Giving characters a fair deal
By Carolyn Henderson
One of my best friends is a horse dealer. From the way some people react, I might just as well have said she was a drug dealer.
It’s too easy to think of dealers – and others in the horse world – in terms of stereotypes. There’s the cruel, unprincipled dealer who files horses’ teeth to make them look younger than they are and gives them mysterious substances to calm them down; the spoilt brat who doesn’t appreciate her expensive pony and gets her comeuppance when her poor but talented neighbour beats her in competition on her bargain buy; the rugged cowboy with a broken heart who is healed by a good woman and a troubled horse.
I could go on, but you’ll have met them all before. As writers, we have to be careful not to be lazy: when I wrote Beside Me, in which Luca, one of my main characters, is the son of a Romany horse dealer, I pinned a piece of paper over my desk on which I’d written NO STEREOTYPES in big letters.
Fair enough, some dealers are awful. Diana Pullein-Thompson created a wonderfully believable one in A Pony For Sale: even her name, Lydia Pike, adds to the shudder factor. Showjumper Lydia and her mentor, the cruel and ignorant Jimmy, nearly ruin Martini, a talented pony.
A single vivid sentence sums up Lydia’s character and attitude: “On a wet May day I plaited her mane, pushed her head into my cheapest and most disreputable halter and sent her to Stringwell Market, where the quarterly Horse Sale was being held.”
A Pony For Sale has a happy ending, because Martini is bought and re-schooled by the sympathetic Lettie Lonsdale (another great name) and you know that they are going to ride off into the sunset together. I admit I find Lettie a bit drippy – the last line of the book is when she says, “And all my life,” I told the sleeping orchard, “I shall paint pictures and improve horses.”
My dealer friend doesn’t paint pictures, but she certainly improves horses. Here's a picture of an unhandled Irish Draught colt she spotted in the rough, taken three days after arrival. A year later, she'd transformed him into a champion show cob.
How’s that for inspiration?