On January 31 we’ll say hello to the Year of the Horse. According to travelchinaguide.com, “The spirit of the horse is recognized to be the Chinese people’s ethos – making unremitting efforts to improve themselves. It is energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able.”
Are real horses also energetic and warm-hearted? A few weeks ago I paid a visit to a horse barn where the owner and friend, Sharon, took me on a tour to help me with a research project. There I met Windy, a Haflinger pony, a hardy breed that Sharon uses to pull wagons. Don’t be misled by the word ‘pony.’ Windy is large — fourteen hands, which is about four feet eight inches tall. (14 Hands is also the name of a Washington winery. On this drizzly day, it might have been smarter to do my research there. But I was born in the Year of the Dog. Apparently we’re loyal and stubborn but not particularly bright.)
I was researching a scene in my novel in which the protagonist falls off a horse. My writing coach suggested I build more sensory details into the scene. So my tour started with the manure pile. From there I went to the storage shed and stuck my nose into a bale of hay. That was all the research into the sense of smell I could handle.
Besides the qualities mentioned above, the website says, “People born in the year of the horse have ingenious communicating techniques.” Well, Windy’s fellow Haflinger pony did frequent demonstrations of whinnying, perhaps not ingenious, but still an interesting communication style. Sharon said that because horses are herd animals, they call to their pasture mates. Even though they were in visual range of each other, the other pony beckoned Windy often, kind of like teenagers texting each other every few seconds. That took care of the sense of hearing.
Sight is easy. Windy was a bit wooly, though not yet officially shaggy as her winter coat hadn’t fully grown. But shaggy enough to need brushing, a chore that allowed me to touch her. She had coarse hair with cowlicks around her haunches. Sharon advised me to comb these in the directions their swirls ran. The only sense we didn’t cover was taste — I decided not to join the horses for a hay lunch.
There’s one more bit of research to complete. Even though I’m afraid of horses, I asked if I could ride Windy. She seemed warm-hearted. Her owner was delighted. I’m waiting for a rain-free day to complete this last step. The one element of the scene I’m going to have to rely on my imagination for is the protagonist’s falling down and scarring her forehead. Unless Windy has other plans for me.