5 Horse Facts for Regency Writers to Know

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.

Mounted Lady in Sidesaddle

Properly mounted. From “The Young Lady’s Equestrian Manual.”

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!

An Excerpt from Miss Spencer Rides Astride

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my new Regency Romance novel, MISS SPENCER RIDES ASTRIDE. It’s available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble for just 99 cents!

Miss Spencer Rides Astride

“Yer old man’s replacing ye,” Tommy Boxton said with a grin. He forked hay into a wheelbarrow with quick, practiced strokes, all the while fixing Grainne with a mocking leer. “He knows ye’ll soon be married off and be nay good to him no more.”

“Stop that nonsense, Tommy Boxton, or I’ll box you,” Grainne snapped. She slipped into Magyar’s box to check his rug was straight. He greeted her with a nicker and she tried to ignore his affection; he wasn’t her horse any longer. Mr. Lark’s boy would be calling for him in the morning.

“Grainne Maxwell, with a babe on each lug,” Tommy went on. “Missus Maxwell, the lady of Boyle House, counting the eggs in the larder.”

“You’re a dolt,” Grainne said airily, changing tack. There was no reason to counter Tommy’s ceaseless teasing with temper. If it wasn’t her he was harrassing, it was someone else in the yard.

“He might be right though.”

Grainne shut Magyar’s box again and fastened the latch carefully. He was a clever horse; he’d find his way out if she didn’t finish the job properly. Only when she was certain the door was secure did she look up.

Seamus was looking at her with a concerned, fatherly expression. She sighed. The only thing Grainne found more nettlesome than Tommy Boxton’s heckling was Seamus O’Doyle’s paternal worry. For pity’s sake, the man was only a few years older than she!

And not half the rider, she thought privately.

“Father will not be marrying me off without my consent,” she assured him, patting his arm. “That’s not what this is about at all. We’ve needed a new huntsman this year and more. The yard is full, the kennels are bursting, and every meet I swear the old lord is asking for more mounts for his guests. These horses have to be kept in top condition all the time, Seamus. This English fellow is just the thing to help us out. He knows what Kilreilly’s guests are looking for in a mount.”

Seamus didn’t look much comforted. “If you say so, Grainne,” he said worriedly. He put out a brown hand and let Magyar lip at his fingers, sweet with the apples he’d been peeling into the feeds. “But you’re a woman grown, and your father must want you a woman wed, even if you are the finest rider he could ever hope for.”

Grainne lost patience then. “I’m sure that’s none of your concern, Seamus O’Doyle. Now shift yourself and get the saddle on Gretna. I want to take her out for a gallop before it rains again.”

Seamus grinned at her sharp tone and busied himself fetching Grainne’s worn saddle. It wasn’t his job to saddle her horse, but no one in the yard was willing to gainsay Grainne Spencer when she was in a black mood. The girl had a temper, Seamus thought, that would keep that silly soft Maxwell lad on his toes until he tipped them up in sheer exhaustion.

Grainne was not thinking of Edward Maxwell, and if she had been, it would have been with a decided lack of sympathy. A squire so fond of his sheepdogs he might as well marry them, she would have answered, had anyone asked her opinion of their only neighbor of any consequence. But no one ever asked Grainne’s opinion on anything but horses. And since she had so many opinions on horses, and was so eager to share them and so confident in their correctness, no one ever would. Grainne Spencer had a well-deserved reputation as a ruthless, roughshod know-it-all.

But for a rare moment, Grainne was flustered, and only by retiring to check the hind hooves of a young hunter who had recently gone lame could she hide the pink in her milky cheeks. She had felt the heat of those blue eyes on her body. That Mr. Archer… he was a handsome devil, she could tell already. She pressed a calloused thumb against a discolored spot on the sole of the hunter’s hoof and whispered a soothing command to be still when the horse jumped, nearly jerking his hoof from her grasp.

“Hush, love, it’s only a little abscess,” she told him, straightening and letting the horse drop his hoof back to the straw. She went to his head and stroked his neck in long rhythmic sweeps of her palm while he nuzzled at her pockets.

“You are a darling,” she told the horse. “I shall sell you to a young lady and you shall climb into her pockets just like this, yes?” The horse wriggled his nose along her side, tickling her sensitive waist. She pushed at his nose. “Now you stop. You are as lascivious as a man. You are as naughty as…” she thought. “As that Mr. Archer is, I daresay.” Grainne smiled despite herself. “I’m sure he’s a dreadful flirt,” she went on hastily, digging out the boiled sweets that the horse had been rooting for the entire time.

He lipped them from her palm with a velvety muzzle and watched her worshipfully while he crunched them between his teeth, dripping sweet sugary foam from his lips. “He looked at me as if he wanted to undress me,” she whispered to the hunter. “And believe me, I know what that looks like. Len looks at me in such a hungry way every time we meet.”

Len! Her whole body seemed to clench up at the thought of him. His greedy kisses and his roving hands — he was exciting, there was no doubt about that, and he was waiting for her this very moment. She must hurry.

“Seamus!” she bellowed, barrelling out of the stall. “Is Gretna saddled yet?”

“Aye, she is saddled and bridled and waiting here for you.”

“Perfect.” Grainne softened both her tone and her expression as she came out of the stall. “Thank you, Seamus.”

“Will you want a leg-up?”

“Not at all,” she said pleasantly, and, sticking a foot in the stirrup, swung aboard the dark mare as cleanly and quickly as a man.

Everyone thought of her as a man, anyway, she thought grimly, nudging Gretna forward. Everyone except for Len.

And perhaps that terrible Mr. Archer.

Miss Spencer Rides Astride at Amazon

Miss Spencer Rides Astride at Barnes & Noble