Friday, August 4, 2017

Best of the Archives: Saddle Up for Writers!

This post by Myra Johnson first appeared in Seekerville on 
August 15, 2015. Comments are closed today so we can catch up 
with our reading and writing!

Her Hill Country Cowboy, my next Love Inspired romance, officially releases September 1, and I'm delighted the art department used actual Western tack on my cowboy's horse! True, non-horse people might not notice the difference, but for me, it was an important detail not to get wrong!

So . . . if there’s a horse in your story, 

here’s some stuff you might need to know!

Thanks for stopping in today as I reprise 

one of my earlier posts on horses and tack.


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.

About Her Hill Country CowboySingle father Seth Austin will do anything for his children. So when he discovers the new housekeeper his grandmother hired for their guest ranch is a former social worker, he plans to keep his family far away from Christina Hunter. Seth once almost lost custody of his beloved kids because of an overzealous social worker. Problem is his children adore Christina and her sweet service dog—and he's starting to fall for her, too. Recuperating from an accident, Christina is determined to slowly ease back into her old life. But the more time she spends with them, the more she realizes that her future might be with the cowboy and his family.

About Myra: Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. Myra is a two-time finalist for the prestigious ACFW Carol Awards, winner of Christian Retailing’s Best for historical fiction, and winner in the Inspirational category of the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award. Originally from Texas but now residing in the beautiful Carolinas, Myra and her husband love the climate and scenery, but they may never get used to the pulled pork Carolinians call “barbecue”! The Johnsons share their home with two very pampered doggies who don’t always understand the meaning of “Mom’s trying to write.” They also recently inherited their daughter's (occasionally) lovable cat when the family moved overseas for their next missionary calling. 

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And now, for your viewing pleasure . . .
a trip down memory lane and a visit to 
the Fort Worth Stockyards
with Seekers Mary Connealy & Janet Dean.

Mary Connealy

Janet Dean
Myra Johnson