A bit of horse sense

In today’s Footnotes on Friday, I’m recycling a post I wrote for Regina Jeffers. If you didn’t catch it first time round, please enjoy.

My qualifications for writing about horses are ten years as a Riding for the Disabled mum, five as a Pony Club mum, and seven as the reluctant care-taker of one or more obstreporous ponies.

Yet I write Regencies, and in Regency times, gentlemen were as obsessed with their horses as today’s men are with their cars or motorbikes. In fact, in two of my books, including the latest release, the hero breeds horses for sale.

Which meant I had a lot to learn. I knew the smell of wet pony, and the tricks it can get up to when it doesn’t want the bridle and saddle. That was a start. Many blog posts, library books, video clips, websites, and questions to friends later, I still think that one end bites and the other kicks. But I’m slightly more confident about sending my horse-mad heroes out into the wide world.

In The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, Lord Sutton breeds Turkmen horses he and his family have brought from their home in the Kopet Dag mountains. Lord Sutton’s Turkmens, a predecessor of today’s Ahkal Teke, arrived in England well after the heyday of what they then called the orientals, or hot bloods. Finer boned, thinner skinned, faster, and more spirited than the European horses (known as cold bloods), the imports from Turkey, Persia, and middle Asia fascinated the English of the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries.

From the two lines came the warm bloods, direct ancestors of today’s thoroughbreds. Indeed, the thoroughbred stud book was founded in the late eighteenth century (for horses intended for racing) and records all English Thoroughbred breeding even today. A thoroughbred was a horse whose birth and lineage was recorded in the book. Other horses with the same breeding not intended for racing were known simply as ‘bloods’.

If you wanted to sell, or to buy, a horse, you might go to a local horse fair. Or, if you lived in London, you’d drop down to Tattersall’s on Hyde Park Corner. It had been founded in 1766 by a former groom of the Duke of Kingston, and held auctions every Monday and on Thursdays during the Season. Tatersall’s charged a small commission on each sale, but also charged both buyers and sellers for stabling.

Tattersalls was an auction ground, a meeting place for gentlemen, the home of the Jockey club, and the place gentlemen recorded bets on racing and other bets

You could buy horses, carriages, hounds, harnesses — whatever a gentleman (or his lady, but ladies did NOT go to Tattersall’s) needed. And in Regency times, gentlemen visited on other days to place a bet on an upcoming race, or just to meet and chat. The Jockey Club met there, and moved with it to a later London location and then to Newmarket. Tattersall’s is still a leading bloodstock auctioneer, and still in Newmarket.

My hero in A Raging Madness had been a cavalry officer. Britain had no formal studs for breeding war horses. Instead, they bought their horses from civilian breeders. This meant the British cavalry rode horses bred to be hunters, race horses, and carriage horses—usually thoroughbreds or thoroughbred crosses. Each colonel bought the horses for his own regiment. In 1795, the regulations established a budget of thirty pounds for a light mount and forty for a heavy mount. This budget didn’t change for the rest of the war with France, despite wartime shortages.

Here Alex is telling his brother his plan:

“Father says you are planning to breed horses. For the army, Alex? Racing? What’s your plan?”

“Carriage and riding horses, we thought. I know more about training war horses, of course, but to breed them to be torn apart for the sins of men? I don’t have the heart for it. And there’s always a market for a good horse.”

Alex buys his first stallion from another cavalry office, Gil Rutledge, who is hero of The Realm of Silence, my current novel-in-progress (the third novel in

series.

****

More about horses

Geri Walton tells us about work horses, especially the heavy breeds. https://www.geriwalton.com/work-horses-in-the-regency-era/

Regency Redingote explains the origins of the term ‘blood horse’, and the pedigree of the General Stud Book. https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/the-english-blood-horse/

Regency Writing has a useful article on housing horses, and the work of a stable. http://regencywriter-hking.blogspot.co.nz/2013/07/eighteenth-and-nineteenth-century-horse.html

Shannon Donnelly’s Fresh Ink explains the many different uses of the horse in Regency England. https://shannondonnelly.com/2011/07/28/the-regency-horse-world/ This article also describes common carriage types, side saddles and riding habits.

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