This article is the second in a new weekly blog series I’m calling Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy. Each post will tackle one of the scientific or technological concepts pervasive in sci-fi or historic/real-life aspects of fantasy with input from an expert. Please join the mailing list to be notified every time new content is posted.
The Expert: Karlie Hart
I met Karlie when I joined as a co-blogger on Trouble the Write Way, a blog about writing craft. I knew I had to befriend her right away, because she knows about horses. Karlie has been a rancher/horse trainer for several years, growing everything from cows and chickens to hay and tomatoes down in Mississippi. Currently, she’s working on getting a degree in English and Creative Writing, with full intent to pursue a new career in publishing. She’s written six novels to date and hopes to one day see them in print.
Today, Karlie’s going to help us get the facts straight on those sturdy animals that pervade fantasy novels: horses.
What things do authors get wrong about horses?
First, up, here are some misconceptions about horses that have come up in books.
Misconception #1. Shin splints are serious
This is such a little thing, but it’s a dead giveaway that the author has spent no extensive time around horses. I read a novel in which the horse “came up lame” from a shin splint, and the character told the boy to stable him for a month or the leg would be permanently damaged.
Shin splints are harmless “stress knots” that show up on a horse’s front legs. If the splint is in the joint, that would cause him problems, but I’ve never seen one like that. Any horse that is worked/ridden (say, a roping horse, or a trail horse that covers rough ground) to any extent will develop them. In fact, the only horses I’ve encountered without them were show horses, who were only worked very lightly in preparation for the ring.
Misconception #2. Breaking a horse to saddle takes months
It should never take months to break a horse to saddle. Like, ever. If a trainer tells you that, he’s taking your money. The longest it has taken us to gentle a horse is two weeks. Why? We don’t “break” them. We use the old method of trust and respect, built on a foundation of solid training.
Misconception #3: Mares are “moody”
Mares are not moodier than geldings, any more than geldings are moodier than mares. I run into this quite a bit, and it is absolutely not true, and crazy how many people believe that. Stallions are unsafe and unpredictable; you can count on that. But really, there is no basis to the other.
Misconception #4: Horses scream when injured
Here’s something I straightened out for Dan. Horses are fight or flight animals. Yes, they can scream, but I’ve never heard a horse in pain make that sound. I’ve seen mares struggling to give birth, horses tangled in barbed wire, and other awful situations, and they might emit a long, drawn-out groan, but if they’re trapped or compromised in any way, their energy is going to be spent trying to get away. They can’t handle being helpless, it’s ingrained into them.
Getting the Details Right
Here are some details about horses that an author could get right, to impress me.
1. Give them shin splints.
As I mentioned above, most horses will get them, but they’re harmless.
2. Forget about loyalty.
Horses are not inherently loyal to their owners, especially in the face of danger. Yes, there are some horses that will stand between their owner and a predator. But chances are you won’t own one in your lifetime. I know the horse has been romanticized, but when it comes down to it, they’re looking out for themselves. So if they would have the horse balk, perhaps putting the owner in greater danger, instead of bravely charging out among the swords/spears/bayonets….
3. Keep whinnies to a minimum
Horses are actually relatively quiet animals; they don’t communicate with the snorts, whinnies, squeals etc. If you sit down and just watch a group of horses, they do all their “talking” with body language. Usually, they eat/drink in peace, unless one of them steps out of line.
4. Even horses need a nap sometimes
Horses don’t only sleep standing up – they get most of their rest this way, but they do need to enter REM sleep, just like humans do. They can’t achieve that state while standing. A horse will only need to lie down for a couple hours every four to five days to ensure they are getting the minimum of REM sleep they need. Also, they rest easier in groups than when they are alone because of the inherent predator instincts they possess.
Please Share This Article on Twitter!
If you liked this article, please share it with your writing friends on Twitter. Here are three ready-made tweets.
|Click to Tweet Tips for writing accurately about horses: http://bit.ly/1pOPgQ0 with rancher/trainer @karliesmusings #FactInFantasy series w/ @DanKoboldt|
|Click to Tweet Horse misconceptions in books by @karliesmusings #2: Breaking to saddle takes months. http://bit.ly/1pOPgQ0 #FactInFantasy w/ @DanKoboldt|
|Click to Tweet Horse misconceptions in fantasy #4: Horses scream when hurt. http://bit.ly/1pOPgQ0 #FactInFantasy with @karliesmusings via @DanKoboldt|
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