Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Do You Want to Write About Horses?

By Susan F. Craft
Author, An Equestrian Writer’s Guide
If you are a writer who wants to include horses in your works, I have compiled A Writer's Guide to Horses that should be helpful. I worked with the International Long Rider's Guild to compile this guide, also known as An Equestrian Writer’s Guide. Below is a small excerpt about the sounds horses make, their ear positioning, their body movements, and temperament. The complete Guide can be found at www.lrgaf.org. This is copyrighted material and should not be reproduced without the permission of the Long Riders’ Guild.

Neigh – a loud squeal followed by a nicker, with head high; done when looking for other horses or people, also called a “whinny.”

Nicker – vibrating sound with mouth closed using vocal cords; means “hello” when made softly and moving toward a person or horse; means he wants a mate when made more intensely and accompanied by shaking of head; a mare will nicker very softly to her foal.

Resting foot – When a horse rests one foot slightly on the hoof tip, it generally means he’s relaxed and comfortable with you and his surroundings.

Scream – while fighting with another horse. Snort – exhaling through the nose with mouth shut and producing a vibrating sound in the nostrils; often with head up; when accompanied by a stare, he is checking for danger.

Squeal – squeals with his mouth shut; usually means “no.”
Hollywood Fantasy - Movies often add horse calls as sound effects in the most unlikely situations. These cinematic horses who neigh and scream on a regular basis are largely fictional. Horses are generally rather silent, though they will whinny if parted from their fellows, or nicker softly in greeting at feeding time.

Blow – exhaling through the nose with mouth shut, when curious, when meeting nose to nose another horse in greeting; if done gently followed by nuzzling, the horses are friendly; if accompanied by a nip at other horse or stomping of front feet, striking out or squealing, horses are enemies.

Breathing – A healthy horse at rest should breathe in a slow, rhythmic manner. Accelerated breathing means he's either in the midst of physical activity or he's becoming anxious.

Ears – Horses will rotate their ears towards whatever their attention is focused on. They can hear high and low pitched noises that humans cannot hear; picking up sounds from further away and long before humans.

Ear position – alert and interested (ears are up and pointed forward); sleepy, tired, unwell or submissive (ears are pointed out to the side, almost v-shaped to head); relaxed, unwell or bored (ears are pointed up and to the side); angry and aggressive (ears are back and pinned flat against the head). Eyes – Fearful horses will generally have wide eyes surrounded by white; a soft, relaxed eye indicates confidence.

Head position – A nervous or excited horse will hold his head high with tense neck muscles.

angry horse
Horses rear, jump, backup, paw, move sideways and diagonally, buck, and frolic. Horses can also be playful, graceful, reluctant, bored, uninterested, uncooperative, afraid, and upset. Many have a very strong flight response to the unknown – for some horses, plastic grocery bags and blue tarpaulins are very scary.

Note also that if you have a group of horses, they have to be allowed to work out the pecking order, as they all have different personalities.

With a frightened horse, the eye will be wide.

Temperament A horse that is happy and trusting will move in a fluid, loose manner. If a horse’s neck, back, or leg muscles are tight and rigid, it generally will indicate a quick reaction or flight.

Sleep - Horses require an average of two and a half hours sleep in a twenty-four hour period. They don’t need an unbroken period of sleep time, but sleep in short intervals of about fifteen minutes. They do need to lie down occasionally for a nap for an hour or two every few days. If not allowed to lie down, they will become sleep deprived in a few days. They sleep better in groups, while others stand guard to watch for predators.

Susan F. Craft is the author of a trilogy of historical romantic suspense novels, The Chamomile (published in 2011), Laurel (published January 2015), and Cassia (to be released in September 2015).


  1. Susan, I love horses and I loved this article! What neat pictures. I am going to share this on Twitter and FB..
    Elva Cobb Martin www.elvamartin.com

  2. Thanks, Elva, I truly enjoyed putting this Guide together. I had the help of some Long Riders -- CuChullaine O'Reilly, founder of the Long Rider's Guild; Doug Preston, NY Times Best Selling author of mystery novels; and Jeremy James, a Welsh author and poet.