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Ride a Horse to Imbue Your Writing with Truth

If you write historical fiction that’s based in a time-frame prior to the invention of the car (and most is), here’s a tip: learn to ride a horse. It was virtually the only mode of transportation for most of our characters and the experience of riding long distances and/or the relationship that one had with a horse can add to your historical fiction. The good news is that I’ve found a place where one can learn from a woman who loves historical fiction almost as much as she loves her horses. It’s called Wind In Your Hair Stables in Wanship UT and it’s a joy.

Wanship is just 20 minutes from Park City UT and 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, an easy drive through lovely hilly country. The stables and grounds are artfully rustic and pristine, built with rough-hewn wood. The owner, Sueanne, has a marvelous, gentle approach to working with horses: she taught stress-relieving meditation and breath work for more than 14 years before focusing on her life-long love of horses. Based on that background, she teaches you how to apply concepts of “pressure on/pressure on” to encourage compliance in the horses while acknowledging their timidity and flight response. She works with your chakras and the process of sending your energy out to the animals. Real Horse-Whisperer stuff. Though I have taken nearly half-a-dozen riding lessons to add authenticity to my writing, this one was by far the best because I learned valuable things about the horses psyches. And in between her thorough and joyful lessons/love-fest with the horses, we talked about our favorite authors of historical fiction.

So think about what it would mean to your fiction to know what it’s like to ride a horse. Remember, horses are not car substitutes: they have personalities, they have moods, they have an impact on the emotional landscape of your story. For days on end your character’s life depended on the animal, and horse and rider shared an emotional connection, though I’m definitely not suggesting that they become full-blown characters. You know that traveling from one city to the next was on horseback and it’s a long, slow process. So the horse can add action and plot twists to your story (e.g. It gets away because of a draping reign tied poorly, stranding your hero. It’s restless because someone is approaching. How do you know that? From the horses ears, from the way it turns to protect its flank etc.) The horse can add depth by mirroring the emotions of the character. The horse can just fill in the narrative with a bit of action when your character is pondering something (horses chew when they think, Sueanne says, and shouldn’t be disturbed then.)

I had originally booked my time with Sueanne because she was one of the only outfits I could find that advertised riding that was real riding, not a trail ride akin to sitting on a moving sofa where the horses aren’t allowed to trot let alone gallop or fly across the plains the way I knew people did. I wanted to know what it felt like to ride with urgency, full out. Admittedly, I’m still not a strong enough rider to do that, but what I realized recently (thanks to lessons learned through The Experience Training) that first I wanted to describe what one felt when one loved a horse. The love and the emotional connection with a horse are what you have to feel to describe. From watching movies I could describe (albeit less fully) the action of a horse flying across the plains, but without an understanding of a horse’s psyche, I couldn’t describe their nuances of their movements or their relationships. Truly, in most eras, a horse was our character’s best friend and that relationship can come to life in your fiction if you know what it involves.

#historicalfiction, #Jess Wells, #horsebackRiding, #medievaltransportation, #WindinYourHairStables