Horses and Writing: some basics


Shocking no one I have opinions about horses, and in light of a similar post I saw that I didn’t like I decided (couldn’t help myself really cause I’m a jerk) to write my own. No I won’t link to the other one for reasons you’ll see below, mainly being that horse people are jerks–yes including me–and what do I know?lol)


Horses and ponies:

A horse and a pony are not the same thing, but height (while
a good starting point) is not the only fact in determining whether a horse is a
horse or a pony. Nor is it the only factor for deciding what load an equine can
carry or haul. A horse may be tall and rangy but ultimately not suited for
heavy loads, while some larger ponies (or horses who happen to be pony height)
might be broad and stout and able to carry a bigger ride or pull a cart with
ease. You can find a helpful link [here]. 


Horses typically live 25-30 years, though many live into their thirties. Breed and size definitely matter here, and there always anomalies. Ponies tend to have a longer lifespan.

Young horses are called foals. Technically up to age four
but this neutral designator is not used as much after they reach one year old.
At which point they’re called yearlings.
Once a horse’s sex is known they’re pretty much referred to by the gender
specific terms: filly (young female up to age four) and colt (young male up to
age four).  

Once a male is gelded/castrated (and this is done for a number of reasons and at different ages for different reasons because #horsepeople) they’re typically called a ‘gelding’
no matter the age.

Which brings me to adult (four and over) horses. Mares
(females), stallions (uncastrated males), and geldings.

Young horses are generally not ridden as early as the racing
industry would have you believe. It’s not safe or healthy practice for horses
so young to be started with heavy riders/work loads. I personally do not
believe they should be started under saddle and rider until age two or more and
then lightly. Ideally age 3, but this does depend on the breed. Draft horses
and warmbloods physically mature more slowly than say thoroughbreds and quarter
horses, but I still don’t think *those* should start as early as the racing
industry demands.


Look, we all have opinions. If you’ve met a horse person who
says they don’t really have an opinion they’re lying about one or the other. (being a horse person or not having an opinion. lol) We
don’t all agree and we almost all think we know best and in at least one
situation we’re right and at least one situation we’re wrong. Which is why I’m
not citing sources. You can find hundreds with just a quick google search that
agree with me and just as many that don’t. Instead I will say that these are my
opinions based on nearly forty years research and practical experience and that
nearly all of my opinions/beliefs can and will be adjusted depending on the
animal. The equine animal. Not the human animal. Though I will make adjustments
for humans and their horses if a training technique doesn’t work for them. But
changing my thoughts just cause someone yells at me about it on the internet…nah.



Gendered personality statements are largely biased and
useless unless they contain actual cause and effect explanations. For instance, mares are not
‘harder to work with’ or moody. They experience estrus cycles that make their
behavior and attitudes change but these are predictable if you know your dang
horse. Otherwise a fairer statement would be ‘spring makes the entire animal
kingdom act like morons and mares and stallions are included there in.’ so for
that matter are geldings who were gelded later in life.

You can find a very good introduction to equine puberty and breeding behavior [here].

Breed is often a
better gauge of temperament and if you are writing horses I highly recommend
you research breeds rather than making assumptions or listening to assumptions about sex for behavior. The simple truth is that
mares in heat/estrus are going to be feeling their oats so to speak and
likewise stallions (or late gelded geldings) will be wanting to sow theirs. Lol
This makes everyone act like fools on occasion. Stallions would likely only be
ridden or handled by experienced riders/horse people, but as always there are
exceptions. I once worked with a stallion who followed me like a lamb past a
dozen mares all calling to him and breed ready. The trick here is that when you
write these atypical creatures, make sure your readers know it’s atypical.

Speaking of


Different breeds have different builds and different temperaments
much like dogs. You need to choose the right one for the job/role. And yes,
like dogs there are ‘mutts’ out there and by and large they are awesome, but
how awesome and how suited depends on what breeds are mixed in there and of
course the individual horse.

This [Wikipedia page]  is actually a great starting point for researching. Once you find your breed
though it’s always better to google the breed organization for the most current


You’ll always find/hear stories from people contradicting
any and all of the above. Remember, horse people (and yes that includes me) are
jerks and generally think they know everything so sure…this one guy might not
like ponies because he knew some assholes and wouldn’t want his kids to ride
them. Sure this woman swears that Shetland ponies are the most kid friendly in
the world. *shrug* it’s going to vary pony to pony, but overall breed standards
and reputations exist for reasons.

An incomplete list of your usual Horse Professionals:

(Just to get you started) 

Vets, farriers, trainers, riders, owners, grooms,

Most of these seem pretty self-explanatory but I’ll explain

A farrier is a person who works on horses feet. Hooves grow
the entirety of a horse’s life, so they have to be trimmed (like our finger
nails) fairly routinely (generally 6-8 weeks depending on growth season,
weather, etc). Some horses wear shoes, but not all and there are (shockingly)
varying stances on when or whether or a horse should. This is largely based on
what work a horse does, the health of their feet/legs/confirmation, and what
surfaces said horse works on (dirt, concrete, etc).

Also, blacksmiths aren’t as common nowadays. Most farriers I know buy their shoes wholesale and make modifications to them. But if you’re writing historical/fantasy style works with worlds before horseshoes were mass produced then you’ll want to research them and add them in as appropriate. Often blacksmiths and farriers worked closely together or where the same person working both trades.

Finally,  (not finally,
but finally for this post)

Equine Confirmation:

Equine confirmation is all about how a horse is put
together. How they’re built. Height, weight, stance, etc.

Confirmation standards vary by breed, some are aesthetic,
some are structural. Some are both and can affect a horse’s health and
abilities.  A horse might be pigeon toed
or bow legged or have high withers or low heels. A horse might need correct
efforts for these (like braces, shoes, certain saddles/pads, physical therapy,
training, etc). Helpful starting link [here]. But as always it’s best to move onto the breed specific information out there.

Finally, (for real this time) some other things I’ve written on the subject of
horses and writing (but never a basic intro):

A Response to “Realistic” Travel (a short rebuttal to a popular chart which led to)

On Writing Horses and Riding (a more comprehensive post)

As always feel free to research, or ask me anything. Know
that like every horse person out there I’m biased. I just happen to be honest
about it and relatively aware of what my biases are. 😉

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