Fantasy Writing Tips for Fantasy Fiction Writers 

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Using Horses in Fiction
by Tina Morgan


For writers of any genre, using an animal as popular as a horse can be a major stumbling block for the inexperienced writer. Now, don't stop reading just because you've sold a story or two, I'm talking inexperienced in regards to horses.

A recent discussion in a fantasy group described a major author making a very large mistake in his description of where his hero sheathed his weapon. The character shoved it into his horse's girth.

Excuse me?

As a horse person, this would have pulled me out of the story and made me question the entire novel's believability.

To demonstrate, I've included a diagram of how a saddle fits on a horse's body. The girth is the band that holds the saddle on the horse.

You can see the girth/cinch encircles the horse's body right behind the front legs. In order to keep the saddle from twisting to the side or under the horse's abdomen, the girth must be tight. Not just snug, but tight. Trying to shove a sword into the girth would cut the horse's side and/or the girth itself.

The horse is not going to appreciate this at all.

Consider also the length of a sword. Even a short sword is close to 27 inches in length. (3/4 of a meter). Now, imagine this 27 inches of steel running along the side of the horse's body. Even if you managed to sheathe the sword in the girth without the horse rearing and bucking, the sword would severely hinder the horse's movement.

You might be thinking that you're not writing fantasy, so you really could care less about swords and girths, but what if your romance heroine wants to go for a ride with her love interest? If you want your readers to find your setting believable, then you can't describe a well-made horse as having deep withers, nor can a cut on the front leg cause blood to trickle down the horse's hock.

The average reader might not pick up on mistakes like these but horse owners/riders will. They will be quick to point out the mistakes to their friends as well. Their friends don't have to be horse owners/riders to appreciate the mistakes and to tell their friends. This is one case where word of mouth can be detrimental to book sales.

Western and fantasy writers also need to keep their facts straight when describing how far their horses have traveled in one day. The exception to this would be if the fantasy writer has given their horses special traits or powers that the average horse on earth does not possess. If you decide to give your horses special qualities, this needs to be mentioned from the very beginning and not thrown in at the last minute as a save because you've just realized that your hero can't possibly reach the battle in time if his mount can't travel at twice the normal speed.

The average horse can travel 25 to 30 miles in one day. This will NOT be done at a run. Most of the distance will be covered in a trot, a gait that your rider will probably not enjoy. Endurance horses are trained to make 50, 75 even 100mile trail rides in one day. However, this requires special diets and extensive training for horse and rider. A rider with considerable experience will know how to ease the strain on their own body while riding long distances but they will still be sore if they're riding farther than normal. The muscles on the inner thigh and buttocks will take the greatest amount of punishment, but the lower back, calves, knees and hips will also feel the strain.

Horses must be walked after working up a sweat. They need to cool down slowly or risk serious health issues. Horses cannot regurgitate, so if they overeat, they are prone to stomach problems, which can be fatal. A sudden change in diet consisting of grass or grain that is too rich can cause stomach problems as well.

Horses do NOT lap water. Please don't try to tell me that they do. They suck water up into their mouths. While their lips don't pucker like a human kiss, they do tighten. Some horses like to immerse their entire muzzle into the water while they drink. My mare puts her nose into her water bucket half way up to her eyes.

Mare = grown female horse
Stallion = grown male horse able to sire foals
Gelding = castrated male horse
Foal = either sex under one year
Filly = female horse up to two years
Colt = male horse up to two years

Remember, research is crucial in any type of story and you need to keep your facts straight, be it a discussion about horses or the city where your story takes place. Most writers have a limited amount of time to research all the facts they need to include in their stories so how do you find what you need in a quick and easy manner?

One good tip I've heard is to read non-fiction books aimed at a mid-grade level audience. The reason for this is that the facts are given in very simple easy to follow answers without a lot of extrapolation to slow you down.

If you need to research horses for your novel, I would recommend starting at your local county extension office (for those in the USA). Ask if you can purchase a 4-H circular. Horseless Horse, Basic 4-H Horsemanship, or Basic 4-H Horse Science would cover a lot of very basic information as well as giving you diagrams of horses, tack and other equipment. Most of the circulars are less than $5.00 and a worthwhile investment if you intend to use horses in very many of your novels. Outside of the US, I would recommend starting at your local library.

Copyright Tina Morgan. All Rights Reserved


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