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Cowboy Bob--

Fantasy horseVery much enjoying your website. I'm a Coloradan, but despite what some on the east coast think, we're not all cowboys, and what I know about horses wouldn't make for more than two or three short sentences. And I'm in the midst of a fantasy novel in which lots of people ride horses of all sorts.

Fortunately, being in a world of my own I can fudge some, but I want to keep these aspects at least somewhat within the realm of reality.

So two questions for you, if I may:

1. How long can a well-conditioned horse be pushed to go all-out, or close to? (Say, for example, you have the devil on your tail....)

2. What sorts of quirks of character should I keep in mind to make my fictional horses more realistic to people who know them far better than I do?

Any help you can provide will be much appreciated.... And if the novel happens to sell, I'd be happy to give you a written acknowledgement!

--R. M. B.


Possibly the most heroic effort of equine endurance was that of Col. Henry Carrington's horse as it carried John "Portugee" Phillips on his 236-mile, three day ride through blizzard conditions. Moments after reaching Fort Laramie, the poor horse died from exhaustion, but that December trek will long be remembered as one of the greatest efforts ever made by a horse.

On the other hand, Colonial patriot Israel Bissel's horse died after "only" two hours of hard and furious riding.

As for equine "quirks," you'll find lots of examples scattered throughout my Q&A pages. Here are a few traits that come to mind off the top of my head:

1. A horse will tend to behave toward you like you behave toward it. In other words, it is a terrific mirror of the rider's actions and attitudes.

2. A horse is a herd animal and will tend to gravitate to whatever herd is nearby -- whether that herd is four legged or two-legged. Remember the scene in The Lord of the Rings where Aragorn's horse finds him and comes sniffing around him? That's not an unreasonable scenario.

3. A horse sees the world less clearly than a human during the day, and more clearly at night. Also, except when looking straight ahead, a horse only sees in two dimensions. That means that it judges distance from the way an object gets larger or smaller. More on this in a moment.

4. A horse will tend to follow anything that's moving away from it, and move away from anything that's approaching. Once upon a time, I was helping some friends catch some horses in a large field. Every time we approached, the herd would move away. Finally, I told my friends to stand back while I tried it alone. I opened my duster as wide as I could, and started slowly walking toward the herd. As I did so, I gradually drew the duster toward my body. Because I was getting smaller, the horses figured I was moving away... and started drifting toward me. By the time they realized their mistake, they caught the scent of horse on me and came even closer to investigate. As soon as one was in reach, I slipped a rope around its neck and fitted it with a halter. I then threw a saddle on that critter and used it to catch the rest of the herd.

5. A horse has a far keener sense of smell than a human -- which can be handy for avoiding danger. Old Willy has a hearty dislike of bears, and can literally smell one a mile away if the wind's blowing in the right direction. Let him catch a whiff of bruin, and Willy's nostrils flare, his eyes get wide, his ears flick back and forth, and every muscle in his body tenses up.

6. A horse's sense of security comes from knowing where it stands in the herd hierarchy. It will challenge a human trainer/rider until it knows for certain that the human is "the lead brood mare." Once the horse submits to the human's leadership, it will settle down and often let the rider take it into situations it would otherwise find terrifying.

7. A horse will only tolerate having the bit/reins jerked harshly for so long. Then it will tend to get balky, harsh, even aggressive. On the other hand, it will readily work with a rider who uses his/her body and balance to work with the horse.

These are a few of the high points. Again, you'll find a ton of insights and illustrations throughout my site. The more you study, the better able you'll be to picture the intricate and fascinating relationship between horse and man.

Please keep me posted on your book; I'd love to see it when you're done!

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