Friday, April 19, 2013

The Proper Ladies Mount

I truly enjoyed the guest posts from Shannon Donnelly last week, especially because the proposal I’m writing involves a baron who raises horses.  My heroine is easily one of the most typical aristocratic females I’ve ever written.  She’d be the nineteenth century equivalent of Barbie if she hadn’t decided to throw off some of the shackles her parents have put upon her and discover what she’s made of.  But given that her father would have picked a horse for her, I was interested to see what sort of creature he might have chosen.  What exactly was considered a ladies mount in the early nineteenth century?

Thank the Lord for The Young Lady’s Equestrian Manual. It’s a very handy little book, published in 1838 and lovingly recreated in e-book form complete with the original illustrations.  It tells a young lady the history of riding, the proper terms to use for one’s horse (“A horse is never spoken of as being so many hands tall, but so many hands high.”), what to wear when riding, and how to ride.  It also describes the type of horse to look for.

The writer acknowledges that finding the perfect lady’s horse isn’t easy.  It seems a proper lady’s mount should be
  • Superlatively elegant in form
  • Exquisitely fine in coat
  • Unexceptionably beautiful in color
  • Of a height to compliment its rider
  • Graceful and completely safe in every pace
  • “Light as a feather” in the hand
  • Bold in the extreme yet superlatively docile
  • Free of vice and excellent in temper
  • Gentle, but not dull
  • Rarely requiring the use of the whip but submitting temperately to it when needed.
Such a paragon!  But the requirements don’t stop there.  Here’s the description of what to look for in the animal:

“The head should be small, neat, ‘well-set’ on the neck, and gracefully ‘carried.’ The nostrils should be wide; the eyes large, rather protruding, dark, yet brilliant; the ears erect, and delicately tapering towards their tips. The expression of the countenance should be lively, animated, noble, and most highly intelligent; the neck rather arched and muscular; the ridge of the shoulders narrow and elevated; the chest full and fleshy; the back broad; the body, round or barrel-like; the space between the hips and tail, long, and very gradually depressed towards the latter organ, which, it is essential, should be based high on the croup. The fore and hind limbs should be distant, the one pair from the other; the “arms” muscular; the knees broad, the hocks (laterally) wide; the legs flat and sinewy; the pasterns rather long; and the hoofs large, and nearly round.”

Got all that?  In addition, ladies are advised to look for a smooth, brilliantly polished coat and the proper manes and tails. 
“The mane, if too long and thick, will interfere with that delicate management of the reins so desirable to a lady on horseback; and the tail, if of immoderate length, will, by the animal’s whisking it towards his sides, prove inconvenient to the fair rider, at all times; but, especially so, in dirty weather. Neither of these appendages, however, on the other hand, should be ungracefully brief or scanty.”

And as for color, the writer insists that the best color is bright bay with mane, tail, and lower parts of the legs black.  A few specks of white is fine, but too much is undesirable.  A chestnut comes second, with no white on the legs.  Gray is tolerable, particularly a silver gray with black mane and tail.  Brown and black are deemed too dull.  And roan, sorrel, dun, piebald, mouse, and cream are “to be eschewed.”

It seems to me the choosing of a horse is as much a character statement as a fashion statement!


Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

I loved this post. I really didn't apreciate how many details went into selecting a lady's horse.

Regina Scott said...

Me either, Ella! In my limited experience, I knew you tried not to get one that had a sway back or a mean temperment, but the rest of this? All I can say is bring on Superhorse!