Okay, I have this HUGE chip on my shoulders when it comes to portraying horses in our entertainment media, whether movies/television or literature. We’re talking the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs huge.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the whinny or neigh in a movie. Every time, I want to smack someone. If a horse rears or falls, they can’t whinny or neigh. First of all, those sounds are meant as greetings. Second, a horse only makes sound by opening its mouth and must extend its throat slightly to allow it to produce an extended sound. A grunt or groan-like sound would be more likely from the effort of rearing, if anything.
The second of my pet peeves is not acknowledging equine reactions, making them seem almost like machines. Horses are living, breathing, emotional creatures. As prey animals, they’ll run a ways from something before seeing if it’s a threat or not, because it’s escape or be killed. However, we can desensitize them to serve our needs, but they still retain their wild instincts. And horses have unique personalities. Yes, person-alities. Parelli people call them horse-analities, but they do share some similarities to people in their basic characteristics, once you get past the prey instincts. They can be dull or sensitive, dominant or passive, intelligent and even stupid (although most horses are quiet capable of figuring out problems, they do range in level of intelligence just like people).
Besides personalities, like humans, they have physical needs. But theirs are different than ours. They must eat more hours in a day but rest less. They need REM sleep like we do, and for that, they need to lie down a couple hours a day. Horses need to eat and drink a lot to keep their weight on, especially if working hard like traveling for days on end (just ask any endurance rider). Leaving a saddle on all the time can cause sores and ruin a horse, especially if a saddle doesn’t fit (because Napoleon Bonaparte didn’t care doesn’t mean you shouldn’t).
Horses also produce copious amounts of manure from all that they eat and can have any number of hoof, leg, skeletal, and muscular problems.
And one of my other big pet peeves is gelding. Look, folks, the definition of “steed” is not stallion. It is simply a mount for riding. That could be a horse, mule, or donkey…or zebra or ostrich or ?? (pick anything rideable). And stallions would make terrible mounts for all but the harshest conditions, such as battle. By nature, their only purpose is to breed and protect their herds. Except for very few, the majority are noisy, aggressive, and difficult to handle. Mares are sensitive, generally quiet, and more adaptable to large groups. Geldings are stable, a little dull but reliable, and much more cooperative. And it would stand to reason that if boys were emasculated as far back as four thousand years ago to create eunuchs, that men figured out that castrating stallions and colts and making them into reliable, steady geldings made better mounts, as well as being able to keep them with the mares without having to think about them breeding. (Geldings may still mount a mare, but they can’t fertilize her.) Yes, stallions were used, but not as often as people like to think.
Unless your horses in your fiction are of a special, sentient species, please be sure to do your research.
As a horseperson of thirty years, these are some of the pet peeves that have bothered me. I hope to write more horse-centric stories in years to come, but for now, all I have are Fireblood and A Turn of Curses, both of them fantasy stories that give special characteristics to the horses.