortable to the poor fellow especially when he had to be ridden bareback, sometimes with heavy weights fastened to his feet and sometimes with a large beef bone in each hand. This performance was carried on under the eyes of a guard with a loaded gun, and was kept up for several days; each ride lasting two hours each day unless the fellow fainted and fell off from pain and exhaustion. Very few were able to walk after this hellish Yankee torture but had to be supported to their barracks.||”|
—Milton Asbury Ryan, Co. G, 8th MS Regiment
The History Channel documentary Eighty Acres of Hell describes a torture device, "the mule", on which Confederate prisoners were forced to ride until they passed out; many were crippled for life. The device was also used by Union officers on freedmen and women after the Civil War.
A less immediately painful variation, often dubbed the wooden pony, is a single plank of wood supported (either again with wooden legs or suspended from the ceiling) horizontal from the floor on its side, with the thin edge up. Usually this edge is filed to a blunt point or rounded off. The victim is made to straddle the plank, which is adjusted (raised or lowered) in order to make the victim stand on her tiptoes or rest her body weight on her genitals on the plank. This less intense variation was probably developed for and more commonly used in BDSM play.
An unrelated device used during the Roman Empire to interrogate slaves was sometimes referred to as a "wooden horse." Its design was similar to the medieval torture rack in that it consisted of a raised platform (in this case approx. 1.8 meters from the ground) with pulleys at either end. The victim's arms and legs were tied to ropes which ran through the pulley systems and were attached to cranks at each end of the device. As tension was placed on both ropes, the shoulder (and possibly hip) joints were dislocated. The victim was then violently shoved off of the platform, creating more injuries to joints and muscles, before being beaten to death with rods.
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- Eighty Acres of Hell (TV 2006) at the Internet Movie Database
- Foner, Eric (2002). Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, p. 154. ISBN 9780060937164.