Horsing Around: Functions and Colours of the Medieval Horse in the 12th and 13th Centuries [© Elizabeth Chadwick. Author Elizabeth Chadwick has graciously given me permission to re-post her fascinating article about the types of horses bred and used for specific functions, and how their colors were named. Elizabeth is a best-selling British author of historical fiction; please see her website at http://elizabethchadwick.com.]

I was one of those horse-mad little girls.  I spent a lot of my childhood either making up stories in my imagination about horses and ponies, or galloping about pretending to be both the horse and rider at the same time.

I was something of a nerd about their colours and collected books and posters and trawled the library for pictures and information.  I was a seven year old who knew my bay from my chestnut, my blue roan from a strawberry roan, and that white horses were always referred to by equine types as greys!  I spent many happy hours identifying breeds with my Observers Book of Horses and Ponies, on the way discovering that the ancestor of the warhorse more resembled a Welsh cob or a Villanos heavy Andalucian, than a modern Shire, whatever commentator Dorian Williams said about Shires and Clydesdales at the Wembley Horse of the Year Show.

Those childhood obsessions stood me in good stead when I began writing historical fiction set in the Middle Ages, for what was a knight without his destrier and his palfrey? The common soldier without his all purpose rouncy? The merchant without his pack horses? The baron without his chazur for the hunt, and the farmer without his trusty, plodding stott to draw his plough and pull his cart?

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John Richard Young on Collection

[John Richard Young was an influential American horseman through much of the 20th century. He published numerous instructional books that were considered bibles in American equestrian literature and intentionally crossed all disciplines in their scope. Young had a classical approach to equitation and even developed western saddles with a correct classical position as opposed to the “chair seat” of the typical designs. The following excerpt comes from pages 324-325 in his out-of-print book “The Schooling of the Horse”, published by the University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. Image scanned from page 193.]

Head position is a result of collection; not the cause of it. A horse that is truly collected is relaxed and supple from jaw to croup; he must be, for the slightest stiffness anywhere destroys collection–and I don’t mean the full collection of a school horse; I mean any slightest degree of true collection, such as we should expect in a trail horse or a stock horse when the rider demands it.

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Sherry Ackerman, PhD: Dressage in the Fourth Dimension

(© By Kip Mistral. Articles originally published in California Riding Magazine, October 2003 and November 2003, as “Opening to Transformation: Discussions with Dr. Sherry Ackerman, Parts I and II.”)

“I remember one day after several years of study, during which I thought I was progressing quite nicely, my teacher said, ‘Riding dressage is not like playing tennis. You can make your body learn the techniques and make your head learn the movements, but the dressage comes from inside of you. You really need to develop your inner life.’  This was a turning point in my life, a quantum leap in my conscious process. I began to understand that people rode the way they were, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and that was why horses performed differently for different riders. As we open ourselves up to transformation, our riding improves.” (“Dressage in the Fourth Dimension” by Sherry Ackerman, PhD, Second Edition, published by New World Library, Novato, California)

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Beautiful Kranich: Count Anton Günther’s Favorite Oldenburg

(© By Kip Mistral. First Published in Horse Connection, July 2006.)

The driving force for a writer is curiosity. One minute we’re minding our own business, and the next we’re experiencing something like whiplash when our attention is suddenly diverted by something fascinating and mysterious. And then we can’t rest until we explore it, wherever it leads…

I had inspected the wonders of Rosenberg Castle in Copenhagen this summer when that thing happened in the gift shop. I discovered a card reproducing an ancient, crackled painting of an elegantly stylized white horse with a heavy, wavy mane and tail that dragged the ground. “Spanish horse,” I proclaimed to myself, knowingly.

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