Tag Archives: horses

Writing: On Historical Horsemanship…

Odd little mini-rant time. (It came up somewhere else, and honestly I don’t see this compiled anywhere? Writers need resources!) So you have things set in a pre-autonomous vehicle time period, or at least the only one that exists is the train and it don’t go everywhere. Your hero has two options: his own two feet, or buy a horse. What does this mean for your timeline and what sort of details do you need to know?

First things first: please do not go by Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. They don’t know how horses actually work, I swear, and it’s not worth the fight to try and make their mechanics apply to your story. (Seriously had to have a convo with a DM about why a harness isn’t helpful in a riding situation. It wasn’t his fault, the entry was just written very poorly and I was like, “My inner equestrian is offended.”) They also tend to box horses into neat categories, which allow me to laugh uproariously over that. If only it were that simple.

So what do you need to know? Okay, so let’s go into some pretty broad categories and we’ll go from there. You have a general, all purpose horse. A riding horse, something bred specifically for good paces and pretty looks. Your war horses, these are trained for combat situations and usually are some ugly buggers, so be prepared. And then your cart horses, which again come in two sorts depending on how heavy your load is. Yes, there are ponies, no, unless your character is under the age of 13 or so (or has never ridden before, period), they won’t be riding them. Being mounted on an actual horse was a really big thing for the nobility, the younger the better.

(There are multiple official terms I could be floating around here, but I’ll be honest. Most are French thanks to the Norman invasion of England. If you are writing before that invasion or in almost any other country, those terms would just sound weird.)

Your general all-purpose horse is just that. It can be trained to pull a cart or buggy, it can be trained to carry a person on saddle or serve as a pack horse.  Usually a combination of all three. This is what most merchants and lower owned, if they owned one at all. This horse would come up to about the chin of a grown-man, so around 15 hands or 5 feet tall. Unlike our current breed books, medieval horse breeders literally did not give a fig about colors, so they came in everything.

Now for your stupid expensive horses. A rich merchant might have nice riding horses, the nobility definitely would, but the war horses are going to be limited to those who serve in your military, whether that’s nobility or a combination of classes. Riding horses are leggy with good proportions, high spirits, and can turn on a dime. They can be the same height as a general horse, but they can also be taller, up to 18 hands, because of their legs. Warhorses, on the other hand, were stout, with lots of muscle and tended to look short in the waist and kinda awkward to watch outside of specific maneuvers. They were also remarkably calm animals, unless you threatened their rider and then all hell broke loose. Please note, these horses usually topped out at 16 hands. They weren’t tall, just strong.

So what should your horse be wearing? Believe it or not, you’re going to want to check out Western gear, it’s the closest analog we’ve got. A simple bit with headstall (no chin strap) is in line with what they wore as basics (unless you want to get fancy), and a Western saddle without a horn or quite as wide stirrup leg is more in line with what a medieval saddle tree would look like. Note, a jousting saddle would actually have an even higher front and back. They had breast collars, which I think is a very important tool because horses have slick backs. You wouldn’t see much of the fancy barding or cloth coverings outside of a joust, they just did nothing but make the horse hot.

So who is riding these horses and how fast? Having a horse at all was an expensive enterprise, but most families owned at least one because you had to get the produce to market somehow, and horses were faster than oxen (and oxen or mules weren’t always available). Please note, women would ride astride just like men. That’s why you’ll see skirts with riding slits–gaps in the fabric in the front and the back. This would let the fabric part enough to let the women sit comfortably in the saddle. The only type of side saddle that existed was basically a chair on a horse who would be led, as seen here in the Russell Crow version of Robin Hood, being used by an elderly Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Side Saddle

As for speed, well, you have options. The fastest two are the ones you’ll use in a chase scene, because they are literally only good for short bursts. A canter or lope will run you 12-15 miles per hour, and a full-out run will get you anywhere from 20 to 30 miles an hour, it just depends on the horse. But remember, short bursts. I’m talking half a minute at a run, you’d get about two minutes max at a lope, and that’s being probably overly generous. Your best bet is to alternate the slower of the two gates, trotting and walking. A trot runs about 8-12 miles per hour, and a walk is around 4 miles per hour. Some horses have what are called ambling gaits, but they slot in with canter and trot pretty seamlessly in terms of speed, they are mostly about comfort of the rider. Assume you are going to travel about 30 to 40 miles a day.

(As a note, that’s about how often you need a small roadside inn or tavern on a road. Despite what most DnD campaigns tell you, people didn’t camp out on the road very much. Even if it’s a farm that opens its barn up to travelers, there is a place to sleep for a bit of coin somewhere without camping.)

…Hopefully my horse nerd-knowledge is helpful, I just like having it all in one blog post instead of digging through seven different Wiki articles and tumblr.

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Day 3: What is this feeling…? (Part 1)

April 5, 20xx

Dear Diary,

You know, I don’t know much about summer camps, but there is very little about this place that seems normal.

Except maybe how the morning started. I woke up before the alarm (I am ready for that time adjustment, please), so I went ahead and rolled (figuratively, I’m not crazy) out of bed. I was just sore enough from the mining adventure of yesterday that I did a few stretches to limber up my muscles, though they weren’t too bad. I’m sure they will be worse tomorrow.

Thankfully, my hair just needed a little bit of curling with the iron to tame the fly aways rather than a complete wash today. I put on my eyeliner and tinted lip balm, and realized that I would probably want to help Savvy wake up. So I pulled up “Icarus” by Bastille on my phone. It’s got that heavy drum and almost chamber music like singing in the beginning, I thought that would help ease her awake than it being a sudden shock.

She threw a pillow at me! Missed entirely, but still! I clutched at my robe, grabbed the nearest pile of clothes, and ducked into the bathroom with a squeal to get dressed. If she was going to be throwing things, I didn’t want to stay in the room!

I didn’t realize I’d left my phone in there until I was pulling those new pants and it switched from “Icarus” to the Audien remix of “Pompeii.” I scrambled into the green t-shirt and ran out, but Savvy was already up and had my phone in hand. I flushed and scuffed my feet on the floor, feeling like I had just been called into Daddy’s office. She didn’t say anything, though, other than to grumble and start getting ready herself. Today, I finished before her and took the time to unpack a little more. Honestly, there is hardly anything in that trunk! Shopping is about to become a necessity, as much as I am loath to admit it.

Rather than rely on Justin for food again, I dragged Savvy to the food hall again. Breakfast was come and go as you please, so I was able to have a cup of strong tea and milk and some toast. Savvy woke up enough and insisted I eat some protein. I managed to mollify her by having a bite of eggs, but I just don’t feel like eating much for breakfast most days.

Evening was just as cranky this morning as he was yesterday, and I’m afraid I lost my temper a little. He managed to get a mouthful of my hair, and I reached up and slapped his neck (loudly rather than forcefully) in reprimand. At least he had the decency to look ashamed of himself. I wagged a finger at him anyway, and took no nonsense with the cinch today, while you know I normally like to let the horse breath a little and then tighten it up. Honestly, my hair is the one thing about my appearance I actually like and people compliment. I know I shouldn’t be so sensitive, but… Oh, what am I saying. He’s a horse testing his boundaries, that’s all. Savvy’s Heart, of course, was the epitome of good manners. Couldn’t he learn a little from her?

We had just left the stable when May had need of us. Apparently the camp cow, Daisy, was sad and off her feed, poor thing. And since unlike the other campers, we actually knew Mrs. Holdsworth, she wanted us to speak with the woman since the vet couldn’t find anything wrong. Apparently despite being a retired accountant, she grew up around cattle, used to tell stories about them and anything. I know that there were cattle on the estate back home, but I’d never really been allowed near them. I don’t think Savvy was quite as enthusiastic about it as I was. I heard her muttering to Heart, though I couldn’t understand what was being said. But I thought it was an excellent learning opportunity.

Mrs. Holdsworth had a story about a cow named Wendy. I refrained from asking if it was a Peter Pan reference. But Savvy snorted, and I had to give her a curious look. Wendy seemed like a perfectly fine name to me… We had to gather some dandelions–easy enough this time of year–and she made us a brew for Daisy. She also suggested talking to her. Savvy was reluctant to leave Heart’s side, but I dismounted and chattered at her in complete sympathy. I understood having bad days.

When I pulled my hand back, though, there was this strange…spark. I would normally pass it off as just static electricity, but…

Well, I had just gotten back up on Evening’s back when there was a great kerfuffle. Thomas Moorland was shouting, and when we ran up to him, we found out that someone had taken that deed we had just recovered from Mr. Holbrook! Oh no, we had gone through too much fuss for us to let it go to pot that quickly. Not when he had been as tetchy as Great-Aunt Carolynn. So we went tearing after the rider.

And oh, dear, goodness. The rider. For a moment, I thought this was some specter from that tomb who had come to haunt us. The horse was dark with a white mane and tail, and his hoof prints were aflame. His rider was hooded in black and red. Evening and I forced them to turn, letting Savvy snatch the documents. And as soon as that happened, they just…faded from sight.

I had to grab Evening’s mane to keep from falling right off. He snorted, and side-stepped to help us both stay balanced, I was listing so badly as fear made all the blood drain out of my face. The blacksmith’s words from yesterday and my scoffing almost rang in my ears. Were magic and…and ghosts…real here? Evening managed to shift and shake me back into the center of balance of the saddle and we walked back to Moorland. (I would have fallen for sure if we had tried to go any faster.)

Mr. Moorland tried to dismiss our concerns, much like I did yesterday. It would certainly be easier. But I couldn’t help thinking of that spark with the cow and how she perked back up so quickly… it all seems so strange. Too strange. I didn’t want to think about it anymore, and still don’t.

So where did we go next? Of course, to check back in with the blacksmith. Now he needed spikes for the shoes, ones that could only be found on the beach. I beg pardon? Why are ancient artifacts being left out in the beach to be stepped on or picked up by campers? Ugh. But the beach itself was lovely. There was something going on with a barge and crates, at least on this side, but it gave me hope that maybe there would be something more hospitable around the fort.

Well, as much as it irked both Savvy and I, we had to take back what we found rather than clean the whole beach, since that would easily take the rest of the day, if not the next several. Evening dragged his feet back though, and kept looking back to snort at the beach’s direction. Conrad was happy with the spikes, and said to come back tomorrow. Sigh. It’s going to be one of those summers, isn’t it? But he gave us a jacket…even though the two greens of the shirt that came with and the jacket do not go together. At all. Even I can tell that.

Savvy wanted to go check out Fort Pinta next…or, I suspect, to do whatever her variation of Mummy’s shopping she had. I’m not quite full in the pocket enough to really consider shopping, but I thought poking around couldn’t be a bad idea. So I went along without needing too much coaxing.

But we hadn’t made it farther than the path to the abbey we were being interrupted again with another so called emergency.

Continue to Part 2…