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18 September 2009 @ 11:54 am
"But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen."  
I'm reading A Darkness Forged in Fire by Chris Evans, a pretty good Fantasy btw, and it's already fallen for the classic horse riding mistake. I'm sorry, I know I go on about this all the time - we all have our pet peeves and this one just gets more and more infuriating. Most people couldn't care less, but it totally spoils the realism for me. I wouldn't have noticed before I learnt to ride myself, but since I do know how to ride...

Getting it right is definitely the exception rather than the norm. It's a silly cycle, wherein an author's knowledge of how to ride a horse seems to comes from reading other fantasy books, which they assume is describing it correctly. Thing is, even if you're writing a Fantasy novel, you should still research things. Setting it in another world doesn't suddenly change things like how to ride a horse, because the horses haven't changed and neither has human physiology. If they can't even ride a horse properly (especially those characters described as being skilled), I lose trust in the probability of other things.

So let's straighten this out: you do not ride a horse with your knees. It's not even possible.

Let's look at Harry. He has perfect form:

See his knees? See the saddle? See how thick it is? How on earth can you squeeze a horse with your knees? You can squeeze the saddle - it's instinct to grip with your knees, but I'll tell you from personal experience, you will strip the skin off the insides of your knees and they will bleed bleed bleed and the horse won't even notice.

That's right. The horse can't feel it.

Let's try another.

Great close-up shot. The saddle protudes where the knees are; it's designed to keep the knees away from the horse's body, while it's the CALF that grips the side of the horse through a much thinner piece of leather. Heels down, you use your heels by light kicks to get the horse to start moving, while you use your calves to direct the horse. It's all very subtle. Your knees do absolutely nothing. That's right, nothing.

One last image:

Just to reiterate: you can see that their knees aren't touching the horse. Even if you were to ride bare-back, you should always use your calves, never your knees, to control the horse. You spread your knees and try to keep a bit of air between them and the saddle, providing balance, that's all. Look at Harry's picture again. The knees are slightly turned out, pointing outwards. It's physically impossible to do much with them, and it wouldn't help any if you tried. The horse isn't sensitive, high up there. It's sensitive where your heels are, and your calves. It takes practice, but you send messages to the horse through the subtle pressing and squeezing of your calves, not your thighs or knees.

If the authors can't get it right, their editors should know better.

While we're on the subject, I just have to include a mention to that classic ballad, The Man From Snowy River, where the title of this post comes from - Clancy of the Overflow would wince in sympathy I'm sure.
Devilwritesdevilwrites on September 18th, 2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
Well done! :)
Calico Reactioncalico_reaction on September 19th, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC)
That was me under my other name, btw. Sorry! I forgot to switch over!
giraffedays on September 20th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
No worries - I was curious and visited and then figured it out!! I knew you had another LJ but I never knew what - ha, found you now! (I'm always forgetting - or too lazy - to switch myself!)
Calico Reactioncalico_reaction on September 20th, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)
Hee hee! Explains why I don't recognize this name too! :)
(Anonymous) on September 18th, 2009 05:36 pm (UTC)
Ever checked out Ranger's Apprentice?
I consider myself qualified to say that the archery and swordsmanship descriptions and training methods were spot on (even if the results were a bit super-human), but now I'll need to go and check the horse-back riding before recommending it as 'perfect' again.....
Shannonaurillia on September 18th, 2009 07:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Ever checked out Ranger's Apprentice?
No I haven't sorry, I was in Japan when it came out back home and I didn't know about it. I'll have to check it out.

I love archery in Fantasy :)
Krystle Yanagihara - A Reviewer of Booksneed_tea on September 18th, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
Great post! I love horses and I notice this a lot too. Not to mention there's the whole one shot and they're a perfect rider. Totally does not happen unless you're like homg amazing.
Shannonaurillia on September 18th, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
I'm glad it's not just me squirming in my seat! I've read a few though where they struggle for days if not weeks to even keep their seat - like in Jaran, and in this particular book the main character is terrible with horses!
khixankhixan on September 19th, 2009 06:23 am (UTC)
lol - great post! I never had a clue about that! Thanks :)
giraffedays on September 20th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
My mum recently pointed out another one - think of the women who used to ride side saddle; imagine them trying to ride with their knees!! Even more impossible!