Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Saddle Up for Writers! If there’s a horse in your story, here’s some stuff you might need to know!

Whether you’re writing a historical romance about cowboys and the American West, a contemporary novel about a dressage competitor, or any story in which a horse may turn up at some point, you’d better know a hock from a forelock and a cinch from a bridle.

It's been quite a while since I've been on a horse, but as with many subjects, I know just enough about horses and riding to be dangerous. However, I do know it stops me cold when I read a novel where a heroine who’s never ridden before climbs onto a stallion for a leisurely trail ride. Or when the hero leads his horse to the pasture, then turns him out without removing the halter (unless it’s a breakaway type!). Or when a book cover depicts a supposedly "real" cowboy riding in English tack.

So, for what my limited experience as a wannabe equestrian is worth, here is a basic primer on horses and tack.

(FYI, in order to read the labels more clearly in the photos below, you may need to click the image to open in another window. And yes, that IS me!) 

My first and only dressage schooling show, April 2005.

Horse parts—what do you call them? 

Some terms you might need to know:
  • muzzle: the front part of the nose including nostrils
  • poll: the spot between and just behind the ears
  • throatlatch: kind of what it sounds like, the neck area running from behind the jaw to behind the ears, where you’d buckle a bridle strap
  • withers: the tallest point on the horse’s back, located at the base of the neck
  • chest: the front of the horse (below the neck and in front of the forelegs)
  • barrel: the round part of the horse’s body behind the forelegs and where you find the horse’s ribs
  • elbow: joint at the top of the foreleg; points toward the rear of the horse
  • knee: the front-facing joint on the foreleg
  • cannon bone: the long bone between the fetlock and the knee or hock
  • fetlock: the ankle on both front and back legs
  • pastern: the joint between the ankle and hoof on both front and back legs
  • loin: the rearmost part of the horse’s back; the area behind where the saddle would sit 
  • croup: the hindquarters area between the loin and the tail
  • flank: where the hind legs join the body
  • stifle: the large rear leg joint, similar to the human knee; a common injury location for horses
  • hock: the rear-facing joint halfway between the stifle and the ankle

Check out these websites for more detailed information: 

Western, English—what’s the difference?

Now that you can refer to the main parts of a horse by their correct names, you need to know what kind of tack your characters will need. A saddle is just a saddle . . . right?


Okay, maybe you’ve figured out there’s a basic difference between English and Western tack. But to complicate things even more, there are important tack differences for each riding discipline within those two broad categories!

English Tack

Let’s start with English tack, which is what I’m using in these photos. This is a dressage saddle, with long, straight flaps and a deep seat. It enables the rider to sit erect, and the longer stirrup length (actually tucked up in this photo so it doesn't bang the horse’s sides) offers freedom of leg movement for the subtle cues the dressage rider uses to influence the horse’s gait, direction, and body position. 

For a complete explanation of the sport, visit this site.
Check out this Wikipedia article as well. 

The other type of English saddle is the hunt seat, which places the rider more forward in the saddle for jumping over obstacles, either cross-country or in an arena. The stirrup length is shorter, giving more bend in the knee. Since I have ZERO experience with hunter/jumper riding, let me refer you to an informative article on the discipline. 

This Wikipedia article may also be helpful. 

Giving one of the grandsons a ride at my lesson arena, also around 2005.

Here is what a basic English bridle looks like. There are variations related to type of bit (usually a snaffle, meaning two sections connecting at a center joint), single or double reins, martingale attached, etc., but those are topics best left to someone with a LOT more experience! This article from Dover Saddlery offers further explanation.

Western Tack

This horse was ready for her Special Olympics rider.

There are several variations on the Western saddle, so you need to know what kind of work your cowboy will be doing. As with English saddles, some seats are deeper or flatter, some allow closer leg contact, and some are made especially for comfort over long trail rides. Here’s an overview. 

Fort Worth Stockyards, cowboy herding longhorns in the parade.

The Western bridle is slightly different from the English bridle. Most do not have nosepieces. Instead of a full browband, some bridles are one-ear or two-ear headstalls. The curb bit (straight shank) is typical.

Reins may be closed or split, depending on the type of riding.

Do you know your horse colors?
  • Chestnut or sorrel: Both refer to a reddish-brown horse. For some reason, English riders tend to use “chestnut,” while Western riders use “sorrell.” Radar, the horse I’m riding in these photos, is a chestnut.
  • Bay: A brown or reddish-brown horse with black points (muzzle, legs, mane, tail, tips of ears).
  • Gray: Commonly mistaken for white; if the horse’s skin is black, it’s a gray. The variations include dapple grays, flea-bitten grays (speckled with black or brown), and steel grays.
  • White: A true white horse (Dominant White) has pink skin, hazel or brown eyes, and white hair. 
  • Black: Pure black with no brown or other colors (other than white markings).
  • Dun: Sandy yellow or light reddish-brown, usually with darker legs, and always with a dark stripe down the middle of the back.
  • Buckskin: Similar to the dun but without the dark stripe; all black points.
  • Palomino: Gold coat with white or cream-colored mane and tail.
  • Roan: Solid color with single white hairs mixed in.

For more complete descriptions of horse colors along with photos (and including the grulla as described in Mary Connealy’s Now & Forever), see this site.

Okay, your turn. 

Hey, Seekervillagers, do you have experience with horses and riding? If so, share a little about your background. Also mention if you’re willing to serve as a resource for other writers.

Non-horsey-types, what questions do you have that our Seekervillager horse experts could help with?

Read any good horse stories lately? Share some of your favorites.

Today’s giveaway!

For a chance to win the three-book set of Myra’s Horsemen of Cross Roads Farm series, mention your interest in a comment and we’ll drop your name in the horse trough! 

A Horseman’s Heart. North Carolina’s a long, long way from Texas, but horse trainer Kip Lorimer needs to get out of town fast because the woman who long ago destroyed his last remnants of trust has just caught up with him—again. Special-ed teacher Sheridan Cross has trust issues of her own, so when Kip shows up with a horse to donate to the family’s equine therapy program, she can’t help but be suspicious. A cowboy a thousand miles from home and living out of a horse trailer? What’s wrong with this picture?

A Horseman’s Gift. Filipa Beltran is tired . . . sick and tired of living out her parents’ dreams. After years of guitar lessons and the seemingly endless string of part-time jobs to pay for them, Filipa makes a drastic decision to abandon the hope of becoming a professional musician and move forward with her life—on her terms. The past year has been nothing short of crazy for Nathan Cross. Once set on becoming a big business mogul, Nathan is headed back home to carry on his late father’s legacy running an equine therapy program. . .and trusting God to sort out his future. When Nathan discovers childhood friend Filipa is also back in town—to stay—he finds it hard to swallow. Maybe she wasn’t the girl he thought, or else she wouldn’t sacrifice everything her parents dreamed of for her. Can Nathan and Filipa find contentment in their God-given gifts?

A Horseman’s Hope. Love is definitely out of the question for Grace Lorimer while she works her way through college to earn her occupational therapist certification. Besides, her mother’s string of failed relationships and broken promises proves romance is not worth risking her heart—even when she begins to care deeply for single dad Ryan O’Keefe. Four years after his girlfriend, Shana, became pregnant, Ryan still can’t believe he’s a father. . .and can’t imagine being anything else. His daughter is the light of his life. Now if only Shana could embrace motherhood and the three become a real family. . . . Then Ryan receives shocking news about Shana, and his world is torn apart as he faces losing his daughter. Suddenly old feelings for Grace resurface, but is a whirlwind marriage of convenience the answer?

Follow Myra . . .

And now, for your viewing pleasure . . .

Mary Connealy

Janet Dean
Myra Johnson


  1. I've had some riding experience. And i've been thrown over the muzzle when the horse came to a quick stop. And dumped off the back when a cattle horse who didn't get to go out that day saw some of his buds who going out and reared up, dumped me and took off to join them. He still didn't get to go.

  2. I've had some riding experience. And i've been thrown over the muzzle when the horse came to a quick stop. And dumped off the back when a cattle horse who didn't get to go out that day saw some of his buds who going out and reared up, dumped me and took off to join them. He still didn't get to go.

  3. Very interesting. I would love to ride a horse.

  4. I do like horses in stories, but since I am a novice I wouldn't notice any discrepancies.

    Please count me in.

  5. I have had very little experience riding a horse. My uncle (now passed) raised and boarded horses on his ranch in Las Vegas, NV. He took my mom and I riding one day out in the desert. It was wonderful, until we turned to head back and I didn't hear what my uncle told me to do and my horse took off at a gallop. My uncle caught up with me and chastised me for not listening to him. What he had said that I didn't hear was "don't let her have her head, hold the reins taught". He said she always gallops home if you let her because she knows she'll be fed at that time. His concern was there were so many areas in the desert that she could have stumbled and broke a leg and thrown me as well.

    I would love to be in the drawing for your books. Thank you for the chance.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  6. For my first cowboy book, I had a great team of authors (Brenda Minton and Arlene James) advise me about horse husbandry.... I've ridden, but I haven't ever done horse care, so making sure it sounds right to a rider/horse-lover is crucial!

    The fun thing about writing category books, is that if I put in too much detail, I then have to remove it simply because there's not enough room in a 60K book... so we learn to allude to detail and that works.

    But then for my longer books, I had to RE-TEACH myself, give myself permission to write with more detail.

    That is so weird!!!!!

    Myra, thank you for these pics, I'm making them bigger and printing them!


  7. Coffee is here, my darlings! And freshly baked bread!

  8. I studied English riding a short time and loved it. The small saddle lets the rider 'feel' the horse more. Most of the riding I've done has been on the Peruvian Paso, a gated, smooth, smooth ride. I used to have a Paso gelding that I loved—a birthday gift from my husband.:-)

    Nice photo of you, good seat. :-)

    The cowboy at the Fort Worth show looked like Stan Murren? Been there to photograph the cowboys many times.

  9. Myra, thanks for this informative post. I'll come back to it when I'm describing horses in a book.

    My experiences with riding took place on the same day with two horses that knew I wasn't in charge. I was fifteen when my friend asked me to ride with her. This was my first and last experience on horseback.

    We saddled the horses. Mine blew out its belly so the cinch was loose. My friend took charge so the saddle wouldn't slip and drop me off. Let's see, the small horse, maybe a pinto, took me up a bank and I barely stopped it from walking through a barbed wire fence. I got off that horse and onto a bigger one, gray I think, and all was well as we rode to a friend's house near our small county airport. As I mounted to ride back, a plane took off or landed and the horse reared. I didn't fall off but again we traded horses. As we approached her farm, a bag or paper blew across the road. The horse took off. I stayed on, but I never rode again. But, I love to watch horses. They're beautiful animals.


  10. What a great post. I definitely needed this for one of my stories.

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. I had no idea there is such a array of colors, Myra.
    When I was in the third grade, my family went horseback riding in the Rockie Mountains. My horse decided it wanted some grass way over the edge of the trail. I've never been so scared in my life. I think that's probably the last time I saddled a horse. :)

  12. Hi Myra,

    You weren't 'horsing around' with this post! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

    It's great information. I'm printing this out.

  13. Thanks for the horsey details, Myra. I only pleasure ride with my granddaughter, so I appreciate the appropriate vocabulary. Bookmarking!!

  14. I am so grateful for this post, Myra! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  15. Good morning, Seekerville! As usual, I am just getting my eyes pried open with some Earl Grey. Help yourselves to a cup if you like! As soon as I get my act together, I'll be back to chat. In the meantime, enjoy my "horsey" pix and visit amongst yourselves!

  16. YAY for horses, Myra!

    Excellent on the dressage... Wawzah!

    We are owned by two Al Khamsa Arabians - mother and daughter...
    There's alway something to learn.

    But one thing they do, is test you every day to see who is the lead mare.
    Uhm... That would be me. :)

    They do it in subtle ways but they DO test you.

    And - they are the best "watchdogs" - not a leaf can fall but they will alert you.

    Do love my girls... :)

    Thanks for sharing your love of horses!!!

  17. The only experiencethis city girl has with horses is a few rides in the mountains. I've learneda few things about not letting the horse eat on a trail ride because they would eat all day if you let them. I.m learning when to hold the reins tight and when to give the horse I'm riding free rein. I've discovered I really enjoy riding, but my backside needs more padding. ;)

    What a fun post today!

  18. TINA P, sounds like you've had some bumps and bruises to show for your riding experience! I've had only one scary fall, when I was at a riding lesson on a blustery January day and a gust of wind knocked over a jump standard in the arena. My horse spooked right and I toppled left, pulling a leg muscle so badly that I couldn't walk easily for a couple of weeks!

  19. CATHY ANN, I still miss riding. Those years when I volunteered at the therapeutic riding center and had several horse-owning friends gave me the chance of a lifetime to fulfill a childhood dream.

  20. MARY PRESTON, I've dropped your name in the horse trough!

  21. CINDY, that would have been scary! One thing I've always heard is that when out on a ride, you're always supposed to make the horse WALK back to the barn so they don't form bad habits like the one you were riding.

  22. RUTHY, you are absolutely right about not needing (or being able to use) lots of detail in shorter novels. But when a detail is needed, it's good to have the correct one at your fingertips! As with any description in a story, the goal is to choose the most relevant details in that particular scene and leave the rest to the reader's imagination.

  23. MARY HICKS, how fun that you had your very own horse--a dream of mine that, alas, I fear will never come true. The Paso sounds like a wonderful horse to ride. I never cared much for rough trots. Hubby and I did a beach ride a long time ago when we vacationed in Puerto Vallarta, and those horses had a trot that would knock your teeth out! Worse, it seemed to be the ONLY gait they had!

  24. JANET, I know the scary feeling when a horse shies at something. And some of them can be so skittish! When I volunteered at the riding center, the main horse person would be called out sometimes to test horses that people wanted to donate to the center, and only the most "bombproof" horses would be accepted. Some of the tests were rolling a beach ball between the horse's legs, popping open an umbrella in its face, and pushing a wheelchair all around the horse.

  25. JACKIE, I hope you'll find the post helpful when you need a horse in your stories! Thanks for dropping by!

  26. JILL, it's fun to look at pix online of all the beautiful and varied horse colors! Yes, horses will go for the best-looking tufts of grass, no matter where they find them. Sorry you had such a scare!

  27. ROSE, yep, I got a little bit "horsey" for this post. Hope you find it helpful!

  28. Hi, DORA! It's great that you and your granddaughter can enjoy horses together! It's been a long, long time for me. I need to find somewhere to ride again one of these days!

  29. KC, how fun that you have your own horses! Arabians are so graceful and beautiful! Yes, just like dogs, they need to know who's in charge, and they WILL take advantage if they see an opening!

  30. Myra, I just love this post. I tend to get annoyed when authors don't get things right, not only in horses but cattle and other animals. I was an animal science major in college, so I tend to get picky about things like the difference between a heifer and a cow or a horse colt and a filly. Just my pet peeve I guess. And may I say you do a fabulous job with the horses.
    I love stories with horses. My husband always asks if the story I'm writing has a horse in it. And it usually does. No English saddles or jodhpurs, just good old fashioned western cowboys, quarter horses and heroines who know how to ride.
    Thanks again for a great post. Please put my name in the trough.

  31. JEANNE, I hear you on the padding! When I was taking lessons, I invested in padded underwear to wear under my riding tights. When I rode Western, I much preferred those comfy sports saddles.

  32. CINDY R, I hear you on the horse terms! Many don't realize that a colt is a young male horse and a filly is the female. I've also had to learn a little about heifers (young female that hasn't calved yet) and cows (adult female who has calved) for a couple of my stories.

    My brother is actually the cowboy in our family. He's quite a bit older so when Mom and I used to visit, I'd go riding with his kids (my niece and nephews). They always had horses and cattle and were heavily involved with 4H.

  33. I forgot to mention, please don't enter me in the drawing. :) I already have the books. :)

  34. Hi Myra:

    The few times I rode a horse over the years I always got a horse that was going up when I was coming down or vice versa. I never saw the fun in that. I'd rather be flying by the seat of my pants.

    What I'd like to know are ways to give a horse a personality. Can you give us some horsey quirks? If I put a horse in a story, I want it to be an interesting horse -- a real character.

    BTW: Your three horseman books are just 99 cents each today on Amazon. These are the same books that under the old publisher had to be special ordered direct from the publisher at very high postage. You can buy all three from Amazon for less than the postage was on one book from the old publisher. I think "Truly Yours Digital" has done a great service making these books available again. All this series is wonderfully edited and just what I feel is the perfect length for a romance. You don't feel stuffed after reading one -- you just feel wonderful. : )


    P.S. I have your books so please let someone else take my place in the feedbag.

  35. Myra, My heroine was afraid of horses in Courting Miss Adelaide. I blogged about it and was dumbfounded when many commented on injuries they'd received from falls or kicks from horses. They're a big animal with temperaments just like us. It's heartwarming to hear the care that's given when selecting horses for the riding center.


  36. LOL, MYRA, I am grinning ear to ear over this EXCELLENT post because I can tell you had fun with it, and consequently, so has the reader!!

    I have never had a horse in my book and don't really anticipate having one, but since I do plan to write a Western series, I'm going to file this puppy (ahem ... excuse me ... this horsie) in my Western file because it is a GOLD MINE for horse lovers and writers alike!!


  37. We had horses growing up but they wasn't really for us kids. My dad used them to work cattle.

    It was sad for us when my dad's horse Dandy died. The horse was getting on up in age (20 something)and we had went to friend's house after church. My brother brought Dandy to ride. While riding, Dandy kept wanting to run w/the other horses. My brother wouldn't let him because he felt he was too old, but finally relented. After sprinting for just a bit, the horse suffered a heart attack, fell over and died. I remember my brother saying he would've gave him CPR if he could've just figured out how. My dad was never one to treat animals like pets (uh, we always had a freezer full of beef)but even the men in my family were VERY close to their horses.

    And talking about colors, my uncle had a horse on our place called "Worm." It wasn't until later I realized it was "Roan". Not very imaginative on naming a horse...

  38. Hi, VINCE! Yes, I was very glad to see the Truly Yours editions of these earlier novels. I had so many complaints about how hard the original paperback versions were to obtain.

    Horses do have interesting and fun personalities! One habit a horse can develop is cribbing. That's when the horse bits onto the stall gate or other immovable object and arches its neck so it can suck air. It's kind of like a burping thing, and there are differing opinions about whether it's helpful for relieving indigestion or just a really, really bad compulsion.

    One of the horses I worked with at the therapeutic riding center was a natural cow horse who would "herd" anything. One of the games we played with the kids around Christmas was volunteers wearing fake reindeer antlers, and then the kids riding would try to herd us into a "corral." This horse didn't need any help from her rider!

  39. Yes, JANET, horses are big and they can be dangerous to someone who doesn't know how to behave around them. Tragically, a teenage girl in our area was riding and took a fall. Her own horse kicked her in the head and she died. Nothing was ever said about whether she was wearing a riding helmet, but after all I learned volunteering at the center, I would never, ever ride without a helmet. Helmets are a requirement at all such riding centers, and if you go for a trail ride anywhere, you usually have to sign a waver releasing the company from all liability.

  40. JULIE, I did have fun with this post! Even though I don't get the chance to be around horses anymore, I still love them.

  41. CONNIE, it sounds like Dandy had a happy and good life. Horses can live well into their 20s, and ponies sometimes into their 30s. So when the horse becomes like one of the family, the loss after so many special years is bound to hit hard.

    Still chuckling over Worm/Roan! Funny what kids hear that isn't quite accurate! Another example: We still kid our son-in-law because he grew up thinking it was "windshield factor," not "windchill factor"!

  42. Myra I don't think I've EVER spent so much time reading any blog ever. I looked at the pictures, enlarged them, scrolled back when you referred to them later.
    This is very cool.
    I like the horse colors, too. Great description. I've got a horse in my current WIP that I'm calling Chestnut, I think I'll change it to sorrel. I think that is a more western-appropriate word.
    I loved this all. THANK YOU! Keeper post!

  43. Also you're very cute on that horse.
    I love that you did this. A girl and her horse and a dream. YAY MYRA!!

  44. Wow, I taught MARY something about horse colors!!!!

    Still remember fondly our trip to the Fort Worth Stockyards and especially "riding" the longhorns! WHY DIDN'T I POST ONE OF THOSE PIX?????

  45. BTW, just saw a typo on the Western saddle illustration. Should be JOCKEY, not JOCKE.

  46. I have never been on a horse and don't know much about them. The pictures of the horses and saddles are great. I am more familiar with the Western saddle--from cowboy (John Wayne) movies. I love looking at horses and would one day like to ride one.

    Question: Why are the saddles refereed to as "tack"?

    Miralee Ferrell has a book series for young readers that I have been reading which are about horses. Horses and Friends series: first book is A Horse For Kate and book 2, just coming out, is Silver Spurs. Both are very good books and she gives wonderful descriptions on the horses, saddle and attire.

    Thanks for a chance to win a copy of your books.


  47. Good morning Myra,
    A great post. I write Oregon Trail, so horses are a big part of it, and I've been doing spot research here and there. This puts it all in one place. A.Keeper. Would love to be entered in the drawing, enjoy your books.

  48. Hi, MRS. TINA! Here's what I just found about why they call it "tack":

    ORIGIN late 18th cent. (originally dialect in the general sense ‘apparatus, equipment’): shortening of tackle. The noun sense dates from the 1920s.

    "Tack" is also used as a verb in the horse world, as in, "Tack up your horse and let's ride."

    Thanks for the Miralee Ferrell book recommendations! It's always good to learn about an author who gets her "horsey" facts right!

  49. You're in, KB! I definitely enjoyed my Oregon Trail research--so much to learn! Have you read the little book by Francis Parkman?

  50. LOL! I love the photo label of the city girl author!!

    I knew hoof, cinch and stirrup and that's about it. So thanks for the info! I'll definitely bookmark this for future reference.

  51. KC, they definitely do test us humans. I remember riding on a trail ride with a college boyfriend, and my horse would not do a single thing I wanted it to. It would just wander off and eat grass. I was a novice and a wimp, and the horse knew it! LOL

  52. Vince, thanks for pointing out the Truly Yours editions! Myra, is that something Harlequin did after they bought the HP's?

  53. MISSY, those were fun times! We moved from the Houston area a year or so after the dressage show. So sad to leave that part of my life behind.

    Actually, the Truly Yours editions are from Barbour. My understanding is that they kept those rights with the books that were on the "cusp" of the Harlequin purchase of the Heartsong Presents line. Not sure about HP books published after that time.

  54. Myra, I love this! I'm going to save for future reference. There are SO many books that involve horses, especially when you're dealing with historical literature, and I know NOTHING about them. :) Thanks for sharing! And I'd love to be entered in the giveaway.

  55. Hi, JENNIFER! Glad to be of assistance! There's even more to be learned from historical research into horses and tack. I also had LIMITED experience with carriage driving while volunteering at the therapeutic riding center, and that's a whole other area of horse information to study!

  56. Parkman was the first thing I read, then Lewis and Clark. CAN YOU IMAGINE doing all that and seeing all that for the first time? I still stand amazed.

  57. Myra, this post is a keeper!! I have my cowboy crossing his arms on the pommel and leaning forward, so I best change it to the saddle horn. Invaluable information. Thanks!

  58. Hi Myra, I'm going to keep this post. I write both westerns and Regencies. Need to keep the English and Western tack terms straight. I admit my characters don't pay much attention to their horses except as a means to get them from point A to point B.

  59. It's not to late to add the bull-riding picture, Myra (it wasn't as dangerous as it sounds, my greatest fear was whether I could climb off the calm old beast, I was afraid they might have to bring in a crane and a winch!)

  60. Hi Myra
    Cool horse post. I'm surprised at how much info I actually knew. Of course, it helps that I had a co-worker who competed in dressage. I always enjoyed listening to her talk about her weekend competitions. She definitely loved her horses. There was many a time she lamented that she didn't get into a career involving horses (like farrier). I guess I picked up more than I knew by just listening.

    This will definitely be a keeper to look up stuff should I find myself writing a horse into a story. I liked VINCEs comment about horse personalities too. The way you talk about how remind the horse of who's in charge reminds me of me with my five year old. *heh*

    Name in feed trough please. I enjoy horse books.

  61. 2 of my Granddaughters love horses so I am going to show them your blog post - lots of great information! I would love to win your books - please put my name in the drawing!
    Thanks so much!!

  62. Don't forget about Paints and Appaloosas! Which, as I understand, are basically any of the aforementioned colors in conjunction with white, so you can have a blue roan appaloosa, or a bay paint, or whatever. And then among paints and appaloosas there are different pattern markings, like blanket versus leopard appaloosas and overo versus tobiano paints, but that gets a little complex. I've done a bunch of paintings involving horses, which necessitated a more involved look into colors.

  63. KB, I agree! Sometimes on driving trips I try to imagine what the countryside looked like to the very first settlers. They really had to have vision and courage!

  64. BARBARA, a picture can sometimes be worth a thousand words, huh? Yep, it would be a lot easier for your cowboy to rest his arms on the saddle horn, unless he was leaning sideways. :)

  65. ELAINE, the main thing for writers is to NOT call something by the WRONG name! That'll get an observant reader every time!

  66. DEB H, I have wished for so many years that I could have had the opportunity to grow up with horses and have them a daily part of my life. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, and now I'm far too citified. I think dressage is just beautiful, and I love watching the Olympic competitions.

    Yes, horses, dogs, children, husbands . . . they all need to know who's in charge! ;-D

  67. SHARON, how fun that your granddaughters are horse lovers! Do they ride? Seems most kids I have known are either into hunter/jumper or Western riding. We got to see a fun Western competition for young riders while we were visiting family in Montana last June. I think it was called Omoksee. Very interesting!

  68. RACHAEL, thanks for the reminder about paints and appaloosas. Yes, there are varieties galore! They are all so pretty, too!

  69. Hi Myra:

    I remember that picture and I just knew it was Janet Dean on that longhorn. And here it is:


    It may be too late to post this picture but it is not too late to go and see it. This is not a picture that is easy to forget. : )

    Just in case the above picture description is too long for Blogger, here's where you can see it within the post.


    Also, the best writer I can remember reading about horses and horse habits is Caroline Fyffe. I am a huge fan of her work. She even did a post on Seekerville called "Writing a Novel is like Buying a Horse" and there are two really beautiful pictures of horses in that post.

    You can see them here:


    That's enough horsing around for now. Still have 'work' work to do.


  70. Thanks for those links, VINCE! Just looked back at Caroline's post. Yes, some gorgeous horses!

    Actually, Janet, Mary, and I all took turns on the longhorn. I must see if I can get those pix posted again here!

  71. Myra, thanks for clearing up why it's called "tack".
    Forget to mention that Miralee Ferrell's book 3, Mystery Rider will be coming out soon.
    Miralee loves horses.
    Blessings, Tina

  72. Wonderful post, Myra! So full of fantastic information and love those photos! It's a keeper for sure!!

    My sweet husband and I owned a small working cattle ranch for many years, so we had horses...lots of horses and one very adorable mammoth jack donkey we called Dillon! We raised a few mules too.

    Our kids mostly rode western, but one of our daughters decided to ride English and trained our old ranch horse to jump! (small jumps) Because I wanted to learn to drive a team of horses we bought two Norwegian Fjord horses...my favorites! They're shorter than a draft horse, almost as strong, and I knew I could get the harness on them all by myself. They're very calm and trustworthy, but sometimes stubborn...kind of like a donkey!! LOL

    My granddaughter competes in rodeo and gymkhana events and is a vaulter! Her vaulting club performed at our State Fair about two weeks ago. When she's the flyer (the one being held in the air), my heart drops to my knees! This year she had her first experience Roman Riding...(the rider stands atop a pair of horses, with one foot on each horse)...and has decided she LOVES it...oh, no...she's only ten. I don't know if this Grandma's heart can take it!!

    We've all had a few "wrecks," but Praise the Lord, none too serious. I adore horses...but know one must never be careless around them.

    Thanks for touching on a subject dear to my heart!! Would love to be entered in the drawing for your books! Thank you!!

  73. MRS TINA, thanks for the update about Miralee's book!

  74. KATHRYN, those Norwegian Fjord horses are so cute and so sturdy-looking! I imagine they'd be great carriage horses.

    I think I'd be as nervous as you about a granddaughter performing the kinds of riding you described! Jumping is scary enough--I've tried VERY low jumps (maybe less than a foot off the ground) and it's a wild sensation! We also had some children at the therapeutic riding center who did some vaulting. Great for balance, but . . . yikes!

  75. Super illustrations and explanation of colors, Myra. This is definitely going in my 'horsey' file on my computer.

    Living in a horse/longhorn/beef cattle county, I can't remember a time when I've ventured out and not seen horses.

    My riding experience was limited to some bareback rides with a friend when I was a kid (the horse was bareback, not us!). I have, however, fed horses, been hit on the back of the shoulder by a romping foal's hoof (think baseball bat), shared many a conversation with horses over fences, and ardously broken ice from a water trough. By the way, did you know that after watching you wear yourself out trying to break ice from a water trough, a horse can casually walk over and 'blow' on the ice until it melts a round hole all the way down to the water?

    My horsey resources for my historicals include several long-time riders who learned some lessons the hard way ;-)

    Nancy C

  76. This is great stuff. I copy and pasted the whole thing for my files. I actually have a horse and a pony in my wip. I'm editing now and I have these huge gaps where I've written 'check correct terminology' but man, when you start looking for answers about horses online it can get confusing fast. At least that's what I've found. so thanks heaps for this.

    Oh -- and don't enter me in the draw because I have all your books.

  77. NANCY, that's an interesting tidbit to remember about the ice in the water trough! I hope everybody's taking notes! Nice to have "horsey" friends who can serve as resources for your research.

    I still try to keep in touch with my friends from riding lessons and the center where I volunteered. When we moved away, my friends gave me a throw with Radar's photo woven into the design. It's practically life-size, so I can remember him fondly every time I look at it.

  78. KAV, there's lots of horse info online, as I've discovered! Many readers wouldn't catch the mistake if you call something by an inaccurate name, but the ones in the know are liable to be vocal about calling you out!

  79. What great pictures! I relearned some horse terms today, I use to ride as a teenager.
    The latest I've read is Mary Connealy’s Now & Forever.. I loved it!
    toss me into the trough I'd love to read more stories with horses :)

  80. You're in, DEANNA! What kind of riding did you do? I enjoyed Mary's book, too. Whenever I need a good cowboy romance, she's my go-to girl!

  81. Myra Johnson said...
    I still try to keep in touch with my friends from riding lessons and the center where I volunteered. When we moved away, my friends gave me a throw with Radar's photo woven into the design. It's practically life-size, so I can remember him fondly every time I look at it.

    What a wonderful gift, Myra! And maybe a story in there, too? Do you think you'll ever include experiences from being a volunteer in your writing?

    Nancy C

  82. NANCY, I actually did use my volunteer experience as inspiration for the Horseman books. Those are all set at a small therapeutic riding facility. That was a fun series to write!

  83. Myra, what a wonderful blog! You've provided so much info. You've also made me realize I should never include a horse in any of my stories. Good thing I don't write Westerns! I'm clueless!

    But now I know where to find the info...in this blog, which will be archived! YAY!

    Love the pics too. I'm impressed. You are a woman of many talents. Or was that the Grammar Queen featured in the first pic?

  84. Wow (sarcasm alert) you put up all three of us bull riding.


    PS My Cowboy checked, I guess because that's what cowboys do??? And he said we are steer riding not bull riding. Which might help explain the calm

  85. And we had a cow last year who limped for a while and My Cowboy said she had a stifle injury. I figured I sort of knew what that meant just from watching her limp. But now I know!

    Stifle, a cow/horse body part formerly obscure but brought to fame my Myra!!!!

  86. Did I ever tell you about the time I was at the zoo and had a chance to take an elephant ride?

    I was over the weight limit.

    Really does it get any worse than being told you are OVER THE WEIGHT LIMIT ON AN ELEPHANT?

    Part of God's unending efforts to keep me humble. So far...so good.

  87. Interesting post, Myra - thanks, from one who knows nothing about horses (even though I grew up on a farm, with horses and mules, and live only a few miles from Churchill Downs). Truth is, I've never been coordinated and was very accident-prone - so have never been athletically inclined, and probably didn't spend as much time outdoors as most farmer's daughters (although I did my share of helping with raising crops and tending/preparing food from gardens.

    My brother loved horses, my last experience with one was as a primary-schooler - riding with my brother and male cousin, each of us completely attired in cowgirl/cowboy attire. My brain froze at the sight of a looming clothesline in front of me. Hence, the reason (and lack of riding knowledge) for my being knocked off backward onto the ground. I probably have enough similar "klutz" moments to fill a book, lol.

    It will be interesting to see how much of the post info I retain - when I read that next book containing horses. However, I do know more than I did before reading your post. I enjoyed "seeing" this side of you - vs the author side. Loved seeing the pictures of you and the Seekers, and although this has nothing to do with horses - just want to mention that I love your longer hair-style (in one of the pictures).

    Please enter my name in the drawing for your books!!

  88. DEBBY, GQ stays pretty close to home. I don't let her anywhere near horses or she might dent her tiara!

    Well, you DID write about the Amish and horses & buggies, didn't you? ;-D

  89. LOL, MARY! Steer, bull . . . whatever. All I know is it had BIG horns!!!! Yep, I guess "steer" would make more sense, though. Amazing what a little clip in the right place can do to a bovine's disposition. ;-D

  90. Oh, no, MARY!!! They wouldn't let you on an elephant??? I've ridden an elephant at the zoo, too. And another time at the Renaissance Fair. In fact, at that one, it was me, my mother-in-law, and both kids at the same time. I think they hoodwinked you about the weight limit, Mary!

  91. Oh, thank you, BONTON! I like longer hair, too, but I just flat got tired of the hassle. My hair has gotten thinner over the years, too, so it isn't as easy to keep looking nice.

    Horses and clotheslines. Not a good combo! At least you survived to tell about it! ;)

  92. Hi Myra,
    I'm going to read this thoroughly when I have more time, but in the meantime, I have a question that maybe you might be able to answer!
    When horses are put up in the barn for the night, do they keep any of their equipment on? Specifically the bridle?

  93. Myra, obviously I need to ask to please have my name dropped in the horse trough for a chance to win the 3 book set . The scary thing is, I read the blurbs(!)

    Perhaps I need some fresh air :-)

    Nancy C

  94. SUE, they absolutely would NOT keep the bridle on if the horse is loose in the stall! Please note, also, that the bridle and the halter are two different things. The bridle is what the reins are attached to for riding. The halter is just used for leading the house around with a lead rope attached, like to and from the pasture or barn.

    There are breakaway halters that are safer to leave on if necessary--they are made to snap easily if the horse should catch the halter on a fence post, tree limb, or something. But generally you release the horse "naked" in the stall or in the pasture.

  95. NANCY, you might want to go breathe some good "horsey" air at the barn--LOL!

  96. Hi Myra:

    I'm currently reading Pam's "Castaway with the Cowboy" and they are stranded on an uninhabited Caribbean island along goats and a small herd of horses. I'm not finished yet but the big question is: "How far can a horse swim in the open sea?" (I'm trying to guess where those horses came from before the story tells me.)

    Also, is a pony just a small horse or is it a separate breed?


  97. I have not been around many horses. As a teenager while on vacation we rode horses in a National Park in Colorado. My horse took off with me and I had no clue how to control him or stop him. After that I was extremely terrified of horses. Years later I was a missionary living in Utah. All of the kids I was ministering with owned horses and I knew it was time to conquer that fear. So while I was counseling at Bible Camp, I took the horsemanship course with the campers. All of the staff understood my fear and worked closely with me until I could ride without fear. I know that if I put horses in any of my books I will need to check with the experts, I have always thought horses were beautiful creatures.

    Please enter me for the drawing for your books.

  98. VINCE, I really enjoyed Pam's novella, and I don't want to spoil the ending by telling you where those horses came from!

    Horses and ponies--no, they are not two separate breeds. Here's what I just found on a website: "The number one distinguishing factor between horses and ponies is height. Traditionally, any adult animal shorter than 14.2 hands high (58 inches) is considered a pony. In addition to height, there are other features that differentiate the two animals. Ponies have shorter legs, broader foreheads, wider barrels, and thicker manes and tails. They are also calmer and often more cooperative with humans."

    Read more here.

  99. Great stuff, Myra! I'm sure to refer to your post often. I write cowboy stories so there's always a horse in them :) I'm not much of a rider now but as a young teen I spent a lot of time working with horses.

  100. WILANI, I'm glad you had the chance to learn horsemanship at camp! That's a much safer and saner way to get acquainted with horses.

  101. JAMIE, I'm glad you found something helpful in my post. Your experience as a teen will certainly come in handy, too!

    And cowboy stories are apparently HUGE right now, so all the best with yours!

  102. Myra!!!!!!!! This is fabulous. Going in the keeper files for sure.

    The last time I went riding was in the desert/mountains. I did something to my back that laid me up for days. Sure was different from riding on the northeast trails.

    I used to ride occasionally at a stable near our summer home, but most of my "horse sense" comes from devouring any horse book I could find as a teen. I really did try to convince my parents to get me one for Christmas.

    I have horses in an upcoming novella so I'll be referring back to this.

  103. Going back to memorize your info. You're right. I have included horses in my stories. :)

  104. MARY CURRY, it's a lot harder on the ol' body riding in rough country, that's for sure! But an easy walk on the flat can be like a massage for an aching back. Really loosens up the spine.

    Hope you find my post helpful for your novella!

  105. HI MYRA, Was on the road today so late getting here. Looks like you all are horsing around. smile
    Great post and I'm sure some of us will be so thankful to have that info.

  106. Myra, fascinating post! Thanks for all the visuals! This is exactly what I've needed in my "horsy" scenes.

    I've been around horses a little, but never enough to know what I'm doing. We have a beautiful, sassy palomino with a little dapple when the sun is right. I'm too scared to ride anymore, though, after my mom had a bad scare after Honey (the horse) rolled over her a few years ago. Mom wants to ride, but I'm too chicken. :D I used to laugh at books I'd read where heroines were all scared of horses and the hero would be trying to talk them into riding again. I don't laugh anymore. :P

    I still love to read and write about horses, though! Thanks so much for this post!

  107. Well Myra this was so much fun to read! I haven't ridden in a long time, but I grew up (well up from ages 5 to 15) in a horse town in California called Norco. It still has dirt sidewalks so you can ride your horses most anywhere. I grew up riding my horse Dottie (a Quarter horse) to the local Sip n Dip and McD's where they always had places to tie up your horse and a water trough to make sure they had fresh water to drink while you enjoyed your own treats. I had a Sheltland pony as a small child and it was just plain evil. It bit me once straight on my cheek when I was bringing it some hay. My parents sold it straight away and gave me Dottie. They figured they'd rather me up high on a horse with a good temperment than down low with an aggressive pony.
    I also remember using a bareback pad often because it was quicker to set up than my western saddle. And I don't know why, but I do recall my western saddle had two cinches. One was tight and the second went farther back and was snug but not as tight as the front cinch. I had a bitless bridle for Dottie. It was all I ever needed. Such a great horse. I remember riding in the mountains once and I fell off. She stopped immediately and came right back for me. Boy do I miss her.
    Thanks for the memories.

  108. I'm sure the comments are interesting, but I'm very late to the party tonight so won't get around to reading them all. I have to say I have little interest in horses, so probably won't try writing anything that involves horses. As for my experience with horses, it is pathetic. Quite a few years ago we took a vacation to Yellowstone with my sister and her family. They wanted to go horseback riding. I had always thought I wanted to do that, so we signed up for a ride. I was terrified the whole time. We had to cross a mountain stream and I had trouble and felt like I was going to be swept downstream. The small children in the family were laughing at me. My horse's name was Tenderfoot, but to this day I call it Thunder Hoof. I don't have any desire to ride a horse again.

  109. Wow, what great information! I so appreciate this article since I don't have any experience with horses but I love reading stories that have them in them. The most recent favorite of mine is To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander. Please include my name in the drawing- I'd love to read your books!

  110. No-o-o. Please don't put my name in the horse trough. It will get all wet and you won't be able to read it. And I'd really like it to show up for the drawing for those books. I was raised in the Bad River hill country where cattle had to be checked, worked and moved by horses with riders. But we did not use all those fancy names for tack parts. I'd shore be willin' to give any advice about horses. And I can't wait for TIME to get back to "The Rivers Kids and the Missing Colts", which is still in rough draft and has been for nearly a year. Oh dear. It's not a romance, but a kids' story set in Washington State on the Yakima River. 5 of my grands live there and they are definitely horse people on a ranch.

  111. Myra, thanks for this wonderful post. It is very helpful. I live on the east coast, but love westerns and would like to write westerns. I've found it difficult to find the basic information like how far a horse can travel in an hour. Can you travel at night? If you're an outlaw, you might have to. If it's 1860 in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and you're the marshall who has to go in and get the murderer, what do you have to take with you for maintenance of your horse? They don't have Pet Marts there. What can a horse warn you of? In western movies, they are always shooting the horse for every reason imaginable. How do you determine a fatal injury if you're a writer? Can horses endure extreme weather conditions? And/or for what amount of time? Below freezing or above 100 degrees? How long can you be on the trail with your horse before you have to stop and let the horse rest and how long does the horse have to rest before you can resume your journey? I don't want my hero treating his horse like a tenderfoot from Boston when he's supposed to be a U.S. Marshall in Texas. Do cowboys feed treats to their horses? How can you tell when a horse likes you or when you need to avoid a horse? Spurs seem cruel to me. Does my marshall have to wear spurs?

  112. Hi, SANDRA! Yep, it was getting pretty deep in horsey stuff around Seekerville today! But always in good, clean fun! ;-D

  113. You're welcome, NATALIE! Sorry about your horse scares but easy to see how a really bad experience would make you leery. Hopefully some of this info will prove useful for your horse stories!

  114. KELLY, your Dottie sounds like a dream horse! Those are really special animals, and the bond with their human is so touching. And I've been around a few temperamental ponies, too! I think they must kind of be like Chihuahuas--aggression to make up for small stature--LOL!

  115. Thunder Hoof--so funny, SANDY! But sorry for your negative riding experience. It helps when you can get a really good guide who knows how to choose the right mount for each rider. But that isn't always the case. :(

  116. HEIDI, Tamara Alexander does write wonderful books! I loved her story about Belle Meade in Tennessee. We had the chance to tour the site a few years ago, so it made reading Tammy's book even more fun!

  117. DEE, okay, okay, I promise to keep your name dry. Maybe I'll just use the feed trough for the drawing--LOL!

    EVERYBODY, be sure you check with DEE if you have any cow horse questions. Sounds like she could be a great resource!

    Hope you get the time soon to get back to your story. I bet it will be a good one!

  118. Wow, NANCY, great questions! Wish I had the answers, but I'd have to Google them or find someone with a LOT more experience. There are so many horse websites around, and tons of books on horses, too. I hope you can find the info you need!

  119. A Horse of a Different Color!

    Hi Myra:

    I just finished Pam's, "Castaway with the Cowboy," and it has the best and most original ending to a castaway on an island story that I ever read! And no magic was needed. In a way, it seems a shame to spend such a creative novel-worthy idea on a novella. But as it is the story is so inviting that I'd buy the whole "With this Spark" novella collection just to read this one story!

    If there is a national award for best novella of 2015, I think the finalists may all be in the "With this Spark" Collection!


    P.S. Thanks for posting the photos of all those bull riders!

  120. My only riding experience came whewn I was very young, about 4 or 5 years old. To me the horse was huge and I fell off, Well the horse spooked and accidently stepped on me. I wasn't hurt but scared. Horses are such beautiful and magnificent animals ! Please enter me into the horse books drawing. I'd love to read these. Thank you
    Deanne Patterson
    Cnnamongirl at aol dot com

  121. Wonderful blog post! I have loved horses since I was a child. We rode with Western tack - not sure how I would have managed with an English saddle..lol. I would love to win these books!

  122. I have very limited riding experience. A long time ago at camp. My daughter loves to ride and rides weekly. I love to watch her ride.

    I love books with horses. There is a chemistry with horses and riders that makes for a good story!

    I would love to win the set of 3 books.

  123. Love this. I am writing a book with horses heavily featured right now. My daughter rides and competes (English and Hunter), so I would be willing to be used as a resource in those areas. We own a paint mare named Misty. I know next to nothing, however, about race horses, so I had to reach out to gather info about that. Love to entered into the giveaway. Cheers.

  124. I agree, VINCE! Pam's story was just so fun to read!

  125. DEANNE, so sorry about your childhood horse scare! Happy to put your name in the drawing!

  126. BETTI, I really prefer English, or else a really comfortable Western sport saddle. Some of those big, heavy saddles are just so hard on the rear!

  127. BECKY, I'm sure you have a lot of fun watching your daughter ride. What a great opportunity for her! Yes, there is definitely a special connection between a horse and a rider. It's a feeling unlike any other!

  128. DANA, thanks so much for offering to share your expertise! Great that your daughter can ride and compete! I'm sure you're proud!

  129. My pet peeve is authors who treat a horse like a machine, assuming it can gallop for days and never needs water. A horse has a whole lot more in common with your dog than with a car. Namely: you need to feed and water it, and it's a companion animal that delights to serve you (once you get to know it). When traveling, you'll need to walk and trot, only very rarely gallop. Travel by horse takes a while.

  130. Growing up on a dairy farm, I got my first horse when I was 14. I showed 4-H and while I tried the whole western pleasure thing and English show jumping, I was always a barrel racing kind of gal. I spent a lot of hours after school and in the summer trail riding with my cousins. I had to sell my Quarter Horse mare after college when I got married. My husband is also allergic to horses. :( So now the only horses I have are the ones I stable in my novels. I'm big on writing horses into my stories. My latest novel,"Forgotten Reins", takes place on an Equine Rescue. I'm always worried that by giving my readers too detailed of a description I may confuse them if they're not familiar with all the terms of understanding of the difference in horse tack. So I try to just give enough without too much. As a horse lover, I know lots of other horse owners read horse stories as well as those who never have. But how can you not love a good horse story?

    I just finished Melody Carson's, "Love Finds You in Sisters, Oregon." and I'm getting ready to dive into Danica Favorite's "Rocky Mountain Dreams".

  131. I've taught riding and trained horses for 50 years. My first love is English (jumping/dressage etc) but I have trained all of the seats. I have 2 blogs that could help someone who needs info for a book- http://theridinginstructor.net which is full of helps for those who teach riding and http://ushorsemanship.com which concerns the history of horsemanship in America. I'm very happy to answer questions about horses for authors.
    I have a couple of things that bug me when people go into detail about horses, mostly to do with historical fiction. Dealing with any of the military horsemanship- the cavalry existed/didn't exist and morphed according to need at various times in history. It's a good area in which to check out facts. Another point of contention for me is when readers write about people jumping horses over fences prior to 1907. Federico Caprilli (Italian Cavalry) revolutionized jumping during that time (he died from a horse accident in 1907) Prior to his teaching people leaned backwards when they jumped horses, Caprilli brought the leaning forward style of jumping. Also prior to Caprilli most people only jumped horses when they had to, probably because it was such torture to lean backwards!
    By the way I think you did a great job covering the basics, especially for people who write in a contemporary setting. I loved all your labels! That took a little bit of extra work! Remember though, horses always get sick at the most inconvenient times so maybe a general idea of horse maladies would be good, too. Number 1 killer of horses - Colic- but it's not like the colic that keeps mom up with the baby all night!
    Thanks for a fun read