I’ve been working on horse farms since I was ten, and was riding for years before that. I spent every waking moment I was not at school out at barns. I read about horses, collected shelves of toys and figurines, covered my walls in pictures of them–I was one of those horse-crazy girls people warn parents and boys about.

As my reading branched out from all things horses, one of the my biggest pet peeves was people writing about horses and getting it wrong. I spent a few years guiding trail rides for people that came out from D.C. on the weekends, so I’m used to a lot of strange misconceptions about horses. However, as a writer, I think authors need to be knowledgeable on the things they are going to write about–especially since a lot of the incorrect information I’ve come across could have been left out entirely with no harm. It is always better to leave out information in those instances than include the wrong things.

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First, lets look at horse colors. Color words are fine–with one exception. Horses are rarely white. A white horse is a horse that has white hair over pink skin. That means the skin visible around their eyes and on their muzzle is all pink. It looks a little weird, it’s not very common, and it’s prone to a lot of health issues, particularly sunburn. Usually when you see a horse with white hair, it’s over black skin and that is called a grey. There are many shades of grey, but unless it’s pink skin, it’s grey.
If you’re going to get more specific about a horse’s color, saying ‘dapple grey’ or ‘roan’ or ‘chestnut’ make sure you know what you’re saying.
I’m using the introductory images I use for students, so if you want to delve more into things like paint/pinto/skewbald/piebald, you should research those colorations because they get more complex.

pandori_aura_equine___color_chart_by_carlmoon-d60uz8mBefore you go crazy with all the interesting, exotic looking colors you come across, here is something to give you an idea how common the different colors are. If you’re going to give your horse a specific breed, it’s worth taking a quick look to see what is common for different breeds.

 

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The next part of coloration is markings. Since I am sticking with the basics, this doesn’t go into the various markings on piebald/skewbald horses.

Points_of_a_horseNext, we’ll look at the the basic parts of a horse. Riding students and horse owners have to memorize these, but an author just needs to make sure they aren’t misusing terms. The head, body, and joints are where I see most mistakes. Note the the front leg has a knee and an elbow. The back leg has a stifle and a hock.

 

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Here is a quick look at tack–which is the term for what you put on a horse when you ride it. This is an english saddle. There are some differences with a western saddle and side saddle.

 

 

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I’m not suggesting anyone shove info dumps or obscure terms into their stories, just that if you do decide to include details, make sure they’re accurate.

I’ll write next time about basic horse behaviors that are often misrepresented.

If anyone would like more in-depth information, I always love talking horses!

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Writing Horses When You’re Not an Equestrian, Part I

  1. Oh wow. I loved this post! I definitely had a thing for horses from ages 5-12 (still go crazy when I see Apaloosas). My piano teacher had a Dutch Warmblood and an Arabian stallion named Brimstone. I never rode him, I think for obvious reasons, but I watched her Dressage shows a lot and yada yada yada.

    Anyways, I wanted to compliment you on taking something that drove you up the wall and turning it into an offer of fantastic information on how not to do that. I mean, I got muzzle, tail, hoof, and back…never had to write more than that 😉 But if I ever do, I now know where to go!

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  2. This is great information, thanks. Horses always play a big part in my fantasy stories and I do like them to be realistic. I know the basics as I use to do horse riding when I was child, but actually writing them is different and I’m forever looking up the correct terminology! I look forward to your post above behavior now.

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    1. The term ‘calico’ for animal coloring is typically reserved for cats (and I’ve seen it used with Guinea pigs). I think you’re referring to tri-colored horses. Usually this is a bay pinto/paint (skewbald in British English) where they have the red on the body along with the white and then black in the mane and tail. I’ve also seen it called ‘oddbald’, but usually just ‘tri-colored’.

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      1. This was a term I ran across in an older book I’ve been working on to edit and update; I knew I’d never heard of it as a color in relation to a horse, either, mainly, like you said, for cats, but then I don’t claim to be much of an equestrian, either, so in researching it I ran across the Calico Mountains in the area – this is somewhat of a western, at least in setting, book – so I decided that’s what they meant, at least I hope, so I went ahead and used the term as they had for the horse, then included a footnote with that as explanation, so you think that was appropriate?

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