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The Writer's Guide to Horses

The Writer's Guide to Horses

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The Writer's Guide to Horses

Length:
237 pages
2 hours
Released:
Jun 20, 2019
ISBN:
9781393859550
Format:
Book

Description

Saddle up... it's time to write!

 

They appear in all sorts of genres, from epic fantasy to the zombie post-apocalypse, but horses can be one of the most difficult topics for authors to get right.

 

This illustrated guide gives writers a leg up on their fictional equines. You'll find practical tips for crafting authentic equines in your works, avoiding the most common mistakes, and making your four-legged characters gallop right off the page. Included are essential illustrations, real-world inspiration, historical insights, helpful quick reference guides, example passages, and more.

 

Topics you'll find inside include:

 

- How to write about horses in terms that horse enthusiasts and laymen alike can understand.

 

- How to write your horses as full-fledged characters, equine archetypes, and how the horses in your story can help reveal information about your characters.

 

- Horses: how do they work? We'll take a look at anatomy, different types of equines, and how to choose the right types of horses for your heroes. Quick reference guides to color and markings, body language, emotion, and vocalizations will help you nail the little details.

 

- The basics of riding and driving horses, and the most common mistakes that authors make when they're depicting a romantic gallop through the countryside. We'll also take a look at horseback combat and a few of the most common ways for humans to die horribly at the hands of their equine companions.

 

- Hitting the road with a horse. Where your characters can find lodging, what they'll need to do to care for their horses, how to handle a water crossing, and whether they'll need to bring along feed, extra horses, or pack animals. Traveling by wheeled conveyance instead? We'll cover that too.

 

- Worldbuilding a horse-powered society. Inventing new breeds of horse unique to your setting, generating ideas for original tack and equipment, creating a culture with horse sports, festivals, laws, and more.

 

- The common mistakes that appear most often in books, movies, and other media featuring horses.

 

- And a few horse-centric writing prompts to get you started!

Released:
Jun 20, 2019
ISBN:
9781393859550
Format:
Book

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The Writer's Guide to Horses - Mackenzie Kincaid

Introduction

As modern authors with the powers of the Internet at our fingertips, we may feel like there's no problem that our powers of research can't master. Need to know what names were most popular in a particular place and time? How about the latest research on cybernetic limbs? Or maybe you're looking for historical poisons and the best ways to dispose of a body. We've all been there.

Sometimes, though, your research will only take you deeper into the weeds. The information you find will be overwhelming and contradictory, or it'll lead you down endless rabbit holes. Before you know it, it's three in the morning and you've spent the last six hours reading a string of 19th century books about the history of pigeon breeding. Not that I've ever done that.

If you've been researching writing horses, you've probably discovered that even what you'd think are simple questions don't have truly straightforward answers. How far can a company of riders travel in a day? What exactly does one feed a horse while traveling? How do you camp with horses? Should your character ride a stallion or a mare, or whatever a gelding is? Should you insert a whinny after every sentence, or just every paragraph? (That one's a joke. Please don't do that.)

If you've ever found yourself surfing the web in the middle of the night trying to figure out exactly how horses work and how you're supposed to pretend to know anything about them in your writing, you're not alone. If you've received less than glowing feedback from horse people reading your work, you’re definitely not the only one. If you've finally given up the quest in disgust and decided to have your characters ride simpler beasts like ostriches instead, I can sympathize.

But I'm also here to help. I'm a keen student of horse history and I'm powered by ADHD and hyperfocus, which is to say that I've done the research and lost the sleep so that you don't have to.

This book is intended to condense a vast array of knowledge, ideas, and history down into a manageable single volume that you can reference for all sorts of horse writing conundrums you may face. My goal is not to teach you all of the ins and outs of horse ownership, riding, breeding, or stable management. I'm aiming to give you a set of broad guidelines that will help you write horses that will read as genuine even to an audience that knows horses well, and to inspire you to take the horses in your story beyond the realm of mere transportation.

This book is designed to be a reference which you can search through for answers to specific questions, so feel free to jump around to whatever chapter you might need at the moment. You'll also find a glossary at the back of the book that includes not just terms found in the book itself but a general slice of terms from the horse world.

Some of the resources you'll find in this book include:

How to write about horses in terms that horse enthusiasts and laymen alike can understand.

How to write your horses as full-fledged characters, and how the horses in your story can help reveal information about your characters.

Horses: how do they work? We'll take a look at anatomy, different types of equines, and how to choose the right types of horses for your heroes. Quick reference guides to color and markings, body language, emotion, and vocalizations will help you nail the little details.

The basics of riding and driving horses, and the most common mistakes that authors make when they're depicting a romantic gallop through the countryside. We'll also take a look at horseback combat and a few of the most common ways for humans to die horribly at the hands of their equine companions.

Hitting the road with a horse. Where your characters can find lodging, what they'll need to do to care for their horses, how to handle a water crossing, and whether they'll need to bring along feed, extra horses, or pack animals. Traveling by wheeled conveyance instead? We'll cover that too.

Worldbuilding a horse-powered society. Inventing new breeds of horse unique to your setting, generating ideas for original tack and equipment, creating a culture with horse sports, festivals, laws, and more.

The common mistakes that appear most often in books, movies, and other media featuring horses.

A few horse-centric writing prompts to get you started!

Still not enough information? Do you have an incredibly specific equine conundrum keeping you awake at night? I also blog about this topic and warmly welcome reader questions. You can find my website at mackenziekincaid.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr as @mackincaid.

Chapter 1

Speaking of Horses

A lot of advice about writing horses boils down to researching the basic terminology, applying those terms liberally, and calling it a job well done. Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy. Readers who don't know horses may not understand what you mean, while readers who are familiar with horses tend to reject any terms that aren't the ones they use themselves. People have been living with horses for thousands of years, and the terms they use have varied widely across every possible axis: time period, geography, social class, horsemanship style, and more.

The best way to write to both of these audiences — the experienced and inexperienced alike — is to use simple, descriptive language. You could describe your character's horse as a sooty bay, which would be meaningless to a good portion of your audience, or you could describe the rich gold undertones in its coat, the color like a well-weathered statue, the faint dapples and glossy sheen. Don't feel like you need to prove to your reader that you've done the research; dazzle them instead with the power of your prose.

You can also avoid unexpected issues by resisting the urge to over-describe. For example, you could write:

He twisted the stirrup with his right hand, holding it still so he could slide his foot into place. With one hand on the pommel, and the other on the cantle, he shifted into position and bounced once, springing up and into the saddle, landing lightly on the horse's back.

But what if you're writing in a historical setting and you're not actually sure that this style is how they mounted their horses at all? Your research might turn up something more specific, but you probably don't need to describe mounting in this level of detail, either. What's important about the passage, and what is it saying about the character? Your reader needs to know your character is getting on the horse, obviously. He's apparently experienced with mounting and has done it before. He moves lightly, and spares his horse by not flopping down heavily onto its back. So you could go the much simpler route of:

He turned to his horse and mounted, settling lightly in the saddle.

That was much easier, less tedious, and it's telling us exactly the same thing. Your reader's mind will fill in the blanks of what exactly that movement looks like.

Sometimes, however, you can't avoid busting out some real horse talk. You'll learn plenty of language in this book that can help you (make sure you take a look at the glossary on your way out), but putting it down on the page can leave many of your readers scratching their heads. When you do use terms your audience may not know, provide some context. For instance:

I don't know, I think maybe it's in the fetlock, Meg said, crouching low to take a closer look.

She ran both hands down the horse's foreleg, wrapping palms and fingers around every inch of the limb to search for the source of Lightning's limp. The thick forearm and knobby knee felt as they should, and so did the cannon bone and the tendons running along the back of it. But the next joint was slightly too thick, warmer than it should be and a little swollen. It was the fetlock, after all.

We're introducing a few words like fetlock and cannon bone that might be unfamiliar, but there's plenty of context built into the narration to let readers know what those things mean. We know it's the foreleg, which is a pretty easy term that obviously means front leg, and we know she's running her hand downward and checking every inch of the limb, so it's easy to assume she's starting from the top. Having her check each part of the leg along the way is not only what you'd actually do while looking for a source of lameness in a horse, it also gives us the basic geography of a horse's front leg. She starts at the top with the forearm, and goes over the knee. Common sense says the cannon bone is right under the knee, which it is, and then the next joint is the troublesome fetlock.

And there are certainly ways you can avoid technical terms, too. Instead of describing a farrier's process in detail, you can be vague about exactly what the farrier is doing, and concentrate instead on the more important business of what's happening between the characters:

The farrier lifted the horse's hoof between his legs, cradling it between his thighs. He paused for a long moment, examining the shape of the foot, before he picked up the first of his tools and set to work.

You really don't need to have him re-shod this often, John said. He's barely got enough growth. He can go at least two weeks longer.

Two weeks. Caitlyn considered the idea, but dismissed it; that was definitely two weeks too long. Watching the flex and release of the muscles in John's forearms as he worked, she wondered if it would be a little too dramatic to acquire another horse, just so she'd have an excuse to keep him around a little longer with each visit. Maybe she ought to take on boarders.

What John's doing exactly isn't described in detail, but it's implied that he's continuing to work while he and Caitlyn talk. As the scene goes along, you can certainly drop in a little more detail on what exactly he's doing, but there's no need to offer too much detail.

PARTICULAR PRONOUNS

Speaking of language, one animal issue that poses a problem for writers is the appropriate use of pronouns. Should that horse be referred to as a he, a she, or an it?

The answer is yes to all of those.

The general rule is that an animal is referred to as it unless it's depicted as a character or its sex is established. That means you'd most likely use he or she if the horse:

Has a name that is known to the reader

Has a personality that's been demonstrated to the reader

Has had its sex explicitly stated by a character

Has characteristics visible to your character which make its sex obvious

For instance, when your character interacts with his own horse it might read like this:

He clapped a hand against the mare's neck. She was a good horse, solid and dependable, and he knew he'd be able to rely on her for the journey ahead.

But when he's looking at some horse that is unknown to him, you'll have something more like this:

The horse in the distance stood on top of the ridge-line, its ears pricked toward them and its body still.

Joe's mare matched its posture, her body tensing beneath him. She raised her head up high, nostrils flared to catch the distant scent of the interloper.

The mystery horse stared for a long moment, as if taking their measure, then it wheeled around and galloped out of sight.

We're using both she and it in the same passage because Joe's mare is known to be female, but the other horse's sex is unknown.

You can also have a change mid-paragraph for the same horse:

The horse was clearly exhausted, its sides heaving like a bellows and its nostrils flared wide. Sweat frothed white on its neck and chest.

Henry leapt down from the saddle, looking nearly as ragged, and leaned against the horse's shoulder. Well done, old girl, he said. Well done, Betty.

Betty let her head droop, blowing out a mighty gust of breath through her nose.

The language switches from it to she as soon as Henry gives us the information that his horse is a mare. (This could also happen if our point of view character had observed the horse from the side and been able to see that it was a mare.)

I look at it as the animal version of the singular they. You'd use it anywhere that you'd otherwise go for something like he or she. I also use it for a hypothetical horse, or a singular to stand in for all horses. You'll find that I use it frequently in this book, because I'm often writing about an imaginary, undefined horse.

Some people find the use of it jarring, as it can feel like speaking about an animal as an object. I don't have an issue with that personally, but do what works best for you in your project, and you can fight about it with your editor later!

Chapter 2

The Horse As A Character

I know what you're thinking: do I need to fill out a detailed character sheet for each of the horses in my book? Do they need to have tragic backstories and individual motivations? Are they really characters at all?

Certainly you could go the extra mile and plot out your horse's history since foal-hood, but you really don't need to go that far. Perhaps the single most common mistake writers make with horses is simply depicting them as if they're motorcycles. The horses flawlessly carry your heroes from one end of the plot to the other, performing every action as their riders intend and never so much as putting a foot wrong. In reality, horses are emotional, living animals; they'll have their own reactions to the situations your characters take them into. They suffer illness and injury, they don't always emerge from a battle unscathed, and they don't always stay where you put them. If your characters make it though their epic quest without any kind of horse trouble at all, and without any of their horses so much as expressing an opinion, the story simply lacks realism. There are however two quick and easy ways to turn your horses from soulless transport into fully realized animals:

Give them individual attributes. Some horses are flighty, while others are steady as a rock. Some love humans, and some can't wait to dump their rider in the nearest thorny thicket. If your characters are all riding horses of a similar type, like trained warhorses, they may have similar temperaments (since it's what makes them suited for the work), but they’ll also have their own individual foibles. One horse might have a habit of trying to rub his bridle off, while another might be unable to tolerate another horse walking too closely behind him. For some easy ideas on horse personality types, you'll find a list of Equine Archetypes later in this chapter.

Have them react to the same situation in different ways. Say your hero is riding a horse he's just purchased from a shady dealer on the bad side of town. It's poorly behaved, surly, and not interested in participating in any of the shenanigans your hero is about to get it into. His traveling companion, on the other hand, is mounted on a horse she's had for years, and it's been there and done that.

When they inevitably end up in the middle of an emergency on the road, one of these horses is going to handle things well, and the other is going to take the first excuse it can get to throw its rider off and head for the hills. (How terrible! Now your hero is just going to have to ride double with his love interest, how will they cope?) By giving the horses their own traits, you're already characterizing them as living creatures, unique and individual. By letting them react differently to the same circumstances, you're not just showing their differences, you're adding interesting complications to your plot.

The Power of Names

Humans like to name things. It's in our nature, but it's also one of the ways we create a bond with our animals. We express our own interests, values, and sensibilities in what we choose to call our horses.

Names can be very simple, or very complicated. A horse might be named for its physical attributes, like color or markings (Blaze, Red, Brownie, and other appearance-inspired names are common, especially among animals named by children.)

Many horses in the modern world have registered names, which is what they're officially known by with their breed registry, and barn names, which is what they're called on a daily basis. Registered names must be completely unique from any other horse in the registry, so over time they tend to get a little more obscure as more and more horses use up the most obvious names. Often the registered name will also include information like the name of the outfit that bred the horse, or the name of a famous horse in the bloodline. So a horse bred by a place called Pyrite Ranch and with a famous ancestor named

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