On a completely different topic from last weeks trivia, today I’d like to talk about horses.
Why? Because in the Regency period, the horse was still the primary form of transport, either ridden, or used to pull a carriage or cart. Railways were just coming into existence, as were steam ships, and there were quite a few canals across England, but still, around 80 to 85% of transport was achieved with horses.
Now, we have so many different forms of transport, that it is easy to forget that our favourite Regency characters did not have those options.
The fact of the horse being the primary mode of transport has a number of implications for our characters – the first being how long it took to go anywhere – even a fast coach, changing teams of horses regularly, did not cover more than 50 to 80 miles in a day. The second implication, which is the most important for any author telling a story set in the Regency period, has to do with the familiarity of most people, with horses.
The aristocracy could afford the best horses, and everyone of noble birth learned to ride from almost as soon as they could walk, unless they had a significant infirmity which prevented it. People of the merchant class also rode, although less often, but would certainly have a carriage available, or ride in a hackney cab. People of the lower classes were familiar with horses, but often did not ride. In the country they might have a cart, or have plough horses, or work in the stables of a Lord. In the city, they had to deal with streets full of horse drawn vehicles, every day.
What this means, for any author telling a story of the period, is that it is inevitable that horses will feature in your stories – because the nobility used them every day. It is therefore important to know enough about horses, and horse breeds, saddles, harness and riding styles in the period, to describe them as part of the story, correctly. As a person living now, you cannot assume that the way that horses were trained, ridden and driven was the same then, as it is now. Nor can you assume that saddles and harness were the same then, as what you use today. Because they were not – they were, in fact, very different.
I frequently read Regency stories (yes, I love reading about the period as well as writing about it!) where the author gets the ‘horse stuff’ so very wrong, and it frustrates me a lot. I have been a horse person all my life – have ridden, bred and trained horses, so I notice these things. It fascinates me that many authors, who put meticulous effort into researching the clothes, food, words, manners and social structure of the era, do not bother to research something so fundamental to Regency daily life as horses, as used in that period.
Its a kind of cultural blindness – we forget to consider that such a thing might have been different then.
Are there things like this that annoy you too? Are you expert in a topic that authors often misrepresent? If you are, I would love to know about it – about what annoys you, and why. And, especially if its something that you think I have not done well in one or more of my books, I really want to know – I am always ready to learn, so that I can improve my stories. So – if you do know something like that – please do email and tell me!