Erastes : a horse's-eye view of the worldPosted on 2012.01.20 at 08:57
A is for ‘Orses.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Thank you Clare for letting me play–again, I can’t believe how quickly this has become a tradition!
With the advent of Warhorse coming to the screen, I thought I’d spoil myself and write about something I actually know something about, rather than things I have to struggle to find out about!
As a writer of historical fiction it’s pretty damned difficult to write anything without a horse popping up somewhere or other. Historical fiction—as defined by the Historical Novel Society takes place at least 50 years in the past. (Although due to the Wolfenden Report/Stonewall taking place in the late 50s/early 60’s I have taken upon myself to move gay historical fiction to any event before those two times.
Even in the 50’s and 60’s there were horses around on our streets—I remember a rag and bone man who used to come up our street regular as clockwork and the horse would plod along unaided and would know exactly where to stop.
So—although it’s not necessary to become a fully-fledged expert in the horsey world—you won’t have to know your bog spavin from your coronet—it’s still important that if you are going to write about horses that you know a little bit about your subject. It’s kind of like if I were going to write about a Maserati in a contemporary book, and yet had the controls described as if it was a Ford Fiesta. Someone would notice.
After all—if your characters were taking a ship to America from England you wouldn’t say he’d got there in two days would you? Or if you did, you’d have to stand the guffaws of your readers and fellow authors!
Horses—obviously—are living creatures. Despite what so many Hollywood films would have us believe--because there everyone gallops on their horse from A to B no matter how far that is—horses have limits and those limits are a lot less than most people realise. In fact it’s amazing how durable a horse is when you consider how much there is that can go wrong!
They have a lot of things that can make them instantly unrideable. Feet being the obvious one.
What is surprising I think is that the horse supports himself on a tiny area, considering the weight of an average horse of 15 hands is around 500 kg (1102 pounds, or 78 stones). (then add 10-15 stone of person and saddle...) Add to that that the horse travels at speed and that tiny “sensitive lamina” seems an amazing bone to carry all that weight and pressure. Of course it’s not just that bone – the frogs, both sensitive and insensitive (which means that no pain in felt in that section) cushion the weight too. The insensitive frog area gives the horse some protection, which means that can tread on stones and even have them embedded in that part of the foot without damage, but if unattended they will puncture through to the sensitive frog and then...well, you have a lame and thereby useless horse. This is why a groom – or any decent rider at all, worth his or her salt – will always travel with a hoof pick, swiss army knife or other handy implement for removing stones.
The back is the other main area where problems can arise. In STANDISH, my protagonist, Rafe buys a “spirited” black stallion from a neighbouring stud. One morning he recklessly saddles the horse and takes him out—not checking both sides of the saddle area. The horse has been bitten by a bot-fly (nasty little insect that buries its eggs in the skin) and has a sore patch. After a few minutes galloping the horse, understandably disposes of the nasty painful weight of Rafe and buggers off leaving the rider face down in the dirt!
One thing to remember is that horses cannot move fast (canter and gallop – yes, thank you Hollywood) for long periods. If you were out riding the range, you’d take provisions for your horse, always be aware of where water was, and you’d travel as a sensible pace. A fit horse can trot for miles but will need to rest afterwards. Racehorses, as well as three-day event horses are athletes and are trained for very long periods in their life, on a daily basis to achieve the stamina they need. In the racehorse’s case it can be as little as a six furlong sprint, up to the Grand National which is a gruelling ordeal of nearly five miles including some very high jumps, wide ditches and usually soggy ground.
[Picture of Beecher’s Brook 1890]
The event horse has five kilometres of twisty turny jumps over hills and valleys. The hunting horse needs to be able to gallop over any terrain, recover it wind (its breath – hence the expression second wind) and keep going all day at various speeds to keep up with the fox (or in these day, a scent marked-trail).
The high athletes of the horse world are the endurance horses, where a race can be 100 miles—an arab horse is about the only horse that endures this kind of treatment, as they have amazing stamina, can travel long periods without too much water.
I have read more historical than I like to count which simply treat horses as some kind of combustion engine. They are harnessed up and ping! They manage to travel a hundred miles ina day with no trouble at all. I read something recently where a four horse carriage went from London to Brighton AND BACK in one day!
Post-Coach and passenger coach horses had a hard, short life. They would be expected to trot smartly in all conditions about ten to twenty miles. The horses would be unhitched and a new team put on for the next leg of the journey. The original horses would be rested overnight and put onto a different coach the next day. The journey from London to Colchester for example took six hours and was considered to be a very fast route. There’s a good article here on the subject regarding the book “Essex Coaching Days” by J.Elsden Tuffs here.
As you can probably tell, I could waffle on about horses for weeks, and I’m going to close here. All I ask is that if you do write a historical, please think a little about the horse and don’t just substitute “car” for “horse”! And if you are interested in my review of the book, Warhorse, it’s here at Goodreads. I wasn’t terribly impressed. Black Beauty is definitely the book to read if you want a horse’s eye view of the world around him.
Erastes writes gay historical fiction and short stories from many genres. She lives in Norfolk, UK with 3 cats and a daft dog. Her latest book “Junction X” was released in November 2011, and her next release will be “A Brush with Darkness” published by Carina in March 2012 as part of Carina’s M/M week. Her website is erastes.com.
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