Horses and Victims

Glory #2Lacy cowered in the closet, her arms wrapped tight around her legs and listened to the footsteps coming closer and closer. The door swung open and she tried to scream but she couldn’t make a sound as the knife descended.

We’ve all read and seen variations on this scene, a victim, usually a woman or child, too frightened to do anything to help themselves. You’ve probably felt that way a time or two in less dire situations. I know I have. Interestingly, people aren’t the only beings that react this way. Horses and other animals often do too.

Today I’m going to finish my series on horse personalities and how they connect with writing novels. Since it’s been a while, I’ll do a short recap. Horses can be generally classified as four personality types. The extrovert-thinker compares to the typical alpha hero—confident, outgoing and brave. The extrovert-reactor is similar to the smart-ass heroines—emotional, reacting before thinking and taking chances. The introvert-thinker is more like a stalker villain—quiet, careful and determined.

The fourth type is the introvert-reactor—horses who are easily overwhelmed by their emotions. My horse Glory is a typical example. An extremely sensitive Thoroughbred, intended for racing, she was apparently handled inappropriately for her personality and was too timid to fight back. Instead, she shut down and stopped reacting to anything at all. She was very well-trained and my instructor had recommended I get her as a school master for learning dressage. (For learning an intricate skill such as dressage it’s best to have a horse that already knows what to do and can teach you to do it right.)

She seemed very sweet and obviously knew her stuff, so I decided to take a chance on her. And she ended up teaching me much more than I ever expected. It soon became apparent that she was very different from any horse I had handled before. Not only was she so sensitive that she hated being brushed, she was unexpectedly uptight, but expressed it in an unusual way. While most horses act out in some way if they’re upset, she shut down and turned it inside. During one of our first rides, we weren’t communicating well and suddenly she got a nose-bleed. When this happened again in different situations, I realized this was a stress reaction.

The thing that I found oddest was how afraid she was of making a mistake. I was used to horses trying to do what I asked and if it wasn’t quite right, we’d just do it again. Not Glory. If she thought she’d made a mistake, she’d either get a nose-bleed or stop and start shaking, obviously expecting to be punished. This fear carried over to the trail. Another horse could spook big time at something unexpected and she wouldn’t move a muscle. It was eerie.

I almost gave up on her the first year, she wasn’t much fun. But gradually she started being less uptight and we began to communicate better. It took a lot of years for her to really trust that she’d found a safe place and it was okay to express opinions on things. Now she will boss around the other two horses and she doesn’t worry about miscues. Now she really is MY horse and I am her person.

I’m so glad that girls and young women are being taught to stand up for themselves nowadays. We’ll always need helpless victims for our stories, but hopefully they’ll be less common in real life.

Have you encountered a situation where you froze and were unable to react? Do you use helpless victims in your stories?

Categories: Books, dressage, horse personalities, Horses, suspense, Trail riding, training horses, writing, writing characters | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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19 thoughts on “Horses and Victims

  1. What a lovely story, Kate. It made me realize that I haven’t read any of your books. I must go see what’s up.

  2. This was a very interesting post, Kate!

  3. I think we forget that horses are one of the most intelligent animals in the world. With intellect comes emotions. Poor Glory–I’m glad she found a home with you.

    I used to be shy, and would freeze up under any given situation. Now I can pretty much stand my ground against anything that’s thrown at me.

    The protagonist in my book is a very strong character. Yes, she is attacked and taken away, and yes she is helpless, but she finds her help in a Higher Power, is rescued from her present predicament, but then is thrown into several other situations. She does have to rely on the power she is given to face all perils.

  4. I can identify with being shy and freezing under pressure too. It does take a while to learn to handle things.

    Your protagonist sounds interesting and admirable. We all want to be strong, but can’t always quite achieve that goal. Best of luck with your book.

  5. This is an interesting post. I like how you talk about the different horses. I’m thinking I have one of each personality. LOL I’ve never froze and been unable to react. I don’t think I’ve had a victim in any book like that either. I’ve always been a person of action and tend to write characters the same.

    • Hi Paty, I think it’s helpful to have an understanding of how different horses react so you can tailer your actions to get the best results. The introvert/extrovert, thinker/reactor method is one of the most useful I’ve found.

      That’s great that you’re a take charge person. Makes your characters interesting.

  6. Greta

    Good post! Interesting to think of horses–definitely prey animals–having such a range of personalities.

    Do you think there is more or less variation in a wild species like zebras or a domesticated species like horses? It would make sense (sociobiologically) to see more variation in a domestic species.

    One thing that strikes me as remarkable: racing greyhounds with virtually no history of people interaction (a life spent in kennels and crates) seem to make excellent pets as soon as they’re rescued from the track. What accounts for that, I wonder?

    Poor Glory … I feel for whatever she was put through before she found you. Good thing she’s found the right home now.

    • Hi Greta. Yes, I’m sure there is much more variation with man-made species than in the wild. Most Thoroughbreds, like Glory, would never survive without humans. They were bred to run fast and many other considerations, like good feet and sensible personalities, have been ignored in the process.

      I’ve no experience with greyhounds, but since dogs are pack animals, they are “automatically” social. I suspect that if they have a chance to play with litter mates and/or other dogs, they learn how to interact and crave a “pack.” If they’ve been isolated in a crate that longing would be even stronger. Does that square with your experience?

    • Greyhounds are pack animals but they’re also bred not to think independently, especially the successful track dogs. An independent thinker is going to figure out where the “rabbit” goes pretty much right away. They’re also handled a lot in training and during racing. Even if they’re in kennels and crates, they’re brought out for exercise, grooming, and training

  7. marsharwest

    Interesting post, Kate. I know little of horses, but was quite amazed that you were almost using a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator analysis. Pretty cool. And more than cool is that you resuced Glory.
    I have little patience for anyone who hurts or mistreats an animal, and fear I’d be locked up if I did what I’d like to some of the people who’ve mistreated dogs in my area recently. It’s beyond imaginagtion and then we have Connecticutt. So very sad how inhumanly some of us can behave to others.
    Patricia, you must read Wyoming Escape. It’s a super book.

    • The odd thing is that I don’t think Glory was “abused.” She simply wasn’t listened to. What other horses accept routinely sent her up the walls and a tap with a whip that my husband’s horse wouldn’t even notice was devastating to her. Once she felt “heard” she could start to relax–though it did take a long time.

      Thanks for the nice recommendation of my book.

  8. horses are a mass of nerve endings, all over their bodies. And when they are super sensitive like Glory, life can be so difficult. I’ve had dogs like this, and they can take a long time to train. Once the learn to connect with the world, they’re amazing. Actually my last horse was like this, it took a lot of slow work (and Tellington Ttouch) to get him to respond

    • Ttouch is great stuff. I know a lot of people who’ve had good results with it. I used a type of energy work to connect with Glory. I don’t believe she would have come as far without it. She has become a sweet love and we are really bonded. At 28 she no longer does third level work, but she was incredibly talented.

  9. I have a mule in my first novel and horses in subsequent ones. They are always the extrovert thinker, like my horse, but I may have to change that up. Anyhow, I freeze when I can’t mentally psych myself up to a physical challenge. Got on a double black diamond hill when I was a mediocre skier. Took off the skis and started walking down the hill. My two legged hero, my husband, actually put me on the back of his skiis and skied us both down! I may have to use that in a future story. Funny horse story. Just lately, Lance, my equine friend has started testing me. Siddles out when I go to mount. So I have gently slapped his butt and he moves back into the correct position immediately. I have barely ever spoken negatively to him (he is an older gentleman) so it appears to be enough. We are now on two misbehaves and two corrective slaps. Do I have a slight masochist? Or does he just like his butt slapped? We will see tomorrow…

    • It doesn’t sound like your froze as much as did the logical thing. An inexperienced skier on a black diamond is asking for trouble. Neat that your DH could help you down.

      Your Lance sounds like my husband’s horse Koko. She’s an introvert-thinker and loves to tease and play small tricks on him. She used to do the sidling away thing too until he convinced her he didn’t think it was funny. He really loved it when she very carefully untied his shoe, pulled the shoestring out and just stood there looking very pleased with herself. You may have a jokester too.

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