Romanceland’s Wildest Horse Bloopers

Last week during Megan’s post on historical accuracy Cara and Kalen both talked about errors regarding horses, like the Bionic Horse that can gallop for hours nonstop. It got me thinking about some of the other howlers I’ve read.

Here are just a few.

Errors in terminology. The heroine who referred to the strap that held the saddle on as a cinch. That would be OK if she were a cowgirl but in English riding it’s called a girth. The words phaeton and curricle used interchangeably for the same carriage. A phaeton (left) has four wheels; a curricle (below) two.

But these are really minor gaffes compared to the abuse of terms for horses themselves.

Confusing a pony with a baby horse. A baby horse is called a foal (or colt if male, filly if female). This is a foal. No one in his right mind would put a child or small adult on its back.


Ponies are a type of horse that are small even at maturity. They are generally longer-lived and hardier than horses. This is a pony. As you can see it is not a baby. 🙂

(Image from RIDING ACADEMY, by Norman Thelwell.)

Sex changes. Yes, I’ve read more than once where a mare turned into a gelding or stallion during the course of a ride. It’s as if the authors just looked in a thesaurus to find alternatives to “horse”. Even if these were mistakes of the oops variety, where were the copy editors?

Testosterone gone wild. Most male horses were and are gelded, to make them more manageable and to preserve only the best for breeding.

Still I can’t deny there are few more virile and beautiful images than that of a powerful stallion and I understand why so many historical romance heroes ride one. Stallions can be extremely trainable and responsive mounts. While I was in England I was lucky enough to see Jennie Loriston-Clarke riding her glorious stallion, Dutch Courage. The rapport between those two was a wonder to behold.

However, stallions generally do require more expert handling than other horses. So I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows on reading about a hero giving the heroine her first ever riding lesson on his stallion or about the hero who kept teams of black stallions stabled along every major roads in England. My feeling is these authors are trying a little too hard with the sexual imagery!

OK, time to share. What are your favorite horse bloopers from Romanceland?

And which authors do you think get horses best?

My favorite has to be Julia Ross. The best horse scenes I’ve ever read are from her MY DARK PRINCE (read more at http://www.juliaross.net/mdphorses.htm).

Elena
www.elenagreene.com

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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15 Responses to Romanceland’s Wildest Horse Bloopers

  1. Cara King says:

    Oh, yeah, horses are easy to get wrong. (I remember checking and rechecking to try to ensure that my horse bits in Gamester were correct!)

    I think the most common error I’ve seen is thinking a horse is a car… People hear that a carriage might go as fast as ten miles an hour on the roads of the day, so they assume one team of horses could do that, all day long…

    I think another common error is assuming that pulling a carriage was hard on a horse, but carrying a rider wasn’t. But if you think about it, you’ll see that the weight of the carriage and passengers were primarily on the ground (wheels are great inventions!) but the horse carrying a rider had one or two hundred pounds on his or her back…

    I like it when horses behave like horses, and do horsey stuff, and think (or fail to think) the way horses do… I know a woman who ran a retirement farm for horses, and she explained some horse psychology and biology to me that even makes sense of horses running away from cats and logs, and running into a burning barn…

    Cara
    who still knows very very little about horses

  2. Oh, yipes. Now I’m afraid there will be blogs about me when the next Gaston book comes out. The Vanishing Viscountess is a “road story” and my hero and heroine take to the road on horseback.

    I’m afraid I might have used “cinch” but I really tried to get the rest of it correct!

    Diane

  3. Kalen Hughes says:

    I’ll second Juila Ross as a woman of great “horse sense”. She knows her equines. She even has a FAQ page about horses on her website.

    Thanks for the Thelwell cartoon!I’d forgotten about those, and I loved them as a child.

  4. georg says:

    1. You can gallop from London to Gretna Green in one night.
    2. It takes a 2-hour carriage ride from York to London. Or Bath.
    3. Horses were used with sedan chairs. (Two people carried one, and they only seated one person)

  5. Suisan says:

    OK, this is an area where I have WAY too much knowledge to be sane. There’s real horses and real trainers and then there’s the odd reality of horses which exist in books. And movies.

    Actually, movies make me crazier. All that stainless steel jangling and glinting in the sun. Fillis irons showing up at the bottom of stirrup leathers before Dr. Fillis was born. Modern Kimberwicke bits in horses’ mouths. Stuff like that which makes the average viewer want to strike me if I start commenting.

    Generally the worst and most common error in books is the idea that the horse can run really fast for long distances. That’s all over the place. Then there’s the other problem of showing up at an inn partway through your journey, dropping off your team of matched greys and picking up a spare (fresh) team to complete the journey. (Who picks up your incredibly expensive team from the inn? Why are there teams of horses just hanging around in inns waiting to be hitched up to your barouche, curricle or phaeton?)

    Also, there’s the misundersatnding that a matched pair is a pair of horses of the same color who have the same markings. A matched pair is a set where the horses have the same color, MOVE ALIKE, and generally have the same markings. Markings are the least important. Therefore, finding a horse to mathc the one you have at home is practically impossible at open horse markets or auctions. They were generally trained and sold by private sale as a group, and stayed together most of their lives. And the front two of a four hore team cannot be hitched up to pull a carriage as a pair. A pair is a team, four is a team, and six is a combination of the two.

    Stallions? I just roll my eyes and keep reading.

    The toughest, most dangerous horses are mares. Stallions are generally too busy looking off into the distance to look where they’re going, and then they trip while screaming that they are the toughest example of horseflesh known in three counties. It’s the mare that will stand down a robber, or back you into a corner to kick the daylights out of you. If I need to go for a five day long trip, I’m riding the mare, thank you.

    Riding double makes me a bit nuts. On the other hand, historically horses were a lot tougher then than they are now, and may have been better able to carry two people. It depends on the time period and on that horse’s conformation.

    I’ll shut up now, I could go on and on.

    (And Julia Ross does know her horses.)

  6. I KNEW Suisan would have something to say.

    I have nothing, although my hero and heroine are currently riding double. Sorry, Suisan.

  7. Jane George says:

    Horses that rear up to show the rider’s skill bother me. Rearing is a dangerous, undesirable behavior, like bucking. We probably owe this one to Hollywood.

    Also the nineteen hand riding horse.

    And in defense of mares, mine gave THE best horse hugs, ever. 🙂

  8. Horses that rear up to show the rider’s skill bother me. Rearing is a dangerous, undesirable behavior, like bucking. We probably owe this one to Hollywood.

    Oh, dear, jane george. I did this one in Miss M.

    Diane

  9. Jane George says:

    Ack! To my chagrin, I haven’t read The Mysterious Miss M. So I didn’t mean you in particular.

    It happens so often in books that rearing mounts are practically a convention in themselves. I think Silver and the Lone Ranger started something.

    When my mare (a flaming chestnut) was four she went through a short rearing phase. Not little rears, straight up. Not fun.

  10. Jane george, I didn’t think you were singling me out! Never fear. I actually saved your comments in my “horse” file!

    Diane

  11. Todd says:

    Suisan certainly puts me to shame! I wouldn’t know a historically accurate bit from a…er…well, I guess from a historically inaccurate bit. A bit of an anticlimax there, sorry…

    Anyway, I did catch one such thing in the movie Gladiator (which on the whole I very much enjoyed, even if its historical accuracy is suspect). At one point Our Hero is remembering the advice he gave his son, and mentions that he used to remind him to keep his heels down while riding. Excellent advice if you have stirrups, which the ancient Romans didn’t.

    The stuff in movies that makes me nuts–more nuts? nuttier? never mind–is the bad science. I still get hives thinking about Armageddon.

    Todd-who-needs-to-lie-down-and-stop-thinking-about-it

  12. Elena Greene says:

    >>Then there’s the other problem of showing up at an inn partway through your journey, dropping off your team of matched greys and picking up a spare (fresh) team to complete the journey. (Who picks up your incredibly expensive team from the inn? Why are there teams of horses just hanging around in inns waiting to be hitched up to your barouche, curricle or phaeton?)

    Suisan, I totally agree with all your other beefs except this one. This sort of thing happened all the time. Ex from Bovill’s ENGLISH COUNTRY LIFE: “Our own horses took us to Woodford,” wrote one of the Gurneys describing a journey from London to Earlham in 1822, “and there four posters were ‘clapped on’ in a very few minutes, at the sound of ‘Horses on’ from the ostler of the inn.”

    The big posting inns kept lots of horses around, sometimes 50-60 at a time and even smaller village inns often had a few horses for hire. They were generally used for the stage to the next posting inn and returned once they were rested. As far as the privately owned horses left there, a wealthy owner could pay to have them cared for or brought back to his home. The very wealthy could pay to have their own horses stabled along routes they frequently traveled.

    As with anything else, money helped a lot with logistics.

  13. Suisan says:

    The big posting inns kept lots of horses around, sometimes 50-60 at a time and even smaller village inns often had a few horses for hire. They were generally used for the stage to the next posting inn and returned once they were rested. As far as the privately owned horses left there, a wealthy owner could pay to have them cared for or brought back to his home. The very wealthy could pay to have their own horses stabled along routes they frequently traveled.

    As with anything else, money helped a lot with logistics.

    Elena, I stand corrected.

    I knew it was possible for the *very wealthy* to do this (Hey, they can charter leer jets too, these days.), but everyone seems to do it from time to time in novels. And there’s something off about an owner who takes deep pride in his “perfectly matched set” just dropping them off. It rankles.

    I can see someone resting a team, but if I have deep pride in my horse purchasing skills and driving skills, I’m a) not going to stress that team by taking them on a long journey at speed, and b) I’m not going to just believe that the local village ostler can properly care for them.

    (And this brings me to the Western cowboy and his horse. Horse — disposable. Saddle? VITAL. Ditch the horse, shoot the horse, but that saddle and those boots are critical to your survival. On the other hand, having a hero tenderly care for his saddle while camping under the moonlight is not perhaps the most attractive image.)

  14. Elena Greene says:

    Suisan, I know what you mean about leaving those prized horses behind. Yet one could imagine some of those inns took good care of horse guests–what landlord would want to offend a wealthy patron? I think it all depends on the circumstances.

    There’s also the question of duress. I’ve heard horse-savvy readers complain about characters riding or driving their horses too hard (even within bounds of what an equine can really do) but for me it depends on the story. If hero/heroine has to get somewhere to save the other’s life, for instance, I can forgive them pushing their horses a bit.

    I was also thinking over what Jane said about rearing and I wonder if writers who use it are sometimes confusing it with a dressage move called the levade. It was sometimes used (though more a continental thing) to demonstrate horsemanship and it’s much more controlled and demanding of the horse than simple rearing.

  15. Lois says:

    Oh geez, horses are totally out of my league (um, is that a pun at all?), so I haven’t a clue if in any of the books I ever read that refer to them they are correct or incorrect. LOL And I dare say I want to keep it that way. . . I was on a horse once, back in 8th grade for the graduation trip. Never again. Almost falling down a mountain was quite enough of an experience for me. 🙂

    Lois

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