History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

08 June 2007

I collect old equestrian books with titles like “The History and Romance of the Horse” (Halcyon Press, 1939) and “Heads Up Heels Down” (The MacMillan Company 1944). Some of my oldest books date back to the early 1800’s. What I love most about these particular books are the first hand accounts of horse behavior.

Now the cynic in me (and the horse vet) wants to say “awww, come on” when I read about a horse who drags a heroine from a burning barn or performs some other wild feat of heroism, but the romance writer in me sooooo wants to believe it.

In my oldest books, there are eyewitness accounts of such horse heroism---like the story about the horse that swam into an ocean storm and braved tall waves to rescue drowning sailors from a shipwreck (the men clung to the horse’s mane and tail). Last trip out, the horse’s rider was swept away and drowned, but the horse, with five or six men still hanging on, made it to the shore. I later read a book (“The Horsemaster’s Daughter? The Light Keeper?”) by romance writer Susan Wiggs where she used this account.

Reading these old horse books gives me a reason to suspend my disbelief and write about horses in way I might not otherwise. There just has to be some element of truth in these tales. Maybe I embellish it in my books, but historical romance particularly lends itself to writing about heroic horses and sexy, hero riders.

Need contemporary evidence that horses can do amazing things? Check out this video of Andreas Helgstrand and his 9 year-old mare, Matinee, at the World Equestrian Games in Denmark. They are performing in the Musical Freestyle Dressage competition.


All I can say is WOW! This man and his horse are totally in sync. They made history with this performance and imagine what the “eyewitness accounts” to this show might sound like a hundred years from now. They might say “The mare feels the music. Her rider is dancing with her. He is the lead, but they are truly partners.”

. . .And I’ve no doubt this horse would jump into an ocean to save a heroine if he asked her to . . .


Blogger Unknown said...

The story that always gets me is that when the British troops left Portugal after the battle of Corona they couldn't take their horses. No time to load them. No room for them on the ships. Most of the horses were killed, to prevent the French from getting them (the first-hand accounts of this are pretty gory). Of those that weren't, many swam out towards the ships and circled until they drowned, while men wept at the rails.

Now I’ve owned my share of horses, and some were far more exceptional than others. I’ve had a horse stomp a rattlesnake to death, saving me from a nasty bite. Did he “save” me, or was he just doing what horses do? I don’t know. I’ve also seen a draft horse take out a whole pack of coyotes that were after a week old donkey. Pretty gallant stuff.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Oh, the story about the horses after the battle of Corona makes my heart hurt, Kalen.

I wrote a true short story (pubbed in the book ANGEL HORSES) about an Indian chief's horse I met one night in a vet hospital...the horse had incurable cancer and when I put him down, the whole barn started whinnying. The chorus lasted for minutes.

It sent chills up my spine and I still remember that night like it was yesterday. The big draft horse in a nearby stall was the first one to neigh.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Oh, Kathrynn, that brought tears to my eyes. You must have been stunned.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

One of my friends is dealing with the issue of putting her horse down right now. Red has a brain tumor and some kind of neurological thing going on (he's 36 and has basically been a very expensive dog for years now).

It's really stressful, weighing the quality of life issue against the emotional connection. *sigh*

10:12 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

I know next to nothing about horses but was amazed by that video -- you are right they were SO totally in sync -- Thanks...

3:56 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ok, I just got to watch the video. OMG!!! Not only is the horse magnificent, but that riders seat is so amazing. He's glued to the saddle, but it looks effortless (as does the horse's performance).

10:04 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Finally got to see it too! Amazing. I don't know anything about this, or whether it's normal or not, but I just loved the way her tail was flying in time to the music as if she was having the time of her LIFE.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

yeah, the tail action is pretty cool...I think she's concentrating. She's elegant and so beautiful...

And ya know, the rider ain't so bad either. ;-)

Ahh, for a man in tales and a top hat...can't beat that.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

One of my friends sent me this video a while ago. It's clear that Matinee is a VERY special mare.

I got tears in my eyes when they finished and Andreas gave her a big hug. Matinee looked so proud, and also like she'd just noticed the huge crowd of people for the first time, she'd been that focused on her performance.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I've always wanted to ride a horse (am too broke, so I'm just a lèche-vitrine), but I love the imagery of historical characters "riding to the hounds"!

9:37 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I feel really lucky to have grown up riding. I miss it terribly now that I'm an adult and can't afford it anymore. Though I guess I don't really have the time for a horse right now. Not with working full time and writing. *sigh*

2:19 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Me too, I miss riding terribly. It's just so expensive to board one here in the bay area.

So I read and write about them and fully plan on getting another horse some day!

7:12 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I, too, am determined to have another horse. Until then, I get to pet velvety muzzles at my daughter's weekly riding lesson.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Caffey said...

That was the Light Keeper. Because its the only one I read of Susan Wiggs and I remember about the horses in that one. (I know, I must read more of hers, so many i'd love to read). Reminds me as I'm reading Elizabeth Hoyt's THE RAVEN PRINCE and he says "I didn't fall off my horse, I was unseated"

7:39 PM  
Blogger Atherley said...

OMG, that video! Thanks so much for posting it. The presenter was right, it WAS a privilege to watch that horse! That's as near a human dancer as any animal can be! And her rider...! Excuse me, please, while I replace my jaw and stuff my tongue back in my mouth! Yes, I am utterly gobsmacked...

4:38 AM  
Blogger Atherley said...

Kalen, the only thing my little Morgan mare ever stomped was my foot!

Kathrynn, it's amazing what horses can "feel" and do for others. An old standardbred at the farm where I boarded my first horse would open the door to his stall, then nose open the doors to the other stalls; and everybody would then tuck into hay bales stacked near the stable office!

6:24 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Smart AND considerate, Anne!!!

7:02 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

Hi, I am a student chiropractor and I'm starting a research project about the relationship between leg position and lower limb pain in horse riders. One of the things I want to look at is how 'correct' English leg position has changed over the years. I think the early 20th century will be interesting, in particular, with the advent of the forward seat. Have you any recommendations for books to seek out please?

Best wishes

2:52 AM  

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