Horse Sense for You Charactes

akhal-teke1I’m doing my “Horse Sense for Your Characters” workshop over at Savvy Authors starting Monday (Feb 3), and there’s still time to register if you like. But I thought it would be good to talk about why I came up with this workshop–and why you might need it.

The workshop came out of my own frustration at reading what otherwise would be a really good story–except the things horses did (or had done to them) stretched out of my ability to suspend disbelief. This happens a lot with historical romances where you almost always have to include horses. And it can happen with modern novels set either around horse breeding, showing, or racing.

What are the worst mistakes?

1-The horse who acts like a dog. An recent animated movie committed this sin and had the horse lapping up water like a dog (they suck water down like Hoovers). Horses are not big dogs. Granted, they sometimes act like big, dumb dogs, but they have a whole different set of instincts due to being prey animals.

2-The horse who acts like a car. This is even worse. Horses do not park well, not even when tied. Horses have to be harnessed or tacked up and have to be cooled off and have to be walked and fed and watered and generally take a lot more care–this is why cars won the battle for convenient transportation.

buckedoff3-The easy to get up and down from horse. Even the shortest horse is a long way up from the ground. Unless we’re talking pony, most folks cannot easily swing up on  a horse (I knew one cowboy who had this trick, but forget it if we’re talking knights with armor here). Getting on and off a horse is a production–and horses seem to delight in moving right when you’re most off balance with one foot in the stirrup.

4-The stretch limo horse. Horses have limits of weight and speed and distance. The weight limit is a big one. Most horses can manage one person, but two is a huge burden, and generally puts weight over the horse’s loins (not good). It’s also really uncomfortable to ride double, and so not that romantic.

5-The kiss. Speaking of romance, the kiss from horseback is generally a myth. Yes, some horses will stand still for this (really, really well trained horses). Most horses feel you leaning and shift away–making for a really awkward moment. If you want some laughs at the expense of others, check out You Tube for the mounted weddings (hint: billowing wedding dresses and horses do not mix well–brings new meaning to the phrase run-away bride).

6-The stallion! Truth is stallions are generally a pain in the butt. If they’ve been used for breeding, they want to breed everything. You may think your mare is touchy, but stallions are just as moody. Yes, there are some good ones–and some very well trained ones. But, in general, if you want a good, steady ride, you’re looking for a gelding who’ll keep his mind on work.

arabian7-The big hero on the Arabian. Don’t get me wrong, I love Arabs–and I’ve ridden some great ones. I’ve  never seen one bigger than about 16 hands and that’s a rarity. They’re usually between 14 and 15.3 hands high (with a hand being 4 inches). This means they’re on the small side–any guy over 6′ is going to look like he is riding a pony. He will not look dashing–and I always start laughing at this point in any book that puts that big dude on that little horse.

So, in general, think of horses as characters–they want to eat (and eat some more). They have their own fears, their own opinions about things, and their own tempers. They aren’t dogs, or people, or cars. They are wonderful, however. And if you’d like to learn more, particularly about horses through history, stop by the workshop.


4 thoughts on “Horse Sense for You Charactes

  1. Hi Shannon

    Just found your website. What a fascinating article. I am a rider and a writer and a rider (I have a Welsh Cob gelding and a Paint x Quarter Horse mare) and they are as different as chalk and cheese. Loved your post! My pet hate is heroines who always ride stallions (Highly unlikely in the middle ages,) and as you say, stallions can be a pain, although I’ve known one or two who were real ‘gents’, but hey, if they were that easy to ride, there wouldn’t be so many geldings!

  2. Hi, Shannon.

    I just found you through Writers in the Storm, and your “what makes a romance” blog. (Great post.) I’ll be honest and tell you that your bio pic at the bottom of that entry was a big reason for me to scroll back to the top and click the link in your name. (You have a horse with you.) As a fellow horse woman and writer, I am also annoyed by uneducated horse events in books. I’ve only read a few historical romances, so I don’t remember if I noticed anything in them. But, on the modern side, “cowboy” romances that I usually pick up with the hope of finding a real cowboy on the pages–meaning he knows how to sit a horse and cut a cow–leave me wanting and rolling my eyes. The horseback passages are more like pony rides at the local carnival than getting on a real cow horse and cutting a cow from the herd.

    Glad I found you. 🙂

    • Yeah, I know what you mean. My grandma used to tell a story about how to tell a cowboy–he was the one who got on his horse at the house to ride to the barn (twenty feet away) because a cowboy would never walk when he could ride instead. It ruins more movies for me when the hero can’t really ride.


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