Reading a book about a barrel racer trying to make it to the National Rodeo Finals was one of the main factors in my decision to write. The author had a likeable, determined heroine, and her hero, well, any sane woman I know wouldn’t mind having him hang around the barn. The problem? The author hadn’t taken the time to research her subject. She knew the craft of writing her book, but she clearly hadn’t spent any time with a professional barrel racer. So, having never written anything before, I thought, “How hard can this be?” I decided I could write a better book.
When you’re done laughing, I’ll continue.
I’m still waiting . . . Okay then.
Three years later, I’m revising that original book. I’ve spent countless hours writing then rewriting as I continue to learn all that I didn’t know. The rodeo and horse training information shows the reader a good view of reality, but I had to learn the writing craft, in particular, romance. It turns out writing is every bit as hard, if not harder, than training a champion barrel racing horse.
For some reason, authors who write about cops, Navy Seals and even time travel put a lot of effort in researching their subjects, but when it comes to cowboys and horses, they just put in any old thing they think sounds good, and that’s too bad. Most good trainers or riders will be more than happy to let you into their world and explain any questions. Barrel racers love to talk about their horses and lifestyle.
As I thought about most of the rodeo books I’ve found, I came up with ten facts many writers miss when including horses in their stories.
1 1.. Know the difference between a halter and a bridle. A halter is for leading a horse, and a bridle is for guiding and control of your horse when riding.
2. 2. Stalls are bedded down with straw or shavings, not hay. Hay is fed in specific amounts according to the horse. The porky ones need less than the nervous ones.
3 3. If your heroine is riding a top-rate barrel horse, don’t have her make fast runs ten times a day to practice. Real reining, rodeo or cutting horses are athletes. To keep them focused, calm and confident, trainers work them slowly and rarely run at full speed except during an event.
4. 4. Learn the terms of the tack used on your horse. A cinch or girth is used to secure a saddle, not a strap.
5. 5. Finished (trained and hauled) horses are comfortable riding long distances in today’s trailers and even sleeping in them. They don’t need to sleep in their own stall at night.
6. 6. Most of the time when horses sleep, they remain standing and only lay down for short periods. Their brains are active when they lay down to protect against predators.
7. 7. Well-trained horses will stand tied to the trailer quietly while the rodeo or horseshow bustles around them, although sheep will sometimes provide a negative response. (I have personal experience with this one.)
8. 8. Unlike in the cowboy movies, real horses don’t whinny at danger. The only times most horses make noise is when their buddy is taken away. They are very herd oriented.
9. 9. Horses aren’t afraid of snakes. They don’t rear and throw their riders off at the sight of a snake in the road. They usually don’t notice them.
10. Rodeoing is one of the most unique and exciting sports in the world, but it is also hard work. It involves all night drives, lack of sleep and taking care of your horse before yourself. You make split-second decisions to help your horse by giving the right cues, all while running at top speed. A winning run at a professional rodeo is under 17 seconds. Winners work hard and treat it as a business.
I hope this has been of some help. I’ve spent most of my life around horses and wouldn’t change that for the world.
Oh, one more thing. When your heroine starts into the arena to make her run at the BIG rodeo, don’t have your hero take the microphone from the announcer and ask, “Will you marry me?”
She won’t stop her horse, get tears in her eyes and say yes, as the crowd stands and cheers. She’ll try to regain her concentration enough to complete her run then she’ll hunt down the hero with murder in her eyes. It kind of ruins the Happily Ever After.
I’m just saying…