A Commentary on-Horsemanship for Writers and Readers
Do your research–THEN write!
It doesn’t take very long writing Westerns to give away the fact that you are (or are NOT) well-versed in horse lingo and riding.
Don’t start on the wrong foot, as so many Westerns authors have. Your “research” really should NOT consist of reading a library full of other Western authors who didn’t bother to learn their subject but did their research watching badly done Western movies and reading pathetically researched (or UN-researched) Western novels.
Two big things for starters, and both mistakes I humbly admit I used to make myself in my early writing, come to mind:
ONE: “Spurring a horse in the flanks.” Anyone who knows where a horse’s flanks are and has ever ridden a horse before would realize how extremely awkward this would be. You are spurring a horse in the ribs, or the ribcage–not in the flanks. Horse anatomy charts are all over the Internet. Look a couple up.
Two: “Ground reining” a horse. Louis L’Amour used to use this phrase all the time, which, unfortunately, like the spurring the horse in the flanks thing, is where I and a lot of other writers got their bad habits. Helpful note: Louis L’Amour knew how to sell books. Zane Grey knew how to craft books. But as horse people, they are two of the last examples you should be looking to if you want to set yourself apart from the novices.
The oft-used and always wrong phrase “ground reining” should be ground TYING.
Do yourself a huge favor, look up basic horse anatomy and follow it. Look up basic horsemanship terminology as well, particularly WESTERN horsemanship terminology. Better yet, hang out with some amiable and knowledgeable horse people who don’t mind helping a novice and ask a lot of questions.
“Roll your spurs across your horse’s ribs or sides”, and when you get off your horse and want it to stay in place (IF you have trained it well) “ground TIE” it. Don’t ground “rein” it.
Oh–and for heaven’s sake, one more thing that writers like Zane Grey never caught onto–a “bridle” and “reins” are not one and the same thing!!!!! (And it is “reins”, not “reigns.” Of course, this could go on and on and turn into a big blog.
The lesson is, just do some research instead of going by old standbys like L’Amour and Grey, who, bless their hearts, are FAR from the examples you should be following if you want to look like you know horses and horsemanship, because neither one of them ever had much to do with horses, and it shows–a LOT.
Follow my advice, and your horse fans will have a lot more faith in your writing, believe me.
If you want to read one of my examples that, although it got a LOT of great press and became the number-one-selling Western in the world in 1999 may or may not have shared some of those same mistakes involving horses, check out my book Death of an Eagle here.
For the very decent price of this much-acclaimed best-selling novel, I will autograph it to you or whomever you choose and get it in the mail for you.
Also, don’t forget the Christmas gift-giving season. Books make great gifts!