Somewhere, an Equestrian Is Crying
"You cannot gallop them for hours. They’ll collapse. The best way to make time in the saddle is to alternate paces, and have a remount or two trailing behind, and allow the animals reasonable rest. Don’t let your steed eat or drink indiscriminately; it’s likely to bloat and become helpless. In fact, it’s a rather fragile creature, requiring close attention—for example, rubdowns after hard exertion—if it isn’t to fall sick and perhaps die on you. It’s also lazy, stupid, and sometimes malicious.
Horses in fiction tend to be impossibly cool
already. They can gallop for miles on end without any sign of fatigue
. And sometimes they require minimum care, or handled in ways that are downright unsafe without any ill effects.
Somewhere, an Equestrian Is Crying
occurs whenever horses in fiction are mishandled, not due to ignorance on the part of a character but rather on the part of the author
. Ask most real life equestrians and they'll tell you horses can be surprisingly fragile creatures that require careful management and training. Without it, bad things happen.
This trope can also extend into fallacies regarding equine biology. For instance, if you ever see a horse gagging in a cartoon, it falls into this trope. Horses in real life cannot vomit, which can lead to deadly bouts of colic should they eat rotten, moldy, or even excessive quantities of food.
Finally, in fiction it seems like anyone presented with a horse will prove capable of riding it
. This despite riding being an athletic discipline that takes years to master. There's a reason riding is an Olympic sport, after all. You wouldn't try figure skating, doing martial arts or driving a car without prior instruction, would you? Of course, this trope is fairly new. Pre-World War I
most people were at least passingly familiar with horses.
Let's try to keep the examples here to fictional ones. While there are definite cases of real life abuse and neglect due to their owners' ignorance, most of these tend to have consequences. (British Napoleonic cavalry, for example, had a tendency to charge recklessly until their horses were 'blown' and unable to move at more than a walk, which made both horse and rider terribly vulnerable to any counter-charge - a tendency Wellington despised.) In fictionland, however, the ill-treatment never produces bad results.
Super trope of Automaton Horses
. See Horsing Around
for when the horses do
protest their treatment, and Invulnerable Horses
for the tendency to avoid showing horses coming to harm.
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- Sengoku Basara is probably not meant to be taken seriously when dealing with horses (or at all, really), as the horses tend to charge down extremely steep cliffs in several scenes, and in one scene horses are shown to fly over castle walls. Moreover, the horses are never shown to react to any situation and are essentially tools for the characters to use to fast travel. Date's crew actually use horses to simulate a motorcycle gang without the motorcycles. This show is also the Trope Namer for My Horse Is a Motorbike.
- The horses in Samurai Champloo seem pretty eager to run over the edge of a cliff to their deaths at their riders' command for a game of chicken.
- Fuunsaiki is Master Asia's horse in Mobile Fighter G Gundam who is trained to use the same incredibly painful Mobile Trace System (a very skin type suit worn paired with a special cockpit that allows the mobile fighter mecha to match the motions of the pilot) that the humans use to pilot a mecha. One wonders what goes through the poor things mind other than "DEAR GOD THIS IS PAINFUL" whenever it's activated. Then again he's Master Asia's horse, so he's probably a badass himself.
- The foal◊ who appears in one episode of Magi - Labyrinth of Magic is just wrong on so many levels. Real life foals are not just shrunk down versions of adult horses, and are actually about 75% leg◊ so they can keep up with the other horses in the herd soon after birth. The adult horse in the same shot also looks off proportion wise, even if you buy that's it's supposed to be a pony (since the Kouga Clan are the Fantasy Counterpart Culture of several Asian Steppe tribes, who used short, hardy ponies as their mounts).
- One of many, many things My Inner Life is notorious for is the author's apparent conviction that you can "boot the horse in the legs to go faster." That would take serious talent to even attempt.
- In pretty much every film to feature horses they are way too vocal. Horses are generally very quiet, only vocalising occasionally either in greeting or to establish the whereabouts of other horses. They do not do it the whole time. Also when a horse whickers their nostrils flutter - any time you hear a horse whicker on a film but you can see their nostrils don't move, somewhere an equestrian sheds a tear.
- Did You Hear About The Morgans? features a scene in which Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker flee from a hitman on horseback. Here's the problem: they had no time to tack the horse up from when they spotted the hitman to when they had to make their escape. Which means the horse was standing in its stall with a saddle, breastplate, and bridle on. The saddle and breastplate being on a stalled horse is plausible, but avoided if possible; the bridle being on is a definite no.
- Something To Talk About co-starred Robert Duvall, who actually knew how to ride, and so insisted on doing his own stunts. The problem here lies with the end competition. Identified as a Grand Prix event, that means the fences he'd be jumping would be approximately 5' high. They actually look about that height when some of the stunt riders are jumping. But it takes considerable training and skill to jump one fence of that height, let alone 8 to 12 of them. So all the fences were obviously lowered to about 2'6" for Duvall's turn.
- The horse in Disney's Mulan falls over cliffs and at one point is saved in midair from a fall by a rope around its middle ...all with no ill effects. In reality, it's very likely that the stunts pulled by the horse would result in broken legs or colic, which are very often fatal for the horse, or worse.
- In Der Schuh des Manitu, Winnetouch's horse Jacqueline has to vomit after walking too fast. This movie being a comedy, this was a play on the the German phrase: "Ich hab' auch schon Pferde kotzen gesehen." ("I've seen horses puke as well.") Since horses cannot vomit, this means: "Very likely." or "I doubt what you're telling me but I'm too polite to say that to you directly."
- Averted in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, where the love interest character teases a cavalry officer about all the time they spend walking and he pedantically explains that they have to do this to keep the horses healthy. Since having a horse was essentially the whole difference between being a foot soldier and a cavalryman it behooved them to keep their horses as healthy and rested as possible.
- Make no mistake, Maximus, the horse from Disney's Tangled is pure distilled awesome, but the sheer amount of times he should have broken every one of his legs in massive jumps and drops defies belief. He also swordfights and does the tracking thing, which was apparently a holdover from an earlier draft in which Maximus was a bloodhound and retained because it was funny.
- Averted in True Grit; when Rooster Cogburn tries to get Mattie to a doctor after she's bitten by a snake, he makes his horse gallop so hard that the horse dies of exhaustion.
- The charge of the Rohirrim at Helm's Deep in The Two Towers is down a slope so steep most people would hesitate to walk down it, let alone have 2,000 horses charge down it in a tightly packed formation.
- Granted: The similar charge led by Erkenbrand in the book happened on foot.
- Equestrians everywhere probably yelled back at the screen "Give him his head!" during Arwen's desperate ride with Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring. When you're being chased by Ringwraiths, you let your horse stretch out his neck and run.
- Same with Hidalgo, especially in the sandstorm scene. The horses in that scene, except for Mortensen's, were clearly being held in. An Arabian horse running at full tilt stretches its neck out in a characteristic way that gave them the name "drinkers of the wind". There were many Truth in Television scenes in that picture too, however.
- A lot of horse handling in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Especially when Spirit first comes to the Army fort and they attempt to break him. The way they tied him down to brand him was inaccurate and hazardous. Also, even in the old West, people were wise enough to not mount a completely wild horse with full tack, in a large, rectangular arena. It's practically suicide. The way Spirit juggled them, most of the riders should have broken bones, if not necks and skulls. Not to mention the first thing an actual regiment would have done to a mount prospect: geld him. The Native American version of breaking him to ride was a lot more like methods of Western-style breaking in use today, although nothing like the way Plains Native Americans trained horses, so the creators clearly had some idea what was correct and probably did it the other way make the soldiers look like jerks or idiots.
- The film of War Horse is just crazy from this point of view- at one point Albert ( the human ) shows Joey ( the horse ) how to pull a plough, by putting the harness over his own head. This is almost exactly unlike the way one trains a horse to harness. Also, the way the film strings together horse behaviours to make the horse more "character-like" specifically by making him behave more like some kind of weird dog, means that to anyone with the slightest knowledge of equestrian behaviour the horse appears actually insane. However the stage play, which the film was inspired by, was beautifully observed and executed.
- Somewhat averted in Gladiator. When Maximus flees Germania and rides as fast as he can back to Spain, he starts with two horses, and in the next scene we see the second one dying under him, with the implication that he was alternating horses, but still working them too hard.
- Averted in Black Beauty, which actually was written because (at the time) Automaton Horses were widely considered Truth in Television. In Black Beauty, any abuse or misuse of horses leads to realistic consequences. Horses being delicate creatures, that's ugly consequences.
- Robert Jordan did at least some research for The Wheel of Time books (especially as the series went on and on and on). Characters are shown to and talk about caring for horses at least to a decent degree. Most is shown from the perspective of Perrin (A blacksmith) perspective, and Mat (son of a horse trader).
- In the first book it's made very clear that the only reason the group can keep riding for so long is that Moraine is using her powers to help. It's also a plot point that she doesn't need to use them on one.
- Of particular note is a scene in Chapter 20 of Book 12. Vanin, a scout, has just let Mat know that they are about twenty days away from Caemlyn. A group of Aes Sedai wishes to strike out on their own, assuming their small group can reach the city quicker than Mat's thousands strong Band of the Red Hand.
Vanin: Well, if I were on my own and I didn't care if my horses died, I could make it in seven days.
Aes Sedai: Then it is settled, you will provide us with our horses and we will set out immediately.
Mat: That means you'll need remounts as well. A total of 24 horses.
Aes Sedai: Of course.
Mat: And what will they eat? There's nothing growing in the mountains to feed that many animals.
Aes Sedai: Obviously you will provide us with supplies for them, as well as food for us.
Mat: Which means you'll need a wagon to carry all that. Unless you want to put them on pack animals.
Aes Sedai: Yes ... a wagon will do.
Mat: Are you going to tend to them as well? Rub them down, groom them, check their hooves for stones?
Aes Sedai: Well, no. You will need to provide us with groomsman.
Mat: Which means more horses and more supplies. Vanin, how long would it take for a group that size to make it to Caemlyn?
Vanin: My guess? About twenty days.
- Averted throughout The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce. Daine is careful to care for her horse, alternate paces, and feeds it carefully. The Tortall Universe in general averts it, too, but Daine's affinity for animals results in a lot of detail.
- Averted in Ranger's Apprentice. They alternate horses, rest them after longer runs, and carefully intersperse galloping with slower paces.
- In the Western Rattler by Barry Andrew Chambers his horse is generally treated like a dog that you put a saddle on. This initially looks like a simple case of All Animals Are Dogs but veers off into into potential animal abuse when the horse is fed chocolate. Chocolate, depending on the amount and percent of the cocoa in the mix, can be extremely toxic to horses. He also feeds, or allows others to feed, his horse pancakes, a blueberry pie, and beef jerky at various points. No one finds anything wrong with this. Additionally, when offered the chance to stable his horse and have it properly groomed and fed, he declines and ties it up outside still saddled for at least a day, possibly longer.
- Averted and lampshaded in C. S. Lewis' The Horse and His Boy, in which the talking horse himself insists that "galloping for a night and a day" is nonsense and they will have to alternately walk and trot.
- Averted and lampshaded half to death in The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, in a long and detailed description of Kvothe selecting, buying, and pacing a horse through a sudden long journey. (Everything is explained in a tone of "you probably don't know this, but" which is fine for the modern reader, but in-story, Kvothe is recording his life history in a world where horses are the only option for fast travel. This would come across as "you probably don't know this, but a car needs an oil change every 3 months or so.")
- Similarly averted in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar novels, where the horselike Companions can indeed run for a night and a day — which proves that they are magical creatures and merely horselike. In one instance an experienced horseman Herald rides a mare and notes all the ways she differs from his Companion, including balking at close paths and grazing at every possible opportunity.
- In the second Last Herald-Mage book she even comes out and says when the Companions have to run all night the Heralds are keeping them going by magic.
- In the Christian fairy tales The Princess and the Three Knights by Karen Kingsbury and The Squire and the Scroll by Jennie Bishop, horses are treated like medieval versions of motorcycles.
- In Graceling, main character Katsa, on a fairly routine basis, rides horses flat out at night because its 'only' five or six more hours/leagues until they get to their destination. One of the other characters even asks her if she's "still ruining the horses."
- Probably the most blatant example is in Eragon. Paolini seems to be under the impression that horses can gallop for hundreds of leagues for days on end on nothing but a few crops of desert grass and sips of dirty water. This is especially inexcusable since Paolini is a Montanan and should know better.
- Averted in A Song of Ice and Fire: People do a lot of riding horses hard to get to their destination. Their horses do a lot of dying. A lot like everyone else in the series.
- Justified and lampshaded in The Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf's impossibly Cool Horse Shadowfax is able to gallop for miles upon miles because he is just that awesome. He is said to be the last of a breed of especially badass horses with divine ancestry (he is roughly to other horses what elves are to humans), and a groom comments with amazement when Shadowfax arrives in Minas Tirith that he looks like he's spoiling for a race rather than just coming from a long journey. Bottom line, Tolkien knew his stuff, and was acknowledging that no ordinary horse could do this.
- Pony Tales in general usually avert this by a large margin, and often run into the opposite direction — the stories do sometimes contain outright expo material about whatever topic is tangentially remote to the scene — from equine nutrition to riding technique.
- Low budget translations of Pony Tales into Finnish have a certain set of expectable translation mess-ups; one of the most common ones is when a horse is tacked up for riding — and the word used is translated into "harnessed". Which means tacking a horse for driving.
- Averted in the Green Rider novels. In the third book Karigan chews out a recruit for pushing his horse too hard.
- Discussed in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland; horses are treated like bicycles and Diana Wynne Jones concludes that they breed by pollination.
- Averted in three series by David Eddings, The Belgariad, Mallorean, and The Elenium. The good guys are frequently slowed down by their need to rest or take care of their horses, stopping for the night involves taking care of the horses, and when the party needs to use a cart or wagon, their pace of travel slows even further. The characters who don't take care of their horse are 1) all bad guys and 2) noted for frequently killing the horses.
- In The Firebringer Trilogy the main characters are unicorns. The ordinary horses are pretty impressed by what they can pull off.
Live Action Television
- One episode of Royal Pains focused on the horse show circuit in the Hamptons. While this is a prominent competition, some of the details of life on the circuit were fudged. One of the side characters in the episode is a trainer with a string of ten or so horses. He incorrectly identified a branded warmblood as a thoroughbred in one scene. Half of what he and his daughter said about training horses was gibberish, and neither seemed to have a clear idea on what it took to get to the Olympics.
- On 2 Broke Girls Max and Caroline keep Caroline's horse for months in the backyard of their rundown house in New York City. The horse does not get much exercise outside of the occasional walk and it's a wonder they can afford to feed it. They finally find a proper stable for the horse when winter comes. The incompetence of the characters can be justified but the horse should have been in much worse shape, sick or even dead.
- An episode of McCloud took Sam to an unnamed Arab country in search of kidnapped women. He helps them escape by providing camels. A camel is notoriously much more difficult to ride than a horse, but the women just mount up and ride off.
- HARPG (Horse Art RPG) tends to have an unspoken standard of "family friendly" breeding: groups either explicitly encourage (or even demand) that breeding horse characters is carried out with the stallion and mare "getting to know each other" in "a natural setting", i.e. at liberty — or this just happens to be the overwhelming majority of how breeding takes place. This means that instead of closely human-controlled situations, breedings consist of rubbing noses on flower-speckled pastures. The horses might appreciate this, but the horse owners would realistically be pretty damn likely to be shedding tears of blood from their eyes and wallets: horses (especially mares in oestrus and stallions near those mares) can be stupid, finicky and difficult, even violently so. Many valuable stallions have been lost to bone fractures from a skittish mare's kick, and the list of all the other ways natural horse breeding can cost money, effort, health, or time is just impressive.
- The Last of Us: During the Winter chapter, Ellie is twice seen leaving their horse fully saddled, and even uses the reins to tie it to a tree, something you're never supposed to do (you leave the horse in danger of hurting its mouth).
- Red Dead Redemption, while probably not meant to be taken seriously, features Automaton Horses, and a horse-breaking mini-game that's laughably dangerous to anyone actually familiar with backing horses for the first time. For one thing, you'd never attempt it on a newly lassoed feral horse in the middle of the freaking wilderness.
- The minigame could actually be considered another case of Deliberate Values Dissonance rather than inaccuracy; lassoing a wild horse (yes, in the middle of the freaking wilderness), jumping on, and then just riding it out was in fact a method of horse-breaking used in the old west. They used a lot of methods now considered impractical, cruel, and/or dangerous to man and beast.
- The game also likes to use a lot of breed names for its horses, not all of which make sense. While the Hungarian Half-Bred and the Dutch Warmblood are real breeds, it's unlikely they would have been running around the frontier.
- You also leave your horses fully-tacked up at hitching posts around the game world. Not a good thing to try in real life, as it's asking for a horse to colic, tie up, or develop some pretty bad fungus. Assuming nobody steals your saddle, which was typically one of the most valuable things the average cowboy would own.
- Mount & Blade gives you horses with infinite stamina and lets you control them perfectly in combat even if they're just 'average' horses and not highly trained warhorses. They're immortal too; if yours gets impaled on a lance by a charging knight it'll get better for the next battle. For what it's worth, if yours collapses during battle, there's a chance it'll become crippled and therefore useless for fighting.
- Epona, Link's horse in Ocarina of Time, is similarly invincible (as are you when riding) and while she has a stamina system, it runs on carrots... She also won't object if you shoot her in the head with arrows (she does whinny at you, though).
- In the Elder Scrolls games the player could ride horses over vast territories with no resting (of course, the PC also never needs to rest, or eat—both activities give temporary bonuses rather than, y'know, staving off death). Tamriel's horses are also a lot less fragile than real life horses, being able to survive (and not be lamed by) big falls...and fight off bears (and in the fifth one, dragons).
- In Fire Emblem horses never seem to get injured by attacks that seemingly hit them instead. Even worse when, due to the fact that they face the opponent head on, any attack the enemy lands hits the horse's head. Good thing the damage somehow is magically dealt to the rider, though in some games the horses seem to die when the rider dies too.
- In Star Stable, you have your usual Automaton Horses who can gallop for as long as you ask and who merely become unhappy when you forget to feed and water them. While those could be excused as Acceptable Breaks from Reality, your horse will also rear on his hind legs if you ask him to stop quickly; any horse who routinely did this would be deemed unsafe to ride and sent for immediate retraining, not leased out to the noob for a summer of fun.
- In one podcast that was supposed to be an interactive exploration of Middle-earth, the narrator’s horse he is supposedly riding trips in the snow and breaks a leg. The narrator casually says, “Aww, poor horse,” and then continues on, completely unheeding of the fact that this means the “poor horse” is in agony—in fact, in reality it would probably be unable to stand up again—and will probably have no choice left to it but a slow and excruciating death. (That's why they shoot horses that break their legs.)
- Although not horses, the Deer King and his men one episode of Hero 108 grunt, neigh and whinny JUST LIKE HORSES, even though they sound more like this.