Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

Horse Sense

By Bob Billing

2002, Bob Billing

Most would-be fantasy authors don't even meet horses regularly, let alone make use of them. But no work of fantastic fiction is considered complete without some four-legged transport. This has caused some horrifying bloopers in stories I've read recently. This is my personal top ten: 

1) The park brake.  Horses don't have one. Leave a horse unattended and it'll wander off looking for something to eat, somewhere shady or another horse to make friends with. 

2) Leaving the tack on.  Leaving a horse saddled and bridled overnight is uncomfortable to the point of cruelty. If the horse decides to have a roll on its back in the night, the saddle will be reduced to kit form. Getting a hoof caught up in the reins can leave him with broken tack or a broken leg. 

3) Edibles stored in the stable.  If you leave a horse and some carrots in the same place, the carrots will be inside the horse when you get back. A horse is basically a self-propelled, absent-minded appetite in a fur coat. The concept of leaving anything uneaten for tomorrow rarely, if ever, enters the equine brain. 

4) Motor racing.  The Grand National steeplechase is generally accepted to be one of the toughest tests of both racehorses and jockeys. It is run over a course of less than five miles. Trying to maintain full gallop for thirty miles will leave you with an injured horse and a rider lying at the side of the road gibbering faintly. 

5) Turn the key and go.  Getting a horse out of a stable, tacking up with saddle and bridle then mounting takes time even with practice. Getting a horse harnessed and attached to a carriage takes even longer. I've been doing it for years and it still takes me about five minutes. 

6) The attack run.  In this scene a group of horses stand still while another canters or gallops past. Horses are herd animals. If one is going like lubricated lightning, the others will join in. Not hanging about to find out why everyone else is running away has positive survival value. 

7) The cardboard horse.  Horses have personalities and a sense of humour. They'd like to join in the story. However, horses normally only laugh at people who have fallen off, objects they have trodden on and anything which suddenly comes into contact with water. Headbutting your hat into a river is an example of this. 

8) The camel.  Horses need regular food and water; unlike the camel, they can't go without for days. Both food and water are heavy and bulky, and this will limit a lone horseman's range in territory where he can't get fresh supplies. And there are no twenty-four hour services in the badlands. 

9) The small fire.  Everything used with or eaten by a horse is fiercely flammable. A small fire in a stable will become a big one in seconds. 

10) The character who ignores his horse.  The proud, bad-tempered lordling who leaps into the saddle and whips his charger into a gallop may have some dramatic value. A real horse will soon put a stop to this sort of behaviour by arranging some high-speed dismounting.