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Judith Tarr

Understanding Horses: Calculated (and Uncalculated) Risk

A few years ago, the horse community suffered a fairly strong shock. What had been viewed as a nuisance case in Connecticut was judged, not just once but again on appeal, against the horse owner and in favor of the plaintiff who wanted horses declared “inherently vicious.”

The facts of the case are complicated, and the ruling did not actually condemn all horses. The upshot of it all was that horses, if provoked, will bite (or kick or do other things that may damage a human), and held the horse owner responsible for what happens. There’s still strong feeling on both sides about this, and as a horse owner myself, I hope and pray that someone doesn’t wander into my horse turnout when I’m not there to stop them, and get kicked or stepped on (my lot are not biters as a rule).

[Ride At Own Risk]

Of Animal Bondage: Andre Norton’s Iron Cage

Iron Cage is one of the darker Norton novels. It’s set in a universe that consists exclusively of people who treat other sentient beings as things to be used and abused, experimented on and thrown away, and the victims of these abusers. The purpose is explicitly didactic: prologue and epilogue tell the story of a pregnant mother cat locked in a cage and literally thrown away even while she has her kittens.

Within the frame, we’re told the story of Rutee, a human woman kept in a cage on an alien starship. She and her husband were colonists on a newly discovered world, and were captured and taken offworld to serve as mind-controlled slaves.

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Writing and Understanding Horses: The Fine Art of Horse Arranging

Horse owners and barn managers have one frequent preoccupation that tends not to occur to the casual observer. Not just how do we make the maximum efficient use of available space, but how do we fit the available horses into that space?

It’s not as simple as “big horse in big stall, small horse in small stall, line up in order of age/training/feeding regimen etc.” Horses are herd animals, but they’re also individuals. And individuals have distinct opinions about where they belong, and with whom. Hence, the fine art of horse arranging.

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Piracy in the Caribbean: Andre Norton’s Scarface

Scarface: Story of a Boy Pirate is one of Andre Norton’s earliest works, published in 1948—right before she began her long career in science fiction and fantasy. It’s a classic boy’s adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean style. The title character is a teenaged boy raised by a pirate captain; an old injury has left him with a badly scarred face, and the only name he remembers is this brutal descriptive term.

He lives with it without complaint and with surprisingly little emotional damage. His core is solid. He has a strong moral compass in spite of his upbringing.

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The Taming of Felaróf, Father of Horses in The Lord of the Rings

It’s reader question time at SFF Equine, and commenter srEDIT has a good one:

We read in Book Three and Appendix A [of The Lord of the Rings] about the “father of horses,” Felaróf, who was captured as a foal by Léod, Eorl’s father. This is the horse who later sired the race of Mearas horses raised by the Rohirrim.

My question(s): Tolkien tells us of Felaróf that “no man could tame him.” But he also says Léod is established as a successful “tamer of wild horses.” How long would Léod likely have waited before attempting to mount this stallion? That is, how young a horse (who presumably began his life as a colt in the wild) might be ready to be mounted? How old are “real” horses before an experienced tamer might try to mount and ride an “untamable” stallion? We’re told that Léod actually rode for some (unmeasured) distance before Felaróf threw him. What might this distance be? Assuming the best of intentions by both human and animal characters, was this a case of irresistible force meets immovable object?

In your own mind, what sort of circumstances surrounding the taming of Felaróf had you imagined?

First of all, a bit of a disclaimer. I’m a LOTR/Silmarillion geek but not a Tolkien scholar. I haven’t delved deep into the lore and I have not read most of the exhumations and continuations published over the years. What I am is a longtime horse person, a rider and a onetime breeder. That’s the framing of the question, and that’s how I’ll answer.

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Living the Arizona Dream in Andre Norton’s Ten Mile Treasure

First of all, apologies for not giving my usual heads-up at the end of the last Norton Reread post. It’s been a uniquely distracted few weeks on all levels, from the personal on up.

In any case, I felt I needed something light, something bright and simple and escapist, and Ten Mile Treasure seemed like just the thing. It’s a middle-grade book as we call such books now, published in 1981, and it’s set more or less in my backyard. The setup is classic: Four kids move with their parents to an old ranch. They deal with a family crisis. They find hidden treasure. They face off against a bad man and his nasty daughter. They solve a century-old mystery, and save the day.

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Writing Horses: Setting the Magic

Horses are very much a part of the space they live in. They’re meant to spend their lives within the structure of a herd: a complex social organization with a constantly evolving but ultimately consistent set of rules and hierarchies. Lead mare in charge, lesser mares and youngsters moving up and down beneath, stallion and any subsidiary males guarding the perimeters and fending off predators.

The territory they inhabit is likewise as consistent as terrain, predators, and natural phenomena allow. In a domesticated situation, that means they can become barnbound or stall-bound. They stick to the familiar surroundings and strongly resist change in or removal from those surroundings.

When I write about horses, one thing I try to do is see the world the way a horse would see it. This has the interesting effect of expanding my perception of the world I’m writing in. It teaches me to see not only the horses but the setting as characters in the story.

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Delivering the Goods in Andre Norton’s Stand and Deliver

This is the best thing I could have read during one of the most fraught weeks in quite a few people’s lifetimes. It’s deft, it’s fast-paced, it’s unabashedly escapist. Above all, it’s fun. I stayed up unconscionably late reading it, and I regret nothing.

Stand and Deliver was published in 1984, but it harks back to the early years of her career. It’s a sequel to Yankee Privateer (1955) and bears more than a passing resemblance to her first published novel, The Prince Commands (1934). The fifty years between her first novel and this one saw many, many, many works in multiple genres, but somehow, she managed to recapture the lively energy of her Ruritanian romance. Even more so than the prequel, and with thirty years more of writing practice.

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Understanding and Writing Horses: A Horse Is Freedom

Over the years that I’ve done this article series, I’ve talked a lot about horses as the Other—the alien intelligence that complements the human so well. Without the horse, the trajectory of human history, notably in Europe and Asia, would be totally different. The horse allowed a much wider spread of cultures, much faster—not to mention what chariotry and then cavalry did to the development of warfare.

Now that machines have supplanted the horse as transport and war machine, the horse is still one of our premier companion animals, though the size of the animal and the expense of keeping him present major and sometimes overwhelming logistical problems. This certainly does not prevent a certain type of human from sacrificing a great deal in order to keep horses—and it’s most interesting that this type of human, in our Western culture, is usually female.

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Andre Norton Takes to the High Seas in Yankee Privateer

The more Andre Norton I read and reread, the more convinced I am that her real forte, and her real talent, lay in boys’ adventure. She tried all sorts of genres, and from the Sixties onward she developed a clearly feminist sensibility. My favorite works of hers have strong female protagonists and relatively complicated emotional arcs.

And yet, she seems most at ease in worlds with little or no sexual tension, and nothing to distract from the headlong pace of the action. Usually it’s a man’s world, with women’s voices heard seldom if at all. Women exist to die offstage (especially if they’re the protagonist’s mother) or to act as servants or to play the role of witch or Wisewoman. The relationships that matter are between men.

Yankee Privateer, published in 1955, is a relatively rare excursion into straight historical fiction.

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Understanding and Writing Horses: Training and Instinct

If you run a search on “horse training,” a lot of what will come up will have to do with overcoming the horse’s natural instincts. There’s also quite a bit about dominating him, and being the dominant herd member. But is this really what works, or what is actually happening in the mind of this alien species?

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Andre Norton Gives Romantic Suspense a Whirl in Snow Shadow

I’ve been a fan of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels for a long time. There’s just something about the plucky heroine with the complicated romantic past, thrown into Adventures that turn out to be connected with those same complications. Preferably in an interesting setting and with suitably scary stakes. And, of course, a murder or two.

Snow Shadow is Andre Norton’s entry in the genre. It was first published in 1979, and it’s very late Sixties/early to mid Seventies. The attitudes, the eccentricities, the fashions—that awful plaid coat which plays such an important role in the plot. The elderly lady who affects the clothes and morals of the year she was born (with furious broadside against the horrors of Victorian decor—Norton did so, so hate it). The drug ring, the forgery ring, the spy, the stone-cold killer. It’s solidly grounded in the genre.

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Writing Horses: The Eternal Mystery of the Lame Horse

A horse is an accident waiting to happen.

Put a large flight animal in a domesticated setting, surround him with walls and fences, ask him to suppress millions of years of evolution and instinct in order to cope with his surroundings, and you are going to run into trouble. Sooner or later. Guaranteed.

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Spinning Through Genres in Andre Norton’s Wheel of Stars

To give her full credit (and she surely deserved it), Andre Norton seldom wrote a book that seemed as if she had phoned it in. She played on similar themes, settings, characters, plots, but she made them seem fresh. She managed her tropes with great skill, and kept the pages turning with tireless energy.

Once in a great while however, she missed her usual mark. Wheel of Stars, for me, was a slog to get through. It never quite committed to a particular genre, for one thing. At first blush it seems to be headed toward a classic cursed-village plot, but then it swerves off into a confused melange of time travel (or possibly parallel worlds), Atlantis or Mu or some other undefined sunken world, reincarnation, mind powers and clairvoyance, astrology, and ancient wars between good and evil. And finally, as if that’s not enough, it throws in a cave full of bodies in cold sleep. Topped off by the fastest romance that I’ve seen in the Norton canon.

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Writing Horses: Why Bother to Get It Right?

Long years of living on the internet can make a body wise, but it can also make them weary and just a little bit cynical. Inevitably when certain topics come up, certain responses are as predictable as a stallion when the mares are in heat.

(What? You thought stallions were unpredictable? They aren’t, at all. What they are is reactive, and when mares come into the mix, they control those reactions with great and often wicked finesse.)

So last time I aired a peeve about language and metaphor, and as surely as a mare’s lifted tail sends her studlyboi into a fit of dancing and prancing, amid the lively and fruitful discussions, someone had to do it. They had to say it. The thing. The one someone always says.

When writing about anything, let alone horses, why bother to get it right?

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