“Horses are not dogs” is the title of the introduction to Judith Tarr’s “Writing Horses.” A simple statement, but an important take-home message from this book. Unlike dogs and cats, who are the small and affectionate descendants of predators, horses are prey animals. Understanding that simple fact explains a lot about horse behavior. The author is a knowledgeable horse woman and her Lipizzaners are absolutely stunning. There are many pictures in the book, and they alone are worth the price of admission!
“Writing Horses provides a great reference for the writer who is not intimately familiar with horses. There are chapters covering every aspect from the terminology of coat colors, to tack (the saddle and bridle) for different riding disciplines, to grooming, horse care, and breeding. There is information that will help you plan a realistic trip on horseback for your fictional characters – a critical part of many works of fantasy or historical fiction.
My only complaint about the book would be in using the hyperlinks in different e-book formats. I ended up working with this book in several formats. First I read it in the mobi-pocket version, on my aging Palm TX. My TX has color, and is wifi enabled, so the pictures looked great and the links actually worked (if fiddly) if I was in range. More recently, I acquired a Kindle, and have loaded “Writing Horses” in two versions: the unconverted pdf, and the pdf as converted by Amazon for the Kindle. The conversion allows Kindle’s functionality to work (changing font size, text-to-speech), though it does alter the appearance of the text itself. Unfortunately, the links don’t work, even though my Kindle is both wifi and 3G enabled. So, the only book format in which I was able to get full functionality of the links was reading it on my computer screen in pdf format. Not ideal, in my opinion. I think it would have been a better choice to use pictures for illustrating discussions of issues such as coat color and anatomy. Links to studies and the like could be in an appendix at the end, where the reader could explore at leisure.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who writes in settings that involve horses. Even if you are a horse person yourself, it will still help organize your thoughts on essential details for telling your story. If you don’t know horses, it will give you a solid overview of what you need to think about in making your fictional animals come alive for the reader. As a reader, I can tell you what a delight it is when writers get horses right – even when horses are not a central part of the story, but just appear in passing. Conversely, getting them wrong can ruin an otherwise good read.
I am embarrassed at how long it took me in the end to finish this review. It wasn't because I didn't enjoy the book! I read it right away, but I kept experimenting with different e-book formats, because I wanted to get the hyperlinks working as they were supposed to. Here are my thoughts as I posted them to "Library Thing" (who will probably never give me another early review copy :-/).