The horses in My Dark Prince by Julia Ross

(A lead Historical Romance from Jove for August 2000.  ISBN: 0-515-12883-X)

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My Dark Prince Step Back Painting (33846 bytes)

Step Back Painting


(Not very realistic, alas!)

Dear Reader:  Several readers have asked me about Nicholas's philosophy on horsemanship and my own history with horses. If you're interested, read on!

Part of the idea for this book came to me when I was preparing a workshop entitled THE HORSE IN ROMANCE for the Romance Writers of America National Convention in 1998.  (That was also the year I won a RITA Award, the most prestigious award in romance!)

My workshop was partly about horse facts romance authors need to know (see Horse Facts ), but it was also about why good horsemen make such wonderful heroes. What is it about a man who works well with horses? Of course, a horseman is lean, strong and athletic (always desirable in a hero!), but I also thought about the personal qualities that men must develop and combine in themselves to become great horsemen: confidence with calmness, authority with tolerance, power with sensitivity, self-control with kindness, responsibility with understanding . . . and the answer was obvious!

There's a saying I heard growing up in England that sums it all up:  "The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man."  I was born loving horses. As a child I rode whenever I had the chance, steeped myself in horse stories and pinned my nose to the window whenever someone more fortunate rode by. At Edinburgh University, I was lucky enough to take a horsemanship course, where we learned to ride and care for some retired police horses, the best teachers in the world.  Yet I never had the chance to own a horse of my own until I came to America and was given a "problem" horse who was running loose in an eighty-acre field. "If you can catch him," his owner said, "he's yours!"

Because this horse was terrified, it took several days of casually lounging beside a bucket of grain, but I was determined and at last this grand sooty palomino became mine. He was a ranch-bred gelding with excellent blood and lots of heart, who'd been almost ruined by rough handling. With the gentle approach I'd learned in England, I finally won his confidence. I'm NOT an expert rider, but we had fun impressing folks when I rode him without saddle or bridle in simple maneuvers (in an enclosed space, of course. Nigel takes this to much greater heights in ILLUSION), or he worked free, without halter or lunge line, walking, trotting or cantering in a circle around me in a big open field, obeying just verbal commands. He eventually died in my arms at the age of 27.

He was the first of the horses I've been lucky enough to own, and each horse I've ever ridden has had his own special lesson to teach me. Meanwhile, I soaked up whatever wisdom I could from many generous humans, too: ladies skilled in levels of English riding I would never achieve; a fellow who'd run away to join the Canadian cavalry as a boy; a Dutch dressage rider; old-timers who knew everything there was to know about using horses in the backcountry wilderness of the Rocky Mountains; an English cavalry major, who'd ridden the Queen Mother's horses, captained polo teams and ridden racing camels, among other wondrous adventures; working cowboys and other horse lovers.

Perhaps most important of all, to understand what Nicholas understands, I owe a debt to the outstanding John Lyons, a brilliant horseman and teacher. After letting me watch him work with multiple horses for three days, John then spent many hours explaining his philosophy to me, so I could write some pieces about him for Western Horseman magazine. It was John's approach that enabled me to rescue what had until then seemed like a doomed relationship with a Thoroughbred gelding, who really thought HE ought to be in charge, but became a much happier horse when relieved of that responsibility!

However, let me make it clear that the interpretation in MY DARK PRINCE is mine. John Lyons is best understood from his own books, videos and clinics!!!

Let me also explain that, though I've ridden over some pretty rough trails and gone over a mountain or two in an English saddle, I have never set hoof in a show ring. I'm not much of a natural athlete and all my heroes can ride rings around me!!  Now I'm writing full-time, after 25 years with at least one horse on the place, I no longer have horses of my own. Yet I've tried to learn from cowboys and English riders, mountain men and cavalrymen, and every horse I ever met.

All of that seeps into my books whenever horses are part of the story, but my true hope is that you fall desperately in love with the heroes who result!!

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