Why I Write about Horses

It can be hard to write about horses and not be misunderstood. Most people seem decided about horses one way or another (mostly another), and conventional “wisdom” I’ve known tends to dismiss horses and their activities as outdated and obsolete.

The misunderstanding is understandable: we humans have always been a few flakes short of a bale when it comes to our equine partner … the writ-large story of horsemanship is one of human ignorance staggering toward a cooperative path it wants nothing of, until some innovation in cavalry tops the ridge and a new way is more or less happily accepted (mostly much less).

When I tell people I’m writing a fiction adventure about horses in history, reactions vary. Some smile in a rush of good feelings and memories (these we call ‘horsepeople’), some are intrigued; other’s eyes dart away with a short nod and change of subject, or peer at me curiously trying to grasp why a grown man would spend time writing about ‘horsies.’

Horse Talk

Well, I don’t write about ‘horsies’ — no author does — but about an animal, a force, that has been an essential partner in civilization. I write to honor the intangible spirit in horses which sparks humanity’s creative impulses, a spirit which has served as mankind’s inner guide by providing a concrete image of noble humility, courage and selfless service. Discussions about horses deal in ideas that created the cultures we live in and have succeeded. Horse talk is really about humanity.

We can speak about horses in bold terms and not be embarrassed: it is hard to find expressive terms to describe how close and longstanding man’s partnership with the horse truly is. History has moved to the sound of hoofbeats since prehistoric man enshrined horses on cave walls, and celebration of our partnership has ennobled mankind throughout recorded time.

Is the great ride over?

Is mankind ready to dismount and proceed into the terrifying future alone? This is a graver decision than the attention it is given.

Yes, we have machines to replace buggies and hoofed cavalry … but perhaps we should consider the lessons of the countless cultures that rested upon the status quo of their horsemanship–and were overridden by newly-discovered potential in the horse.

Today horsemanship’s ancient roles of youth development, leadership training and community-fostering deserve examination, and there are exciting new roles to explore in horse-powered ‘green’ commerce, recreation, and healing so relevant to our crowded future.

It may even be that the ancients were correct in believing the horse was a gift of the Creator, and the future belongs to horsemen as much as did the past.

My answer to skeptics? Horse talk is more than it seems.

Book I: “Rome wasn’t Read in a Day”

Jennifer wished the answer could be different. “Meagan, there are no such things as Great Horses. I like that you are taking an interest in history, but you can’t believe in fantasies.” – Eclipsed by Shadow (excerpt)

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This excerpt is from Eclipsed by Shadow, Book #1 of The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy, an adventure through history―on horseback.

The scene is set in modern day America: young Meagan is convinced the legend is true, but no one believes … including her mother…

I think that if I become a horseman,
I shall be a man on wings.

– Xenophon (c. 400 BC)

Jennifer wished the answer could be different. “Meagan, there are no such things as Great Horses. I like that you are taking an interest in history, but you can’t believe in fantasies.”

“Mrs. Bridgestone said only true owners will believe the legend,” Meagan replied stubbornly. “You are just proving it.”

“I’m sorry, Meagan.” Jennifer glanced down at picture of chariot race with teams of galloping horses. “Horses can make people act very strangely. Now, will you promise me? No talking with Mrs. Bridgestone.”

Meagan shrugged. “Maybe we should bring Promise back home, just in case.”

“Meagan?”

“I said okay.”

Jennifer went to the doorway. “Tell the books goodnight, Meagan. Rome wasn’t read in a day.” Jennifer closed the door behind her and returned downstairs. She sat beside her husband on the couch. “I’m worried about Meagan, Tom.”

“Of course you are, Jen. It’s how we know you’re her mother.”

Jennifer shrugged. “She spends all her time reading history books. It’s that silly legend. Meagan is absolutely convinced.”

“Yes, she told me. It sounds like this Bridgestone woman is a bit … should I say it?”

“There is nothing wrong with being a little eccentric, Tom.”

“That wasn’t the word I was going to use.”

Eclipsed by Shadow (Book #1 of the trilogy) won national awards including the Eric Hoffer Award for best Young Adult Fiction, and the Mom’s Choice Award for best family-friendly Young Adult Fantasy.

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The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy books (2015)

#9- Horse Talk with Mrs. Bridgestone

‘ “It is fascinating how closely horsemanship and culture coincide. When Europe fell into the Dark Ages, their horsemanship deteriorated into barbarism. It was not until the Renaissance that humane methods were rediscovered.” Mrs. Bridgestone stepped to the fence and reached a frail hand to stroke the filly’s neck. “In owning a horse, I feel I own a living piece of history.” ’ —excerpted from Eclipsed by Shadow (Book #1 of ‘The Legend of the Great Horse’ trilogy (p. 46)

The following excerpt is from Eclipsed by Shadow, award-winning 1st Book of “The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy.

Book II: The Golden Spark will be available Fall 2010.

Mrs. Bridgestone leaned to Jennifer. “Tell me something, dear. You have practical knowledge about horses. Are they really as intellectually … limited as one hears? It has always upset me to think so.”

“You mean, are horses stupid?”

“I have heard it said, and I am sorry. They are such splendid animals.”

“Don’t be sorry, Mrs. Bridgestone.” Jennifer was amused. “They are so different than humans. Right now that horse is watching Meagan, you and me and almost everything around her. And she will never forget, because horses have a photographic memory. Horses hear and smell almost as well as a dog, they are so sensitive they can feel a fly’s landing, and can even recognize people by the vibration of their walk.”

“Yes, yes,” the old woman said, “I have discovered the most engaging facts in my readings. Did you know that the horse’s eye is one of the largest in the animal kingdom, even larger than an elephant’s? I understand horses are timid because in nature they are prey. Have you found that to be true?”

Jennifer nodded. “It is hard to imagine how differently a horse sees the world. But the more you try, the better they respond.”

“How charming. It is fascinating how closely horsemanship and culture coincide. When Europe fell into the Dark Ages, their horsemanship deteriorated into barbarism. It was not until the Renaissance that humane methods were rediscovered.” Mrs. Bridgestone stepped to the fence and reached a frail hand to stroke the filly’s neck. “In owning a horse, I feel I own a living piece of history.” Guinevere reached to sniff Mrs. Bridgestone’s hand. The woman smiled. “Magical beings, aren’t they? There is history in their hoof beats—or is it hoof steps? I should tell you, my friends and staff have questioned my sanity since I started my horse project … but sometimes a touch of madness produces the sanest result.” She sighed, watching Guinevere trot off with her tail high. “I was surprised to learn horses have never been domesticated. Their instincts remain. Horses return easily to the wild, as with the American mustangs. I like that, somehow. In all the centuries they have never forgotten themselves.”

“Yes,” Jennifer said regretfully, “though we don’t need horses anymore. Now they are only expensive playthings.”

Mrs. Bridgestone looked at Jennifer sharply. “I wouldn’t say that, dear. I wouldn’t say that at all. People are no authority on what they need. Ignorance about our needs is one thing that separates us from animals. Oh, I truly wish we had had this meeting long ago, Jennifer. They say horses rush men to folly. Well, they do it to old women, too.”

Copyright © 2008 John Royce

The above excerpt is from “Home,” the 1st section of Eclipsed by Shadow, and is set in modern-day California. (p.46 Hbk)

The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy is an adventure through history … each section is about a different time period.

Eclipsed by Shadow (Book #1 of the trilogy) won national awards including the Eric Hoffer Award for best Young Adult Fiction, and the Mom’s Choice Award for best family-friendly Young Adult Fantasy.

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Horses and the Dark Ages of Man

Horses may have pulled and carried humanity up the long ascent from primitive cultures, but it wasn’t a straight line. Human societies have been subject to cycles of  falling away from civilized life.

“Dark age” describes the lack of historical records from these periods, such as during the Bronze Age collapse about 1200 BC, which ended the Mycenaean culture and extinguished literacy for several centuries.

The most recent “dark age” of Western culture was the approximately 1000 years after the collapse of ancient Rome, or the Middle Ages. The wonders of ancient Rome included heated public Baths,  running water and vast entertainments — the Middle Ages were marked with mud roads, illiteracy, poverty and disease.

What does this have to do with horses?

Horsemanship has been a slow road of progress from brutal subjugation to humane partnership. Understanding the horse, an excitable prey animal, has been a major exercise in empathy for human culture.

A new idea of riding was discovered by the ancient Greeks we now call dressage, which emphasizes the cooperation of the horse rather than forced submission. Dressage develops a harmonious partnership with the horse and provides greater control, balance and athleticism.

This civilized form of riding was lost during the Middle Ages; as humans reverted to illiteracy and brutality their riding became brutal as well.

It’s interesting to note that dressage was one of the earliest classical arts to be reborn in the European Renaissance. The return of humane horsemanship to the world coincided with the birth of the modern era in about the 17th century — not so long ago.

In a sense, good horsemanship is a celebration of empathy, and perhaps a barometer of its presence. Our relationship with the horse started before recorded history, but the goal of humane partnership as practiced today is only a few centuries old!