Saturday, November 8, 2008

Horses in Writing

As a writer of fantasy and a lover of horses, this blog post was pretty much inevitable. The following is a primer for those people planning on putting horses into their novels in any way, but particularly as a form of transportation.

1. The horse is not a machine. It needs to rest, it needs to eat, it needs to sleep. It drinks lots of water, very messily. And then the horse smears it’s wet, grain-and-dirt-and-snot coated muzzle across the shirt you’re wearing.

2. The horse has a mind of its own. It can get cranky. Or frisky. And they startle easily. The horse is a prey animal and wired that way. Its instinct says run away first, then wonder if that flapping thing is really trying to attack. So sometimes the horse goes sideways because a leaf flips over in the wind. Sometimes, the rider doesn’t go with the horse.

3. Some horses will hold their breath while being saddled so that the girth is too loose. And some horses will try to scrape their riders off on trees. And then there is propping. Propping occurs when the horse stops suddenly, usually at a gallop. The horse stops by planting its stiffened front feet to the earth. Propping them, see? The problem with that is simple: the rider rarely sees it coming and ends up flipping over the horse’s head.

4. Horses have bad habits, too. They need mental stimulation. A bored horse who has been in a stall too long picks up vices. Cribbing, for example. Cribbing is when the horse starts biting and chewing on the stall itself, and swallows air as a result. There are a whole host of stable vices that the budding author can look into.

5. The rider. The escaping princess leaps onto the back of a horse in her silk dress and gallops off into the night? She falls off after ten paces because silk is slippery. So are the bare backs of horses. Okay, she has a saddle. Ever try mounting a horse in a full length skirt? And side-saddles aren’t well balanced, so no cross country, which makes it easy for the guards to catch her. Dress sensibly: boots, long pants.

6. The characters ride all day long, hand their horses over to the stable boys, and saunter into the inn. Riding all day long is hard physical work. It’s exhausting. After a full twelve hours or more in the saddle, even given stops for nature-calls, the character shouldn’t be able to stand up straight, much less walk, much less saunter. And both people and horses can get saddle-sores.

There is plenty more to think about when using horses in a novel. The best recommendation I could give you is to find someone who owns horses and will let you experience the joys of riding AND taking care of their needs.

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