Many young girls–boys, too–dream of getting a pony. I was no exception. While I never actually owned one, I was lucky enough to grow up near stables. My love of horses and all things equine continued right along into my adult life.
During a recent visit to meet my friend’s new Bay gelding, Jinx, I was reminded of how perfect a stable setting could be in fiction. The crunch of straw beneath one’s paddock boots, the sturdy snap of bridle leathers, the chorus of neighs, the swoosh of a tail swatting away an occasional fly, and the clip-clop of hooves as a horse is guided by a halter and lead rope down the length of a wide hallway of stalls.
There are many variables…the place could be as pristine and elegant as the polished wood and brass stalls of Churchill Downs featured by TV crews before the Kentucky Derby is run, or perhaps some rickety building, hardly more than a plywood lean-to shelter at risk for not surviving the next storm that blows through. It could be busy with lessons, or quiet and remote. Yet all of these elements ground a rider (and therefore, a reader) into the uniquely recognizable setting of horse stables.
Horse-centric vocabulary also enhances the story set among our four-hooved friends. From riding accessories (helmets, crops, breeches, paddock boots, tack, bridle, reins, saddle, girth, halter, grooming brushes, and horse trailers) to location details (paddocks, riding ring, race track, and jumping fences) to riding terms (trotting, cantering, dressage, jumping, showing, ribbons and training lessons) to horse anatomy (hooves, muzzle, main, tail, or even going lame) add texture and a distinct riding culture to a story.
In fact, I was so smitten by my experience of meeting Jinx, that I was inspired to write my most recent short mystery story, “Unbridled” set in a fictional stable in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. What’s not to love when a horse (or, in my case, three!) is key to the characters and plot of a story.
Here’s a Pens, Paws, and Claws shout-out to those who adore our larger animals with hooves!