I'm currently working on a book that centers on a young woman who's a competent rider, and knows far more about horses than I do. At some point I realized the gap between my knowledge and hers was too far for me to accurately represent her, and her mount. I'd been following Judith Tarr's "SFF Equines" blog on the TOR website (check it out for some further insights into various horses in fiction, and a host of other interesting articles and pieces of short fiction) but frankly was tired of cross referencing the various posts to find the pertinent information. Then, finally tired of being a cheapskate, I just bought her book. I am very glad I did.
Tarr makes it clear that this book is far from a point by point analysis of the horse and how to write them, it's more like a primer on the fundamentals of horses, their behaviors, and the kind of insights a lifetime of being a horseperson provide. It is clearly for the person like myself, who has perhaps had a few pleasant experiences with a horse, and maybe some basic ideas of their care, and thus knows just enough to completely mess it all up when they try to write about them in fiction. Basically, if what you know about horses consists of the so called common knowledge (I.E that horses are large animals people ride around on in ye olden times, who eat hay and neigh all the time, but otherwise are pretty simple creatures) then this book is for you. It will disabuse you of the common perspective and illustrate a few simple ways to make your book ring true on the subject of horses.
Tarr writes in a conversational, but informative voice, making for an easy read. She is never condescending, knowing that most who read her book are ignorant of horses, and that this is the norm for most readers as well. She often pleads guilty to the fact that she is a member of a community that has it's own insular language, customs, and mythology, and she invites readers into the world of horsepeople with a friendly, no nonsense attitude. She seems consistently amazed at the relationship between human and horse, and at how influential the two creatures can be on each other. I found her enthusiasm for the subject infectious. The insights she provides are enlightening (Did you know horses cannot vomit? That just sounds like a strange factoid until you learn that if something causes them indigestion it could kill them. Did you know that horses run too long can literally wear away their feet? Or that the Mare is most often who directs the herd, while the Stallion is more like a watchman/champion? Did you know the flanks of the horse are basically located so close to the rear of the horse, you'd have to be sitting backwards and in a very awkward position to get your knee anywhere near them?) and useful to the prospective writer who wants to include horses in their fiction, while sounding like they have some actual idea about the animals.
There are some minor issues with the book. For one there is no print copy available. For many this is a non issue, but I prefer a reference book in my hand rather than as yet another thing on my busy screen. The book does not cover some of the subjects that might be more common in horse related fiction, such as combat and military training/use of the horse, or at least not in great detail. But I can't fault her too much for that, as the book doesn't purport to be a limitless resource on equine writing, and it includes many references to further reading on more specific subjects. Unfortunately this leads to another issue with the book, it is full of links to articles, and blogs, and papers which go into greater detail than the book, but since its original publication most of them are dead. This was somewhat frustrating. Perhaps an updated edition, or a sequel, could rectify these issues.
All of that said, I still say that this is well worth the price, and if you plan on writing fiction featuring horses, but don't know much about them, it is a must buy. It will give you more than enough information on how to add another layer of reality to your fiction, and how to make the horses in your story go from props, to full bodied characters.