No Hero For Me

My friend, the historical author, Julia Ross, once contacted me for my opinion on some horse stuff. She was speaking at a RWA nationals workshop, and she wanted my take on a few things.

Can you say flattered?

She rides classical English; I ride only western.

My expertise comes from a lifetime of riding and coaching horse knowledge bowl teams. Julia is an accomplished horsewoman herself, even taught community college classes on horses. But I digress…

We talked about the differences between English and western riding…colors of horses, styles of riding, etc. But we agreed completely on one thing– all good horsemen have some things in common, whether it be riding in an dressage saddle or an old roping saddle.

One thing she said that I took away from that conversation and carried with me ever since is about heroes in romance novels.

Julia said, “A hero who abused a horse would abuse the heroine, if even off camera.”

I agree.

I hadn’t thought of it until that conversation, but I have never liked a hero (or heroine) who whips, spurs, yanks or jerks on a horse in any way.

Romance authors often use the abuse of a horse (not intentional) to show their characters’ angst. You often see a fuming gallop, a hard yank, a spur to make the horse whirl because the character is upset. While this is good for drama, it turns me off.

A lot.

It makes the book an instant wall-banger for me.

While the author probably has no idea how bad that makes her hero or heroine look, any of the above actions are extremely abusive and leaves me with no sympathy for the character. In fact, I generally detest them from that point on.

It’s funny, authors often use cats and dogs to show their characters’ softer side, and they would no more have their character yank a dog’s leash or kick a cat than spit at the moon, but that same author has no problem jerking, spurring or galloping a horse hard.

Odd when you think about it.

This post was originally published on Ridingwrite May 27, 2011

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54 Comments

  1. Because you have such a passion and love for horses, it’s only natural for you to feel that way if a character does something in a story that isn’t very nice to horses. Thanks for your thoughts on this, it’s an interesting thought.

    • Hi, Nikki. Thanks for coming by. I can’t stand abuse of any animal…period.

  2. That is interesting that some characters take their emotions out on horses. Yeah, I think that might make a lot readers cringe.

  3. Heya, girlie.
    Yep, makes me cringe anyway.

  4. Mama always said you should judge a man by the way he treats service personnel, children, and animals. I like reading about the hero who is one with his horse. I’ve known guys like that, and it makes me go all gooey inside, like he’s a deeper kind of guy somehow. Man I swear I can smell the roses on this website. Sophia Ryan

    • Your mama was right, Sophia. And, yes, the roses are wonderful!

  5. I’m an animal lover so that wouldn’t work for me either. I think you can judge a person by how they treat animals.

    • Absolutely, Jerri.

  6. I’ve never really given much thought to a character treating a horse a certain way, however, I do see your point. I don’t think I’d like to see a man whip his horse, it would turn me off, too. It is endearing to see heroes who are animal lovers, though.

    • Thanks for coming by, Cecelia!

  7. Defininitely a good point. Kind of like with kids–they don’t have to like them, but it’s a must that they treat them well.

    • Absolutely, Liz!

  8. Making your hero likable is a good thing. And mistreating a horse, that’s just cruel.

    • If a hero’s not nice to animals, I’m not interested in reading.

  9. I’ve seen this numerous times in historicals. Never thought about it until now. Real eye opener!

    • Thanks, Shawn.
      I hate mistreating horses out of ignorance.

  10. Yep, yep and yep. I’ve known some rough-and-tumble cowboys but they were all soft when it came to their horses – or kids or women.

    • Exactly, Kristi!

  11. I actually learned something by reading this post. Thanks for writing it and sharing your views. You’re right, I’ll bet most writers don’t take their words into consideration when dealing with an animal, but they will now! Awesome! 🙂

    • You made my day, Sydney!

  12. I can’t even watch a movie – like War Horse – because I’m afraid someone will hurt the hurt the horse – and I know it’s all Hollywood magic but it still upsets me.

    So a hero that hurt a horse – would be a bad thing – but I didn’t know the spurring to whirl around and all that – actually hurt the horse – I’m a city girl who live sin the country. Thanks for teachingme something today.

    • War Horse about tore my guts out. Hated every second of it.

  13. I’ve really never thought about a hero or heroine mistreating his/her horse. But I don’t want either one hurting any animal, so it makes total sense. Good post!

    • I think authors do it out of ignorance sometimes, Lisa.

  14. Being a horse lover myself, it makes me sick when I read these things too. Horses are very sensitive animals and they don’t need this violent behavior for them to do as asked. Horses generally try their hardest to please–it’s in them–they are herd animals, which dogs and cats aren’t. So there is no need ever for this type of crap to happen to horses, but sadly it does. But I tell you this, I for one will not put up with it in books I read.
    One of the best books I’ve read was a time travel. The heroine traveled back in time–the hero was awesome. The relationship he had with his horse was priceless, lol. They were best friends.

    • Agrreed, Brenda!

  15. I’m right there with you on how people (real or written) treat any of their animals.

    • Absolutely, Dianne.

  16. Not having been around horses much, I never knew that spurring a horse would be considered abuse. But you’ve educated me over the years, and I agree that I don’t like heroes who mistreat their horses–it does reflect on how they’d treat others, especially the women in their lives.

    • It’s the angst behind it that I hate, Margie.

  17. Loved that you put this out there! Good rule of thumb.
    (which I hurt badly training my horse in 4-H!!)

    • Hi, Pam! I bled green (was a 4-H leader) for 16 years!

  18. I agree totally. I will say this though (just devil’s advocate here) – I’ve read a few of the “spurring and whirling” type scenes where it was obvious what the writer really meant was “he made a dramatic and agitated exit.” I know what spurs are, and I would never, ever, touch spurs to any horse I rode. However, ‘spurring’ as a verb is frequently used (at least in non-riding circles) as meaning to urge the horse forward. I prefer my heroes to be more controlled – certainly not the type that would take any type of agitation out on his horse. Whip? I can’t ever see one of my heroes whipping a horse or even carrying whip. This type of action is usually reserved for the villain.

    Good educational piece for anyone writing that riding scene, for sure!

    BTW: Any of you who don’t understand why the “spurring” (meaning with actual spurs) is bad – go take a look at a pair of spurs sometime. They are little wheels with sharp metal teeth. How would you like one of those little wheels dug into your sides to get you going? Yanking or sawing on the reins? Most reins are attached to a bit which goes in the horse’s mouth. Again, how would you to have a bar in your mouth that someone yanked on? Abuse!

    • Yes, I don’t like the spurring his horse on at all…it shows ignorance.

  19. I’m with you, D’Ann. Can’t stand to see any animal abused in any way and will stop reading/watching if it happens. No hero of mine will ever mistreat an animal in any way.

    • You’re so nice, Jenn, I can’t see you ever having a character like that.

  20. I hate animal abuse in any way, shape or form. And I agree, if a hero abuses his animal then he’ll abuse the heroine.
    Great post.

    • Yes, Jana. Agreed.

  21. It’s like people who yell at their dogs. Dogs can hear things a quarter mile away, why do you need to yell? God bless you, D’Ann, for educating the public on what many don’t know. We trained our horses to keep their heads down,rather than force it with a tie-down. Spurs are training aids and we’ve never found them necessary – even at the world competition level. Not everyone believes like you and I though.

    • No, a lot of people don’t think like us, Sheri. A shame, too.

  22. I agree. Couldn’t agree more! I grew up riding, training and loving horses. I can think think of a few horses I like more than most people I know. 🙂 I was a barrel racer…a pretty successful one if I do say so myself…and I never even owned a pair of spurs. There’s a lot to be said about working with a horse, not against it–to borrow a famous line from The Man From Snowy River.

    Thank you for a great post.
    All the Best,
    Rionna Morgan

    • Hi, Rionna. I like horses more than most people.

  23. I’m not a horse person, but I do have a dog and cat and you make a great point, hurting any living thing would be a total turn off for me too.

    • Hi, Sharon.
      I have dogs, cats and ducks. I don’t like any form of hurting any animal.

  24. I can’t remember reading a book where the hero or heroine abused a horse. But I wouldn’t like it if I did.

    • Hi, Kary.
      I quit reading when I see that stuff.

  25. Interesting post. I’ve never paid much attention before but now I’ll be on the look out.

    • This stuff happens frequently in historicals, Melissa!

  26. I’d never thought about it, but you’re so right. I do read this in historicals… looking back, I think even a few heroines have done this. I like your cat analogy, it’s right on.

    • Hi, Ines.
      This happens in historicals quite a bit.

  27. We had this conversation last year, D’Ann, when I was working on some scenes with horses in Scandal. And I think a good bit of what gets written is done in ignorance and based on what is seen on TV and in the movies. Glad you pointed the flaws out to me so i could write it right. And I now pick up on it in other novels when a hero spurs his horse. Great post.

    • LOL, Jenna. Chaning the world, one reader and writer at a time. Thanks for coming by.

  28. Thanks for the great post, D’Ann. I’m the same way about watching movies with horses in them, in that I’m afraid they will be hurt or abused, and so I don’t watch them. But yeah, a very big turn off if the hero or heroine would abuse a horse.

  29. You’re a horse lover like me, Valle.


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