Toby Bishop is the author of the Horsemistress Saga, a fun and exciting series about the flying horses of Oc.  Find out more about the first two books, Airs Beneath the Moon and Airs and Graces, on her web site.  One of the things I love about her books is that she gets that special connection that girls and women have with horses. She also firmly establishes a world in which flying horses have certain training requirements and needs, and puts it all together with a kickass plot, great characters, including the horses of course, and a weirdly sympathetic villain (well, I thought he was sympathetic anyway).

 Toby and I have been having conversations on several topics and thought it would be fun to share them with you. But we also want you to join in the fun. We’re posting the conversations on both our blogs, and you can comment here or at her place, or both!

So let’s get started.

Everyone always goes on about “girls and horses,” blah blah blah. I had another writer tell me seriously about how it was all psychosexual transference and stuff (she didn’t like horses). But I think there’s a more important question: What about boys and horses? That is, why aren’t there more horse crazy boys out there?

Toby Bishop:
A lot of work has been done in this area, trying to puzzle out the connection between adolescent girls and horses. The “psychosexual” stuff has pretty much been discounted by every psychological study I could find. In preparing to write The Horsemistress Saga, I read everything I could find on the bond between women and horses (beware of Googling this topic! Lots of porn sites come up!) My own conclusion, after all the reading, and knowing many girls who love horses and riding and all that goes with it, is that girls are attracted to the beauty and the power of their horses. When a woman sits on a horse, she is tall, she is lovely, she is strong, and she is mobile.

We shouldn’t forget, either, the very nature of horses. These big, beautiful creatures are essentially sensitive, easily frightened, and responsive to human beings who understand them. It would be hard not to love horses if you get to know them. And adolescent girls–with all the confusion and turmoil of that age–are drawn, I think, to these affectionate animals who don’t care if you have pimples or a small bust or whatever else a girl might be worried about.

Patrice Sarath: I remember being seven years old and falling flat out in love with horses. When kids are seven, they are so little, so it’s kind of comical looking back, at how there’s this attraction to a creature so big. So here you are with this big animal and you can control it. Plus, they are soft, they smell good, and they respond to you. So I think the power of horses and the power you have over a horse is very attractive.

But the power comes with a twist. In order to achieve power and control over horses, you have to give it up too. Like you say, horses are sensitive, easily frightened, and can hurt you. We think of achieving power as making another creature submit to you, but with horses, it’s a partnership.

I think that in western cultures we don’t teach our boys enough about partnership, but it’s more acceptable for girls. So it’s more difficult for boys nowadays to find that they can have a partnership with an animal, be it horse or dog, that doesn’t involve domination. Which is a shame. I look at my son and think he’d be great as a horseman, but he’s been socialized against it. Well, and he’s thirteen, so it’s a hard age anyway to step outside cultural expectations.

Toby Bishop: My father was the first horse lover in our family. I loved watching him work with his horses, not against them. And they adored him!

Dad’s favorite horse was an enormous sorrel stallion named Red Feather, a real gentle giant. All of us kids treated him like a pet, and he responded by being careful where he put his feet whenever we were around. My mother found my younger brother, at about four, playing underneath this lovely horse’s feet one day, out in the pasture. I mean, right underneath!

My father had not grown up with horses, and so, when he started to acquire them, he found a book to teach him what to do. That book was always lying around in the house, and I suppose Dad was lucky it was such a good one, with an approach that even the gentle horse trainers of today could admire.

For The Horsemistress Saga I studied the videos of a “natural horse trainer” which led to the development of the relationships between the winged horses of the story and the women and girls who fly them. I went to a show where a horse trainer showed his horses “at liberty”–with no tack of any kind–and that was helpful, too. And I shudder at the old western movies (and some recent, ridiculous films) in which they wrench their horses’ heads this way and that, and gallop everywhere. But maybe that’s another discussion!

Patrice Sarath: Your father was a true “gentle” man. I love that story about Red Feather — what a great name, by the way. Perhaps one of your flying horses could wear it in his honor?


Toby Bishop · June 26, 2008 at 9:11 am

I forgot to respond to your sympathy for my villain, Duke William! I think it’s so important for villains to have dimensions in the same way that our other protagonists do. I always keep the thought, while creating villains, that they never think of themselves as bad–they think they have good reasons for their actions, even if others find those reasons insane. And of course, we can all sympathize with someone craving to fly a winged horse! Who doesn’t?

Patrice Sarath · June 26, 2008 at 4:11 pm

Exactly! I like to think that my bad guys in Gordath Wood and in my other stories are pretty well-rounded. In fact, I have as much affection for them as I do for the rest of my characters. Villains liven things up!

Shaun Farrell · June 27, 2008 at 11:08 am

I have been an animal lover as long as I can remember. I was never around horses as a child, but my connection was with dogs, and it was very similar to the partnership relationship Patrice mentioned. Those dogs were my friends, not creatures of subjugation.

But I also liked to read books and write poetry, so perhaps I wasn’t the typical boy.

Patrice Sarath · June 29, 2008 at 4:54 pm

Hey Shaun!
I think that with most people who love animals, they do see them as companions. Especially with dogs, since dogs have evolved to respond to humans in a well, maybe not symbiotic way exactly, but in a very intertwined fashion. We were just talking about this at Apollocon in fact — point at something and dog a will look where you are pointing. This requires a shared understanding and worldview.

Just like with girls and horses, people and dogs is another incredibly fascinating connection.

Toby Bishop · July 1, 2008 at 11:13 am

Some of my readers have been sharing photographs of their wonderful horses. You can see them here: The riders are pretty cool, too!

Patrice Sarath · July 1, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Oooh, very pretty! I should dig out a picture of Cochise and put him up too. He was something else.

Toby Bishop · July 3, 2008 at 10:22 am

I’ve finally remembered the name of an outstanding book about the relationships between women and horses. It’s by a woman named Pierson, and it’s called DARK HORSES AND BLACK BEAUTIES. Not about young girls so much, but about women who continue to ride and love horses into their maturity.

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