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"Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting it Right" by Judith Tarr

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"Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting it Right" by Judith Tarr

Post by fljustice » Fri December 31st, 2010, 6:59 pm

(Moderators, if you think this should go in the Writing Craft section or some other, more appropriate, place; please feel free to move it.)

Written by fantasy and historical fiction author Judith Tarr (a.k.a. Caitlin Brennan and Kathleen Bryan), this is a non-fiction resource book, geared to writers who need to write about riding/driving/working with horses. Ms. Tarr is a horsewoman and does a good job of sharing the basics and giving resources for more advanced research. The book is divided into several parts covering:

I. The Basics (grooming, riding, disciplines, tack and age)
II. Form and Function (size, speed)
III. Care, Feeding and Doctoring
IV. Horse Stowage (a day in the life of a horse farm/breeding farm)
V. Baaaaaby Horses
VI. Horse Training
VII. Mind and Magic

From the Introduction "Horses are not Dogs":

"Horses have their own distinctive biology and psychology. Extrapolating from other animals, notably dogs, can lead to egregious and sometimes fatal errors.

"If you need to write about horses but have no experience of them, at the very least get a horse person to do a beta read. If you can get some experience of horses yourself, that’s even better. There’s no real substitute for actual, hands-on, on-the-hoof horse time. Even a negative reaction to the animal can enrich your writing.

"But before you call that horse expert or arrange that visit to the local barn, here’s a compendium of information that can help you figure out what questions to ask and what directions to take with your characters or plot. I’ll begin with basics—terms and concepts that horse people often take for granted—and then move on to more specialized details. Not too specialized, I promise! But enough to add that crucial bit of extra dimension to your story."

I have a little bit of horse knowledge...just enough to make me dangerous as a rider and a writer. Ms. Tarr is passionate about horses and it shows in her enthusiasm for her subject and her plea for writers to "Get it Right." She does a thorough job with the basics. Her prose is straight forward, easy to read; and, as promised, not too technical. One of the advantages of an ebook, which she uses appropriately/sparingly, is hyperlinked text. She links a more general topic, such as breeds, to more advanced or deeper articles on the web. I tended to ignore the links except for where I wanted more information or the link obviously led to a picture.

My only (minor) complaint about the book has to do with the advice to writers. In the early chapters this tended to be more in the vein of "you can see how this can be used" rather than specific dos and don'ts. But in Part VII, Ms. Tarr gets down to the writing business and makes several suggestions on how to incorporate horse information/lore into fiction. Altogether, I found this book to be useful and well organized. Now I need to go back and check on the horse passages in my WIP and make sure I "Did it Right."

Please note: I received this as a free ebook from the publisher as part of an Early Reviewer Program. The opinions are my own.

The Details:

Title: Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right
Author: Judith Tarr
Publisher: Book View Café, 2010
ISBN: 9781611380309
Format: ebook (all digital formats including pdf)
Price: $4.99
Available: http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/T ... ing-Horses
Last edited by fljustice on Wed April 11th, 2012, 3:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Added the book details.
Faith L. Justice, Author Website

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri December 31st, 2010, 7:47 pm

Oh, this is so needed! Might I also recommend The Medieval Warhorse, from Byzantium to the Crusades?

As someone who works with animals (mainly llamas and dogs, but I have ridden, driven and packed with horses and donkeys too), nothing can throw me out of a story faster than writers who get the animals wrong--or, like religion in daily life, they are simply missing from the story. Until a hundred years ago, animal labor was the 'horsepower' that moved the world. In some parts of today's world, it still is.

Thanks for posting. I'm going to order a copy at once.

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Post by boswellbaxter » Fri December 31st, 2010, 7:59 pm

Thanks for posting this! It looks very helpful.
Susan Higginbotham
Coming in October: The Woodvilles


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Post by SarahWoodbury » Sat January 1st, 2011, 12:06 am

Thanks! That sounds very helpful. On a totally different, and yet related note (for authors) is a book I just bought: "Brother Cadfael's Herb Garden" about medieval plants and their uses. Extraordinarily helpful when writing about plants, historical fiction-wise. It's something that the average person doesn't know or have any experience with.

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Post by Matt Phillips » Tue January 4th, 2011, 7:25 pm

This is great, thanks! (Too bad it's only in eBook format, for those of us still lacking e-readers!) My protagonist is a great horseman, so I need this type of information. I took some riding and horsemanship lessons over the summer, which were basic but it was still good just to get some basic familiarity. Perhaps more important, my instructor is willing to read my manuscript to help me avoid errors and give the horses and horsemanship a proper role in the story, for which I'm very grateful! I'm happy to recommend her to anyone interested - she's based in Northern Virginia.
Last edited by Matt Phillips on Tue January 4th, 2011, 7:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by LoveHistory » Wed January 5th, 2011, 4:54 pm

Matt, depending on the format you might be able to read it on your computer.

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