Horses for Writers

You rang?

This week, by popular demand (and I mean demand–everybody I asked about a possible blog subject started singing a chorus of “Horses! Horses! Horses!“), I’m beginning a new Book View Cafe tradition: the weekly horseblog.

In order to do this, I’ll need your help: your questions, comments, and general input. If you have a specific horse-related question, please ask it. If you’re working on a project that has to have horses in it, but you’re not sure how to tackle the issue–here’s the place to find out. Just generally curious? That’s great, too. I’ll be answering from a few eons’ experience of horses, with quite a bit of help from the Usual Suspects, aka my herd of highly opinionated and frequently snarky horses.

Come on in and join us! Next week we’ll tackle the basics: “Horses Are Not Dogs.” Then we’ll see where your fancy leads us.




Horses for Writers — 20 Comments

  1. This is a horse question I’ve often wanted to ask, but I’m afraid of looking stupid! Well…fear butters no parsnips.

    If my character acquires a horse that he believes to be a gelding (because the source never allows stallions of that breed to be sold), and he isn’t involved with its day-to-day care but has a boy to do it for him, is it plausible for him to continue thinking the horse is proud-cut rather than a stallion until The Truth is revealed? Or will that make him look dim?

  2. It’s usually pretty visibly obvious that a horse is a stallion, especially a mature stallion. Things are–visible.

    Then again, you could do interesting things with a character who’s somewhat dim about horses and buys a stallion thinking it’s a gelding.

  3. Chiming in as one who is totally dim about horses, I have to say even I would know where to look to ascertain stallion/gelding status. Unless he bought the horse, shipped it off to his stable, didn’t tell his stableboy there that it was supposed to be a gelding, and didn’t see it again until the Truth was about to be revealed, that might do it.

    Judy: as a writer who plays in the olden days, I’d love some rule-of-thumb data about day-to-day use of horses as transportation: how far one can ride in a day, how many breaks, approximate ground covered, etc. I know enough not to have someone gallop from Guggle to Zatch (or London to York) in an afternoon, but really prefer to get it right when possible.

  4. Oh yeah, Joyce is right. There are these two things we call the Optional Equipment. They can be tucked up when it’s cold or the horse is intimidated or moving fast, but when he’s hanging out, -they- hang out. Also, stallions like to practice, and they have more to practice with than geldings. It’s pretty obvious pretty fast that this isn’t a Tame Lion. Even experienced horse (mare and gelding) people can be a fair bit 0_o when they see how a stallion spends his downtime.

    A possible workaround would be that the horse is extremely agitated and difficult to handle, he comes in at night so it’s dark, and nobody gets near enough to him to take a look underneath. Then he comes out in daylight and there’s a mare handy and, well, oops.

    Another option that might work is having the owner buy the horse sight unseen (possibly as a mount for his lady?), be sold a rank stallion by a dealer who wants to get rid of it, and have the stableboy fall in love with the horse as he is (or recognize him as something rare and exceptional that’s been stolen or sold off by an enemy of the original owner) and be determined to keep him entire. Then he would take measures to keep the horse away from mares, explain away his noisiness as “he’s proud-cut” or “he likes to talk a lot” (stallions are talky–wow are they; they have comments on everything), and be careful to keep him from unreeling the equipment too close to someone who might notice that it’s not the standard gelding issue.

    One such variation of the stableboy-protects-stallion plot, though the horse was known to be a stallion, is Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind. Henry’s books are great for picking up general horse-lore anyway, and this is one of my lifelong favorites.

    Mad, noted. Will definitely do a post on that.

  5. hi Judith,

    I want to write a modern day “Black Beauty” in a sense… an endearing and captivating anthropomorphic story about a horse that youth and adults can relate to and enjoy but that also has strong social commentary and enlightening information about modern day use of carriage horses in major cities such as NYC.

    Any tips on if I should just observe, or if I should actually talk to people on both sides of the fence (activists trying to ban them as well as the drivers who want to keep their jobs)? I also want to “talk” to the horses… but drivers generally shoo you away if you’re not going to pay for a ride.

  6. Both gelding and studs let it “hang out” when they are peeing so that isn’t an indication. However, testicles are pretty obvious and even a new stableboy would tell the difference. I just don’t see how they would not know unless they were cryptorchid.

  7. Jill, I would definitely talk to people on both sides. You might be able to talk to the horses if you approach the drivers courteously and let them know you’re writing a book. I wonder (maybe someone else knows) if it’s possible to call the drivers’ association and get access to the stables? It’s hard to predict whether they’ll dismiss you or welcome you, but the only way to find out is to try.

    Good luck with your project!

  8. Julie, I’ve had very good luck striking up conversations with city carriage drivers online; the ones I’ve met on the various horse forums have been very happy to talk about what they do. It’s so simple I almost feel silly suggesting it, but have you tried just popping onto a couple of the forums and asking if anyone there is willing to answer some questions?

    Or, of course, you could always pay them for their time and ask if you can interview them during your ride.

  9. Thanks everyone for the great input on my question! Much appreciated :). I’ve been around horses but only once ever seen a stallion from a distance and yes…well I was a small child and had no real grounds for comparison but ummm yeah.

    Thanks again!

  10. (second attempt to post this)


    it’ll need some setting up, but I think it can be done. What you need is a character who has the horse gotten ready for him (maybe to a mounting block?) and who, when he gets off, simply hands the reins to a groom and walks away. If he doesn’t walk around (and behind) the horse, if he doesn’t groom him himself, and if the stallion is well-behaved, the difference will not be that obvious. (My gelding used to do stallion calls at times.) And of course the grooms know that he’s a stallion, but they have no reason to talk about it to the owner, and he ‘knows’ he’s riding a gelding, so no need to _ever_ mention the fact.

    If he’s a spectacular colour (or has odd markings) then ‘get me the palomino’ would work to identify the horse.

    And even if it’s known that stallions are never sold, people might consider him a crossbreed.

  11. Every time I’ve seen a stallion (and I’ve seen more than Pooka) he hung out in the most obvious way at some point. I could never mistake him for anything else. Had I never seen a stallion, I could mistake a gelding for one for quite a while because I wouldn’t know know how that optional equipment um, extends itself. Heck, I can even mistake a gelding for a mare on occasion without close inspection underneath. But a stallion? Um, no.

    Whaddaya mean horses aren’t dogs? Does that mean they’re cats? You could have fooled me that way they followed me about.

    I’d like to hear, from someone who has owned more than Lips what makes a Lip different, what you’ve noticed, what drew you to them, what makes them your horse of choice. While I don’t want to start a flame war about different breeds, I know that you’ve been acquainted with many, have owned or ridden many. What is it about the Lips?


  12. Oz, the answers to the Lipizzan question are legion, and a number of them are here. 🙂

    Too often IME, “This breed is different or unusual” is read as “This breed is superior to all others, and we are deliberately insulting your favorite breed,” even though that’s not what’s meant at all. It’s a minefield. So, I’ll link to breed-specific sites instead, and keep things mellow (and more general) here.

  13. Oz,

    I am not a Lipp person, but I have met Judy’s, and they are quite amazing. But then, I believe all horses are amazing, in their own way.

    I love my Tennessee Walking horses because of their smooth gaits and looks and because I have met some amazing people through the breed. I love my arab (and the myriad arabs I have ridden) for their smarts and their endurance and their sproinginess and lightness and wonderfully opinionated attitude and yes, for their beauty. But I have also met amazing grade horses that win all sorts of accolades on the trail or doing ranch work.

    I guess my point is that for me, I love the breed I have chosen because they do things I want to do, and because I like Walkers as a general rule, and so I have become educated about them, and am building on that knowledge. But I really don’t believe any breed is superior — i think they are just different, and do different things, and so should be chosen accordingly.

    And I also believe that within breeds, there are special horses, who meet and then transcend breed standards. (And yes, Pooka would be saying “PICK ME!” right about now ;).

  14. I know your horses understand quite a lot of what is said, but can non baroque horses also understand?

  15. Marty, there was a study a few years back, and the conclusion was that horses are at least as verbal as dogs. Another study of social IQ had the Morgan coming out higher than the border collie.

    They’re smart. As with dogs, if you get them used to being talked to, they’ll pick up quite a large vocabulary. I believe it was Carl Raswan who claimed he knew an Arabian with a vocabulary of over 200 words.

    Some of course are smarter than others–and some of those definitely tilt toward the Weird end of the spectrum.

  16. Judy:

    Good link to SW Lip. Yes, those are the answers I was wondering about. And I agree, it’s not about putting down other kinds of horses, not at all. You’ve had spectacular rides that weren’t Lips. All breeds are special and have different uses. It’s something else I was searcing for. And I think that link got it. A chunk of the appeal for me is something you pointed out there: that big horse feel and you can still see over their back.


  17. Just a note about carriage horses and their drivers. I have friends who have carriage companies here in Texas and one reason drivers get agitated when someone approaches a horse without asking first has nothing to do with payment or nonpayment.
    Sadly, it isn’t at all unusual for someone to approach a horse and then try to do something to harm it. One friend had to resort to using her whip to protect both herself and her horse. She was the one who got in trouble initially, but it finally was resolved that she was the one trying to keep herself and her horse from injury.
    As for mistaking a stallion, there is such a thing as a “stallion ring” which prevents a stallion from showing his assets too blatantly. They were once commonly used, but aren’t now as many of us consider them cruel. The “boys” will still be obvious, but, as mentioned earlier, may not be as obvious if the weather is cold or the animal is stressed. I think the ring would qualify as stress. Here is a link to a discussion about this subject.
    This reminds me of the time The Spanish Riding School was touring the US and there was a picture of President Reagen with the stallions in the background. He was saying something along the lines of, “And these stallions are showing us just what they can do.” And indeed they were. I read he thought it was a hilarious when he saw the tape.

  18. Thanks again for all the input :). As someone who’s only been around riding school horses, I can see I still have a lot to learn! I had no idea stallions were so talky.

    It’s also good to know from the next post that a cavalry horse won’t forget his training.

  19. RE: Modern carriage horses

    I’ve taken a ride in one of the carriages in Austin, TX. Conversation with the driver was enlightening. It turned out that he worked twelve hours, but the horses only ten, and with regular breaks and “benefits out the wazoo. I should have as good a contract as these horses do!”

    He may have just wanted to avoid any comments about cruelty, but he seemed genuinely fond of his horses, and I’ve seen the drivers seeking out shade in this ghastly heat, giving the horses some topical water to help them cope, I imagine (I was not in shouting distance when I saw someone doing this.) I know sunstroke can be dangerous for cattle, so I’d assume that with the right (or wrong) circumstances, you could be spraying down your horse, too!