Just the basics
Mary K. Wilson
Mary K. Wilson
staple of fantasy novels, the horse often demands to be written into tales.
As a source of transportation, recreation, or a magical being, nearly
every fantasy novel has at least one horse.
When they're written well, horses add sparkle and life to a story.
When they're written badly, the writer may find his or her book thrown
across the room with a disgruntled cry.
isn't important that the writer knows a lot about horses. She needs only know as
much as the material demands. Fantasy,
as a genre, demands much more from its authors than the knowledge that the horse
is a four-legged mammal. With
horses playing such a prominent role, many knowledgeable readers will be quick
to point out an author's error.
looking to add a horse to a tale, consider what purpose it will serve.
The carriage horse needs to be built, and written, differently from a
riding horse, and will have a different personality than a child's pony.
The war steed for a valiant knight differs considerably from a lady's
palfrey, though ladies are often found riding war steeds instead.
Sadly, the latter is often one of the most glaring errors I find in the
fiction I read.
come in two basic sizes: pony and horse. Ponies
range from only a few feet high to their maximum height of 14.2 hands. A hand equals four inches, and before rulers, was considered
to be the width of a man's hand. Therefore,
anything over 58 inches is a horse. Horses are measured to the withers (the raised area where the
neck meets the back). Although
riding horses can be as tall as 17.2 hands (70 inches), generally anything
taller than 17 hands needs to be ridden by a very tall (or very brave)
there are no universally accepted terms used for the build of a horse, for the
purposes of this article, I will use light, medium, and heavy.
A light horse (or pony) would be one of very fine bone structure and
conformation. Think of the refined
Shetland ponies, Arabians, and racing thoroughbreds. Medium-build horses are those of sturdy build that were meant
for every-day work. The majority of
carriage and riding horses fall into this category, including Morgans, Walking
Horses, Warmbloods and Quarter Horses. Heavy
horses are those with thick bones and structure.
Mostly draft breeds, many of the warmbloods used in competition also
would fall under the category of heavy breeds.
All draft horses, such as the large Clydesdales (the horses that pull the
Budweiser wagon), fall into this category.
If you research into the history of various breeds you'll find that draft
horses and light horses were crossed to create many of the medium-built horses. Modern warmbloods, for example, were developed from a cross
of light Arabian horses (among others) with native draft (or war) horses.
this knowledge in mind, the appropriate horse can be selected for its job. A peasant working in the fields of a fantasy book
may choose a draft horse, which is commonly used for hard labor such as plowing
and heavy hauling. The peasant may
also use this same horse to pull a cart to go into town, as it is unlikely that
a peasant would have more than one horse. Keep
in mind, too, that horses meant money in ancient societies, so that same peasant
may have had to survive with a heavy pony, or perhaps a badly put together
carriage horse for the same jobs.
knight readying himself for battle will find himself better mounted with a heavy
draft horse, or a draft-cross that will bear up well beneath the weight of man
and armor. Calvary horses will also
need to be heavily built; however, keep in mind that a fighter needing speed and
agility will have to sacrifice armor for this, and would mount himself on an
appropriate lighter-breed horse.
the horse must be the appropriate size and build for its job, the horse also
needs to be the right gender. Horses,
like most domestic animals, come in three genders: male, female, and neuter.
Male neuters are known as geldings.
Female horses are rarely spayed; there is no female-specific term for the
may seem noble to have the lady who is running the keep all on her own riding a
stallion; however, keep in mind the personality of these animals.
Although I once worked with a Dutch Warmblood stallion that followed me
(and others) around like a kitten, I also have worked with stallions that would
prefer to kick you first and ask questions later. Stallions have two things on their minds: sex and food.
Since our characters do not fall into either one of those categories, it
takes a rider with a strong will and even stronger arm to keep the stallion in
control. In addition, stallions
sense hormonal changes in females of all species, which means a human caretaker
can find herself in danger rather quickly.
This doesn't mean that the character can't ride a stallion; in real life
many people show and ride them. However,
the levels of training for both horse and human need to be considered, as well
as the type of mount appropriate to the character.
seems wimpy to mount a hero on a gelding, which is probably why they tend to be
underrepresented in modern fiction, but geldings have their merits.
A young hero out questing will find himself far better mounted on a
gelding, as will the lady who wishes to hunt or hawk, because geldings make
better work animals -- their minds aren't distracted by their hormones (though
they are still distracted by food). This
lack of hormones also makes geldings less aggressive than stallions, and because
of this they don't need as strongly reinforced corrals and can safely be stabled
in communal barns.
too, get underrepresented in fiction. In
the horse world, mares have the reputation of being "marish," the
equine equivalent to PMS. When
their hormones are fluctuating, male horses, even geldings, can easily capture
their attention. While it is true
that equine females, like human ones, can have changes in mood in accordance
with hormone levels in their body, mares also make great workhorses.
Mares make good mounts for ladies, completely avoiding the dominance
issues associated with mounting a lady on a stallion or gelding (in ancient
times, Celtic goddesses were mounted on stallions to show their dominance over
men, and even today, some men feel affronted if a woman handles a stallion
better than they.)
the three issues of size, build, and gender are determined, then the writer can
adequately equip his character. Further
refinement can be added to the process by researching various breeds of horses
and basing a fictional breed on ones found in modern day.
However, it's best to reserve the discussion of breeds for another
article. The next article will explore the
different breeds and how to use them properly in fiction.