Tuesday 12 May 2015

A Salon Guest: The Thunder of Hoof Beats

Two of my favourite things are horses and writing, so to host a guest post on how the two can be combined is a pleasure! Please welcome Julia Justiss and her tale of how her hero taught her more about horses.


All comments on the post will be entered into a giveaway on 21st May, with the winner revealed on 22nd May 2015. The first name drawn out of my ushanka will win a free copy of Julia's book, The Rake to Reveal Her!

Congratulations to giveaway winner, Helen Hollick!



One of the delights of writing Regency romance is the ability to channel the history geek that, I believe, lurks in the heart of all Regency writers.  Most of us amass libraries of reference works, to be poured over in pursuit of some arcane tidbit necessary to finish a scene where we’ve stopped cold, because we don’t know what barley looks like growing in the field through which our hero must ride, or even what crop grows in the part of England he’s riding through.

Alas, it’s back to the books or the internet, until we can envision the scene, and thus describe it.

For my May release, THE RAKE TO REVEAL HER, I knew my hero, who’d lost an eye and an arm at Waterloo, had to be prevented by those injuries from continuing to practice the occupation to which he’d intended to devote his life.  Consulting other experts about the matter led to the happy fact that the loss of peripheral vision caused by having only one eye (thank you, fellow writer and horse expert Shannon Donnelly) would mean it would be foolhardy for him to continue jumping.  Thus, his previous occupation had been training and breeding hunters and steeplechasers. 

In a way nearly impossible for us to imagine, early nineteenth-century England was the Age of the Horse.  To the traditional duties of transport (people, carriages, goods) and work (plowing, forestry, and hauling,) the wealth of the landed classes and the growing wealth of the Industrial Revolution’s new merchantile class saw the increasing focus on the horse as leisure activity, in racing, hunting and steeplechasing.

Racing was and is primarily the stronghold of the thoroughbred.  Though technically the term can refer to any pure-bred horse, it is traditionally associated with horses bred from three original stallions imported from the Middle East, the Byerley Turk (1680s), the Darley Arabian (1704), and the Godolphin Arabian (1729).

Not nearly as fussy about the mothers of their racehorses, the breeders crossed the imported stock with native English mares.  The desire to track and crossbreed efficiently (and later, exclude from races any horse whose heritage didn’t measure up) led to the creation of the General Stud Book in 1791, in which horses tracing their lineage to listed sires would be registered.

Charles I and Queen Anne were both keen enthusiasts of racing and racehorse breeding, giving a royal and aristocratic support to the sport that exists to this day (once, at Goodwood Races, I had the thrill of watching one of Queen Elizabeth II’s horses race; sadly, it didn’t win!)  So, although dabbling in trade or performing in the arts as a professional was forbidden to anyone who called himself a gentleman, a member of the Regency ton could actively participate in breeding.

Many of the most famous race meets had already been established by the Regency: the St. Leger Stakes in 1776; the Epsom Oaks in 1779; the Epsom Derby in 1780; the 2,000 Guineas Stakes in 1809 and the 1,000 Guineas Stakes in 1814. Early 18th century races had been longer, up to 4 miles, and run in heats, whereas by the Regency, a single dash of 1 to 1 ¾ miles was preferred, a style that favored younger, faster horses.

This also coincided with the rapidly-increasing popularity of fox hunting, a sport not nearly as old as racing.  Up until the end of the 18th century, hunting had been confined to hares and deer, the fox being considered mere vermin (it wasn’t good for eating) to be killed when possible (an Elizabethan law required churchwardens of each parish to pay a bounty for the heads of dead foxes.)  But by the Regency, wild deer were a rarity, and haring, and the harriers bred for it, not a very exciting sport.  Hares depended on trickery to escape a pursuer, running in circles or doubling back, whereas the fox depended almost entirely on speed.  Since the harriers were bred to have a superior nose, to track the wily hare through its shenanigans, but without much concern for speed, they couldn’t outrun the fox.

Such foxhunting as was done depended on hunting early in the morning, when the foxes were returning, exhausted it was hoped, from their nocturnal rounds, and thus were slow enough for the hounds to catch.  But in 1753, a wealthy 18-year-old country gentleman named Hugo Meynell rented Quorn Hall near the village of that name, and began breeding foxhounds that were fast enough to keep up with the most energetic fox.

The speedy hounds, and the open grassland in Leicestershire which made the chase faster and exciting, allowed for hunting later in the day; the later start and faster speeds also made the sport attractive to fashionable young men who couldn’t be bothered to rise early to watch slow dogs chase rabbits.  As the fame of Meynell’s pack at the Quorn spread, and in the 1780’s and 90’s, the Duke of Rutland’s Belvoir hounds and Sir William Lowther’s Cottesmore Hounds earned equal fame for good sport, hunting gentlemen looked for a location where they might hunt all three packs—turning the conveniently-located hamlet of Melton Mowbry into the mecca of fox hunting, and minting “Meltonian” as a descriptor of a young, fashionable, hell-bent-for-leather rider.

The enclosure movement that advances in agriculture had pushed forward (enclosed fields could be drained, cleared, planted with a seed-till, and made more productive) added the final fillip of thrill to the experience:  fences.  Though Meynell and the earlier adherents were more interested in the performance of the hounds, preferring to go around or through obstacles rather than jump--riding to hunt, the young men who flocked after him unquestionable hunted to ride.  Such men were also likely to enjoy the ancient sport of cross-country or the new one of steeplechasing, first practiced in Ireland, but brought over to England on prepared courses at Newmarket in 1794 and Bedford in 1810.

Like Hugo Meynell, one of the first to use thoroughbreds as hunters, avid racers like my hero Dominick Ransleigh bred their horses for speed and endurance. So, what was he to do when he could no longer ride such a horse?

It took me much of the writing of Dom’s book to figure that out. Eventually, he (yes, the characters do talk to us) and the evolving story, which saw him becoming interested in agriculture on the family estate in Suffolk to which he’d returned, initially looking only for solitude, led him to an interest in breeding draft horses (or draught horses, if you’re speaking British English.)  Pulling a plow through heavy clay soils requires a strong horse, with a docile temperament and a taste for hard work.

With artistic license, I placed my hero in the middle of the development of such a breed, which began in the late 18th century from a crossbreeding of a native “Suffolk Sorrel,” a stallion foaled near Woodbridge in 1768 and owned by Thomas Crisp of Ulford.  “Crisp’s horse” was typical of the breed, short, compact with bony legs, gentle, tractable, and strong with well-muscled shoulders.  One of the breeds intermixed with it was the Norfolk Trotter, which added strength and what the breed now calls “energy at the trot.”  

Norfolk Trotter
Norfolk Trotter

The results of this crossbreeding became known as the Suffolk Punch.  Always chesnut in color, though it can range from dark to red to light, is it shorter but more massive than other heavy draught breeds like the Clydesdale (originally an Irish horse) or the Shire.  Maturing early, long-lived and requiring less feed than horses of similar type and size, the Suffolk Punch is still used today, famed as hard and willing workers for forestry work, pulling brewery wagons (one of its earliest and most enduring tasks) and in advertising. 

Suffolk Punch
Suffolk Punch
Bits about Hugo Meynell, hunting, steeplechasing and breeding are tucked (unobtrusively, one hopes) into the story of Dom Ransleigh and Theo Branwell, the lady who captivates him in THE RAKE TO REVEAL HER.  In the process of writing it, I was able to indulge my history geekness by further exploring the background of one of our most enduring Regency characters—the horse.  I hope you, gentle reader, will enjoy the story, too! 

With thanks to:

Shannon Donnelly (www.shannondonnelly.com)
E. W. Bovill, ENGLISH COUNTRY LIFE 1780-1830 (London: Oxford University Press) 1962
David C. Itzkowitz, PECULIAR PRIVILEGE: A SOCIAL HISTORY OF ENGLISH FOXHUNTING 1753-1885 (Suffolk: The Havester Press LTD) 1977  

For more information about Julia and her books, visit her website, www.juliajustiss.com, follow her on Twitter @juliajustiss or come chat on Facebook, www.facebook/juliajustiss

You can buy Julia's books at http://www.juliajustiss.com/bookshelf/



His ears still ringing from the impact of the fall, Dominic Fitzallen Ransleigh levered himself to a sitting position in the muddy Suffolk lane.  Air hissed in and out of his gritted teeth as he waited for the red wave of pain obscuring his vision to subside.  Which it did, just in time for him to see that black devil, Diablo, trot around the corner and out of sight.

Headed back to barn, probably, Dom thought.  If horses could laugh, surely the bad-tempered varlet was laughing at him.

It was his own fault, always choosing the most difficult and high-spirited colts to train as hunters.  Horses with the speed and heart to gallop across country, jumping with ease any obstacle in their paths, but needing two strong hands on the reins to control their headstrong, temperamental natures. 

He looked down at his one remaining hand, still trembling from the strain of that wild ride.  Flexing the wrist, he judged it sore but not broken.  After years of tending himself from various injuries suffered during his service with the 16th Dragoons, a gingerly bending of the arm informed him no bones broken there, either.

His left shoulder still throbbed, but at least he hadn't fallen on the stump of his right arm.  Had he done that, he'd probably still be unconscious from the agony.

Resigning himself to sit in the mud until his muzzy head cleared, Dom gazed down the lane after the fleeing horse.  Though the doctors had warned him, he’d resisted accepting what he’d just proved:  he'd not be able to control Diablo, or any of the other horses in his stable full of hunters just like the stallion, with a single good hand.

Sighing, Dom struggled to his feet.  He might as well face the inevitable.  As he'd never be able to ride Diablo or the others again, there was no sense hanging on to them.  The bitter taste of defeat in his mouth, he told himself he would look into selling them off at Tattersall's while the horses were still in prime form and able to fetch a good price.  Sell the four-horse carriages, too, since with one hand, he couldn't handle more than a pair.

Thereby severing one more link between the man he'd been before Waterloo, and now.  

Jilting a fiancĂ©, leaving the army, and now this.  Nothing like changing his world completely in the space of a week.

Could he give it all up? he wondered as he set off down the lane.  Following in his hunting-mad father's footsteps had been his goal since he'd joined his first chase, schooling hunters a talent he worked to perfect as his cousin Max had aspired to a career assisting his father in Parliament, his cousin Alastair had trained to run his extensive agricultural holdings.  Before the army and between Oxford terms, he'd spent all his time studying horses, looking for that perfect combination of bone, stamina and spirit that made a good hunter.  Buying them, training them, then hunting and steeplechasing with the like-minded friends who called themselves "Dom's Daredevils."

Stripped of that occupation, the future stretched before him as a frightening void.
Though he’d never previously had a taste for solitude, within days of his return, he’d felt compelled to leave London.  The prospect of visiting his clubs, attending a ball, mixing with the old crowd at Tatt's, inspecting the horses before a sale—all the activities in which he’d once delighted---now repelled him.  Sending away even his cousin Will, who’d rescued him from the battlefield and tended him for months, he’d retreated to Bildenstone—the family estate he’d not seen in years, and hadn’t even been sure was still habitable.

He’d sent Elizabeth away, too.  A wave of grief and remorse swept through him as her lovely face surfaced in his mind.  How could he have asked her to wait for him to recover, when the man he was now no longer fit into the world of hunts and balls they’d meant to share?

Ruthlessly he extinguished her image, everything about her and the hopes they once cherished too painful to contemplate.  Best to concentrate on taking the next small step down the road ahead, small steps being all he could manage toward a future cloaked in a shifting mist of uncertainty.

Fighting the despair threatening to suck him down, he reminded himself again why he'd left friends, fiancĂ©, and all that was be familiar.  

To find himself...whatever was left to find.

Written content of this post copyright © Julia Justiss, 2015.


PdxIrishGirl said...

Lovely excerpt. I know I will enjoy reading
this book and learning more about horses.
(I am such a city girl!) Thank you for the

Anonymous said...

Great Article...tweeted...
Marilyn ewatvess@yahoo.com

Carol Hedges said...

Oooh lovely! I'm a mid-Victorian...and we had horses also, though being slightly superceded by omnibuses and trains. I so agree about the amount of research. Isn't it fun? I'd hate to write modern fiction. Right now, I have the Victorian London contents of 4 libraries piled up by my bed. The research s the most enjoyable pre-writing part! (and during writing part..and a bit post wriiiting just t make sure..)

Helen Hollick said...

Iy always makes me laugh when I come across "the Shire ws bred to carry the weight of men wearing armour" and "knights had to be winched onto their big horses" Thank goodness we've moved on from that nonsense! Sadly the Suffolk Punch and Cleveland Bay are now almost endangered species :(

Regencyresearcher said...

I do hate this comment program it destroyed my previous comment.
I am not well versed in horses but find them interesting. I hadn't heard of the Suffolk Punch before. The hero's injuries and the adjustments he makes sound realistic
Why is it that men think a loss of a limb or some other injury make them less than a man?
The book dos sound appealing.

Unknown said...

A very interesting post, Julia. After reading the excerpt, I would love to win a copy of your book.

Glenda said...

Thanks for the horse breeding lesson. I had no idea that Thoroughbreds were decended from 3 specific stallions! I'd love to win a copy - either way it is on my wish list.

Linda said...

A definite plus to writing historical romance is all the amazing things one learns doing research! Much more enjoyable than studying history in school

Julia Justiss said...

You are welcome! I hope you will enjoy Dom and Theo's book, and good luck!

Julia Justiss said...

Thanks for tweeting, Marilyn!

Julia Justiss said...

Yes, the research is such fun! I find I have to keep a running "Find Out" file open while I write and keep pushing forward unless I absolutely must have an answer right now, looking up the info later and going back to insert it. Otherwise, the lure of all that fascinating information sucks me in and my time for writing expires and I haven't written anything! Good luck with your Victorian work!

Julia Justiss said...

It's so sad that they are almost endangered. Although breeding race horses is hideously expensive, there's always the lure of hitting a big purse to pay for it. There aren't similarly lucrative prizes for draught horses. Hopefully, enthusiasts will keep the breeds going.

Julia Justiss said...

Interestingly, Nancy, there wasn't quite the stigma against men with lost limbs that we think of today--maybe because there was so little they could do to prevent or repair injuries. Certainly Ponsonby went on with his career after his lost leg at Waterloo. But he was of high rank; I imagine it was much harder for a farmer or craftsman who did physical labor. And there's still the "psychological" thing of not being whole any longer, which I suspect hasn't changed much over time. Glad the book sounds appealing!

Julia Justiss said...

Thanks, Carol, and good luck!

Julia Justiss said...

It's amazing to think the bloodlines are based on so few. I don't follow the sport closely, but one of dh's cousins (a real iconoclast) dabbles in racing and I love to hear his stories. The careers of the Secretariat-descended horses are especially interested. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck!

Julia Justiss said...

I have to admit I was a history geek in school too (minored in US history at college) but the freedom to follow whatever factual path that's captured your interest at the moment, rather than what the course dictates, is a blessing!

Julia Ergane said...

Yes, I would love to win a copy of your book. Personally, I do love those big, draught horses. I can see in my mind's eye a team of Punches all decked out in ribbons towing a lovely open carriage which is in no hurry.

Julia Justiss said...

What a lovely image! One of my favorite commercials on this side of the pond are the ones Budweiser Brewery does with the Clydesdales. There's one that shows a colt who wants to grow up to be a Clydesdale, another of a puppy who'd like to be part of the team. I'm a sucker for animals, esp dogs and horses! Good luck, Julia (and good name )

Heather King Author said...

As both a horsewoman and Regency author, I am always interested in what other authors write about horses in their novels, since sadly so many get it wrong and that throws me right out of a story. I found an odd snippet of information I didn't know and I enjoyed your excerpt. Good job!

Unknown said...

My love for horses came when my baby sister collected dolls that were not Barbies but, horses of all kinds and I wanted to share that love with her...Research is another thing I enjoy, my degree I received from college came because my husband needed help, so I enrolled in most of his courses...w
While he studied psychology, I studied cultural anthropology.... Julia, I wait impatiently to read your story and Madame Gilflurt, I am grateful for this opportunity... Ladies, a lovely article.

Julia Justiss said...

Thanks, Heather! I do try to get it right, and although I love horses, I never had the opportunity to learn to ride. Even consulting the experts, one can make mistakes, but I know what you mean about an error pulling you right out of the story. Glad I didn't flub up (at least in the excerpt!)

Julia Justiss said...

How fun that your sis collected horses instead of Barbies! I know you must have been a great help to you husband in college, and what a nice benefit that you managed to get your degree, too. I hope you will enjoy Dom and Theo's story!

Unknown said...

Beautiful excerpt !!! I love horses, when I was little, I had a few friends that own beautiful horses, and I always ride them !!! <3

Unknown said...

I love watching these big horses plough. You don't see them doing it to often. Thanks for the reminder and good luck with the book.

Eileen said...

I dropped by following a link from my friend Carol Cork. I always enjoy what she shares. I, too, enjoy historical romance because the authors do such a good job in researching the time. They want the setting to be a authentic as possible. As a reader, I truly appreciate this. Julia Justiss, I haven't read anything of yours yet, but will make amends. Thanks for sharing your book and excerpt with us.

Laurie said...

As a lifelong horsewoman, I appreciate when an author does her research or shares her knowledge and the horse world is realistic in a book. The Suffolk Punch is a lovely breed of horse and is considered one of the endangered horse breeds. One of my favorite horses, but I am a city girl, not a farm girl. :) Thanks for sharing!

Julia Justiss said...

When my mom was growing up, she sometimes spent time on her uncle's farm, and he boarded polo ponies in the summer. She said it was awful riding them because they are trained to change direction or stop instantly, and she would go over the horse's head every time she signaled him to stop! Hope your childhood riding experiences were more peaceful!

Julia Justiss said...

They are so beautful when they are working. I guess it's like Mozart; in his day, he was merely an employee, and in their day, the horses were just workers. Now we admire him and them for their artistry. Thanks for stopping by!

Julia Justiss said...

Thanks! Most historical writers do work very hard to try to get the facts right. I hope you'll enjoy my books!

Julia Justiss said...

As a child, I always told my mom I would have horses when I grew up. I haven't managed it yet--but maybe someday! I hope the enthusiasts will keep the break going--they are so beautiful. My hero would approve the efforts!

Anonymous said...

Great article, thank you. I adore Suffolk Punches :)

Julia Justiss said...

You're welcome. Do you actually live around/work with a Suffolk Punch? Lucky you!

Catherine Curzon said...

So do I, they're a favourite!

Liz Kales - I Love Books and Writers said...

This blog is so timely for me. My WIP is about a young baronet who acquires an Arabian horse from Bavaria and is interesting in breeding it. I will certainly enjoy your book. Can hardly wait to read it.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you for visiting!

Catherine Curzon said...

Helen, you have won the giveaway - congratulations; I shall pass on you rename to Julia to arrange your prize!