There are many great resources and blog posts out there covering the difficulties of writing about horses. So I know you know all about the post-Regency introduction of the leaping horn, the necessity of assistance for a lady mounting and dismounting from her horse, and that fox-hunting was a popular country activity from November until March, when the fields were fallow.
But here are few horse-centric facts that you might not know! Drop them into your text when necessary, for a little extra detail that will add depth to your historical fiction and romance.
1. A horse’s walk sways from side to side. At the walk, the horse moves at a “four-beat gait,” that is, each of his hooves hits the ground at a different time. The motion of his hindquarters from one side to the other actually sways a rider gently from left-forward, back, to right-forward, back. An accomplished rider lets her pelvis do the swaying; a more posed rider will show it in her abdomen, sliding forward and backwards, which can give the horse a sore back.
2. Long journeys called for rented horses. Horses could not go all day long, and required resting, as often as every two hours. A gentleman would not ruin his good carriage horses by sending them across country. Posting inns would provide a change of horses at each leg of the journey. Using one’s own horses would result in a prolonged journey.
3. Corn isn’t corn. When feeding a horse his “corn,” an ostler or horseman was feeding him cereal grains: most likely oats, although horses were also fed other grains such as barley. It would be inadvisable to feed a horse a diet solely of maize (corn in American terms) because it contains so much sugar it can lead to serious health problems.
4. Ladies held their reins in their left hand. In a fairly impressive show of horsemanship, especially by modern American standards, a lady was taught to hold the reins, even if the horse was in a double bridle with two bits and two sets of reins, only in her left hand. The horse was directed to turn by what we call “neck-reining” today – instead of drawing back the left hand to turn the horse’s head, for example, the right rein was pressed against the horse’s neck and the left rein was slackened. All of this was accomplished by adjusting the left hand’s position. The right hand was left free for the whip – a necessity since there was no leg pressure on this side of the horse.
5. Stable odors. Manure has an earthy odor that lots of writers love to mention in their books. What doesn’t get mentioned is the ammonia smell of urine. This might be a nice touch for a dirty inn or a street with broken cobbles. Horse urine is infinitely more offensive to the nose than manure. Horses themselves can have a musky odor, especially if they have long winter coats, which clings to clothing. Horsemen tend not to notice it all, even when they will smell a dirty stable, but for more delicate noses, it could be noticed and perhaps remarked upon.
I hope these little extra details are helpful to you! Happy writing, and happy riding to all your heroines!