The Horse in a Book – Guest Post by Tisha Martin

The Horse in a Book

I’m very excited to welcome author and editor, Tisha Martin, to the blog today to talk to us about horses in fiction. If you missed her first two posts in this series, you can find them HERE and HERE.

Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us, Tisha! 


This is the final blog post in a three-part “Writing about Horses” series. It’s been so wonderful to guest blog for Kathleen, and I truly hope you’ve enjoyed reading these blogs and that they’ve been a help to you.

Like many of you, reading or writing about horses can be either exhilarating or exhausting. I grew up with horses, trained a few, therefore, I thought I knew how to write about them. Turns out it was harder than I bargained. In this third installment of writing about horses in our stories, I aim to share tips about how to write good horse scenes by making sure that the terms we use are accurate. If you’re a reader, perhaps you’ve read a book or two where reading the horse scenes made you cringe. Why? Well, read on, my horse-loving friend!

Whether you’re writing a historical, contemporary, or horse-infused novel, it’s important to make sure the horse anatomy, phrases about horses, and horse-related terms we use are completely accurate. I’ll provide information for English riders, Western riders, and some in-between phrases that I hope will be of help to you as you write or read. (Maybe some of you are book reviewers. You must possess a keen eye for those little details because that’s what makes or breaks the authenticity of your book review.)

The Horse

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Image 1

Horse anatomy isn’t hard, but it can be tricky. It’s like taking a class on Anatomy and Physiology. While it’s a little confusing, thankfully, writers and readers only have to worry about the outside of the horse . . . unless there’s a veterinarian in your book, and then, well, you’ll have to learn the squishy parts of the inside of the horse too. Here are some key horse anatomy terms to keep straight because they’re super important when referring to character actions with the horse.

  • Poll—this is the space on top of the horse’s head that is between the ears. A character would apply pressure to the horse’s poll to get the horse to lower his head so that the character could put on the bridle. The error most writers make is having the character stroke the forelock to put in the bit. That makes any horse expert cringe. Unless the character has taught the horse to lower his head when his forelock is touched, don’t use this terminology for putting on a bridle.
  • Withers—this is the little hump at the end of the mane and right in front of the horse’s back. On a Western and English saddle alike, there is a hump at the front of the saddle. This hump sits on the withers, acting as the center of gravity. The rest of the saddle sits on the horse’s back, of course. The error most writers make is to place the saddle on the horse’s withers. If the character does this, that means that the saddle is also sitting on the horse’s neck! Yikes.
  • Pastern—this is the long, slender bone between the fetlock and the hoof. The character would run their hand down the horse’s pastern to get the horse to lift its hoof so the inside of the hoof can be picked out with a hoof pick. If the horse refuses to lift his hoof, then the character can tug on the horse’s fetlock or apply gentle pressure to the coronet (which is like a fatty nerve directly above the inside of the hoof wall). If a horse has been trained correctly, he will lift its hoof when you touch his pastern. If not, well, that’s the perfect time for a lesson!
  • Barrel—this is the roundest part of the horse that resembles a barrel. Easy, right? Of course. However, in most books about horses, the writer refers to the rider kicking the horse in the flanks. This is dangerous because the flank is farther up and back on the horse and causes two problems: the horse takes off and the rider loses balance. Another problem in books about horses is when the rider spurs the horse. This action is painful to the horse because real spurs tend to have sharp edges, so a nudge is better. Therefore, if a character has to flee on a horse, kicking or nudging the horse in the barrel is a more accurate term. But it may be easier to say, Jones nudged the horse into a canter. The reader will know what that means.

Horse Phrases

Like a character kicking the horse in the flanks, these type of horse phrases are tricky to master, but not impossible to master. Knowledgeable readers want to read an author’s book involving horses with the comfort that they won’t have to cringe at an ill-fitting phrase. Below are some overly used phrases that are often out of place.

  • Above the bit—when the horse raises his head above the rider’s hands that he no longer is attuned to the rider’s control. For example, Acorn strained above the bit, causing Melody to sit deep in the saddle and tug on one rein to bring the horse back into submission.
  • Back—to make the horse step backward. For example, Laurie backed her horse in a smooth circle.
  • Bascule—to describe the arc of a horse when he jumps a fence. For instance, The yearling, Shantih, leaped over the six-foot fence, her body bascule. (Yes, this really does happen to horse owners and characters. Shantih was my yearling.)
  • Four-In-Hand—a team of four harness horses, like the horses pulling a stagecoach (although there are usually two-in-hand). For example, The driver stopped the four-in-hand.
  • Half Halt—a “pay attention, please” to the horse when the rider wants the horse to change gears. For example, Champ trotted forward, but Jed pulled back in a half halt and nudged the horse to the right.
  • Jog—the actual Western riding term for a horse’s trot, and a term for a shortened pace in English riding.

Saddle Parts

In Conclusion

Writing about and reading about horses is such fun whenever the horse anatomy and horse phrases and terms are used correctly. Otherwise, it’s like nails across the chalkboard. Not so pleasant. However, if an author studies the craft of writing about horses by employing a dictionary, asking a horse expert, or purchasing a few solid research books, the horse-lover reader will buy that author’s books for the pure reading enjoyment of the authenticity of the horse material.

About Image 1: English Trakehner gelding, Sybari in standing pose, marked with major points of the horse. Foaled in 2001, picture taken in 2010 (aged 9). Annotated with major morphological points sourced from Goody, John (2000) Horse Anatomy (2nd ed.), J A Allen ISBN0.85131.769.3. and (2007) Complete Equine Veterinary Manual, David & Charles ISBN0.7153.1883.7. Image sourced from Wikipedia. Created by Owain Davies CC 3.0. No changes made.

Let’s Chat!

Which of these horse terms did you find the most interesting? Have you ever noticed an error related to horses in the stories you’ve read? Tell me about it in the comments below! (Just remember to be kind.)

TWEETABLE:

Don’t get caught sitting on your withers! Check out this post! #horses #books 

Don’t know your bascule from your back? Read this post! #horses #books 

What does “above the bit” actually mean, anyway? Find out in this post! #horses #books 

GUEST POST – 5 of My Favorite Horse Scenes by Tisha Martin

Guest Post - Tisha Martin - 5 of My Favorite Horse Scenes

I’m very excited to welcome author and editor, Tisha Martin, to the blog today to talk to us about horses in fiction. This is the second in a series of posts Tisha is sharing with us. If you missed the first one, you can read it HERE.

Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us, Tisha! 


Five of My Favorite Horse Scenes

by Tisha Martin

If a dog is man’s best friend, then a book is a writer’s or reader’s best friend. Do you have a favorite book that you have reread over the years? Maybe you have a few. Throughout my life, a few books have really made a difference in my life, especially books about horses, particularly when the horse has some major role in the story.

I grew up reading The High Hurdles and The Golden Filly series by Lauraine Snelling. When I was at library book sales, I’d sift through the piles and stacks of books for horses on the cover, the easiest way to pick out as many books without having the large chance to completely read the back-cover blurb and assess whether I wanted to drop it into my $1 Book-a-Bag deal. Once, I was at my friends Carla and Jim’s house because they had a computer and I didn’t, and I needed to learn how to type. Carla had a mound of books she was sending to the donation bin, but knowing I loved to read and liked to write, she let me browse through the books. I found a delightful horse book that would later inspire me to write historical fiction in the specific historic subjects listed on my website.

I’d like to share with you five of my favorite scenes from my four best-loved horse books during my early writing days.

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold was published first in 1949 by William Morrow & Co., then in 1953 by Enid Bagnold Jones through Scholastic Book Services.

I had watched the movie (starring Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor) first and didn’t know there was a book. But, nevertheless, that’s what library sales are for!

The blurb: Teenager Violet seems like any other girl who’s horse-crazy. But who else would dare chop off her hair, don jockey’s clothes, and enter the world’s toughest steeplechase? Here’s the story that made Elizabeth Taylor a teenage screen star … a story you’ll laugh over—cry over—and never forget!

My favorite scene:

“The Hullocks were blackening as Velvet cantered down the chalk road to the village. She ran on her own slender legs, making horse-noises and chirrups and occasionally striking her thigh with a switch, holding at the same time something very small before her as she ran. The light on the chalk road was the last thing to gleam and die. The flints slipped and flashed under her feet. Her cotton dress and her cottony hair blew out, and her lips were parted for breath in a sweet metallic smile. She had the look of a sapling-Dante as she ran through the darkness down-hill” (1).

Velvet Brown’s desire and love for horses is seen so vividly in this scene. Didn’t we do things like that at a much younger age, act out the things we enjoyed before we got the real thing?

Another set of books, For Love of a Horse and The Summer Riders, by Patricia Leitch captures the heartwarming story of Jinny Manders, growing up on the moors, where she rescues Shantih, an Arab, from being mistreated as a circus horse. Together, they become inseparable, until two city kids come to stay and threaten to ruin Jinny’s plans.

My favorite scenes:

“Jinny gritted her teeth. She wished that the circus was over and they could go back to the hotel. She was sitting close enough to the ring to be able to see every detail of the horses—their patient, watery eyes, the scarred legs and sunken necks. One of them was broken-winded, and the harsh sound of its breathing tightened Jinny’s throat. She hated the ringmaster, hated his pleated lips and beady, watching eyes. She flinched under the crack of his whip as if it stung against his own skin. . . .

“The horse was pure Arab. She came, bright and dancing, flaunting into the ring, her tail held high over her quarters, her silken mane flowing over the crest of her neck. Her head was fine-boned and delicate, with the concave line of the true Arab horse. Her dark, lustrous eyes were fringed with long lashes and the nostrils wrinkling her velvet muzzle were huge black pits. She moved around the ring like a bright flame, her prickled ears delicate as flower petals. Her legs were clean and unblemished and her small hooves were polished ivory. After the dull ache of the rosinbacks, she was all light and fire” (For Love of a Horse, pp. 23-25).

In these scenes, the pure beauty and intelligence of the horse is like seeing the rocks at the bottom of the ocean. I love the concept of the rescue horse, and I highly recommend these books for any horse lover, regardless of age.

The last book, Tall and Proud by Vian Smith, is a classic and close to my heart for its raw and emotional story and simple, compelling descriptions. It’s the book that inspired me to write.

The Chicago Tribune said of this 1968 title, “Vian Smith’s description of his native Dartmoor country and its people is rich in background for this story of a young polio victim who learned to stand as tall as the horse that helped her overcome the pain of recovery. The Britisher’s tale is a moving one. . . .”

My favorite scene:

“For awhile Sam [the horse] danced, not sure what was expected of him and showing his willingness to gallop. Then he settled to a walk, which was away from Gorse Blossom and up the hill, his head held high and interested because he had not gone this way before” (p. 139).

I like Sam’s attitude and his curious personality, but a little later in the story, he shows his frightened side when he thinks his owner, Gail, is going to mistreat him. And boy does he display a nasty force.

I’ve read these books nearly every year and always find something new to enjoy about them. Great books will do that. And they don’t have to be intricate. Sometimes the simplest story, if executed well, can have such an influence on your thinking, your writing, and hold a special place in your heart.

By the way, it’s Kathleen’s birthday week! We swapped blog post deadlines, so please send her a birthday message!!

Where to find Tisha

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www.TishaMartin.com

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www.twitter.com/tishmartin1416 

 

 

GUEST POST – How to Write About Horses in Historical Fiction by Tisha Martin

How to Write about Horses in Historical Fiction

I’m very excited to welcome author and editor, Tisha Martin, to the blog today to talk to us about horses in historical fiction. This is the first in a series of posts Tisha will be sharing with us over the coming months and I’m excited to see what else she has in store! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us, Tisha! Welcome to my blog!

 

How to Write About Horse in Historical Fiction

by Tisha Martin

Horses have long since been an icon in American history, a loyal friend to the cowboy in the movies or in a novel. Often, too many historical writers don’t capitalize on the benefit of including the intelligence of the horses in their stories, and therefore, miss opportunities to add depth and personality to their stories and to shape the character arc. Horses are smart, despite what people may say. (And mules are even smarter! I’m thinking of Clarice from The Apple Dumpling Gang.)

Here are four ways authors can capitalize on the personality of the horse in their historical novels.

  1. Use horses as secondary characters.

Perhaps that the idea of humanizing the horses in a story seems strange, but consider Little Brother, the mustang in Hidalgo, the western movie starring Viggo Mortensen. Little Brother acted as a secondary character in advancing the plot. When Frank T. Hopkins (Mortensen) went into the village to rescue Jazira, the horse worked with his human to make the rescue a success.

Including these types of minor details in a story adds depth to the plot and captures the essence of the character’s and horse’s relationship, further endearing both characters to the readers. That’s a pretty neat win-win, if you ask me.

  1. Let horses help the human characters.

If you’re writing a western, consider this: horses will not run away from their owners. Many authors may think that horses are sneaky and always want to run off. In reality, horses are extremely loyal. I like to think they’re big dogs. For instance, if you leave a horse five miles down the trail so your main character has an easy getaway after the ambush, the horse will find its way back home without assistance. That’s called loyalty—and instinct.

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Thika, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Sister, the mustang Paint, one of the horses I trained. Never have I found a more loyal friend than the mustang.
  1. Give horses an emotional personality.

Horses do show emotion if they are mistreated. If you have a nasty character in your story who mistreats the horse, you can show the horse’s emotional personality by describing the horse’s fear as it bucks, bites, or kicks. This adds suspense and propels the plot. Showing emotion in these scenes will deepen the care factor and enrich the story world.

But what if you want your character to have a positive relationship with the horse? Perhaps the character nurses the horse back to health, like Joe did in Black Beauty. You can use the horse’s gentle personality mixed with those moments of fear and mistrust (if the horse is coming from an abused situation or is now in a new environment) to liven up your scene. A horse that is treated with kindness and respect will respect its owner.

  1. Consult the horse experts.

Nothing is more annoying to a horse lover than to read of inaccurate details in a story about horses. Some common inaccuracies include proper terms for horse tack, basic horse behavior, and horse anatomy. Often, these are misused because the writer googled what they did not know, found what appeared to be helpful information, and stuck it in their story.

Authors can avoid these glaring mistakes by bypassing the great internet and seeking out their local horse expert or local library for horse-related information. You can call a horse stable and ask questions, email the horse breed association, ask a friend who owns horses, or visit your local library and pull out a good horse resource book.

Remember, an animal is usually a reflection of its owner, especially if the animal has been loved for a long time. Now, a horse may not bring its owner the newspaper every morning (although stranger things have happened!), but the relationship between your character and their horse can be used to add a deeper layer to the story that feels and reads like a loyal friend.

Happy writing on the trail!

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Where to find Tisha

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