I think this book is going to be very useful to me in future writing. Judith Tarr is a fantasy writer who focuses on horses in her fiction. My favourite of her novels is A Wind In Cairo, set in mediaeval Egypt, in which a spoiled young man is turned into a stallion as a punishment after committing rape. His rider is a thirteen year old girl. He does learn his lesson.
She keeps horses herself - Lippizans, no less - so knows all about them. I follow her on Twitter, on which she talks a lot about her beloved animals. These days she is publishing on the ebook writers co-op Bookview Cafe, which was run by Vonda MacIntyre till she passed away recently. I found this particular one when she mentioned on Twitter that her bills desperately needed paying and asked if we would buy some of her books. Quite a few people did, I gather.
I wandered over to the Bookview Cafe website and browsed among her books. I’d read most of the fiction on offer, so when I found this one I knew immediately which I wanted. I do my research before writing, or at least make sure before submitting that I have it right. I guess it comes of writing so much non fiction myself. So, this has been added to my reference library.
Not everyone writes about horses, but if you are sending your heroes on a quest in an era when cars are not a thing, you really need to get your horses right. From the way this book is written, beginning with reminding you that horses aren’t dogs and you can’t use your knowledge of dogs to write about horses, the author must have read quite a bit of horse-inclusive fiction that made her roll her eyes.
I am fully aware that horses are not furry machines that can’t run non-stop, and probably that you can’t just feed them oats, but I was amazed at how much water a day horses need, and how much grain you need to carry with you on those quests.
I’m sure I have written something cringe-worthy about horses over the years, and, after reading this, I have decided to be vague about horses from now on. It’s embarrassing to make horse experts laugh.
The chapter simply describing parts of the horse definitely looks like it’s based on all those novels that got it wrong. No, you can’t kick a horse in the flanks, which are at the end of the ribs, and are sensitive. You move them with a nudge on the barrel.
The book tells you about care of the horse, even naming conventions of various breeds and their problems. Even if you don’t need to worry about that because your story is set in a fantasy universe, as the author says, “On, Bill!” just doesn’t have the same ring as “On, Shadowfax!”
At the same time, you are probably never going to call your Shetland pony Shadowfax anyway. (I once read a novel in which a girl wants to give her ugly horse a beautiful name and calls him Rosinante, not knowing where the name came from, and has to put up with people laughing)
Even if you don’t write horsey fiction, this book is fun to read, and you may never feel the same about heroic fantasy quest novels again.
The book is written entertainingly, in a chatty style, warning you of what will happen if you do things like give a horse a lot of oats and walk away(it would die), or what would happen if you ever succeeded in kicking a horse in the flanks instead of the barrel (it would be painful indeed!)
Well worth a read, even if you don’t write.
You can buy it from the Bookview Cafe website, here, along with her other books. https://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/writing-horses/ , or on Kindle.