I have owned horses most of my life, and ridden competitively, so when I read a translation of Xenophon’s fourth century BC treatise, Peri Hippikes (On Horsemanship), I should not have been surprised that much of the equine advice is relevant today. Why wouldn’t the ancient Greeks, who gave us the foundations of philosophy, mathematics and astronomy, also give us the heads-up on how to choose, train and ride a warhorse? While our horses no longer go to war, the love of the animal continues even though its uses have changed. Now, they carry us to victory as athletes on the racetrack and in the show ring, or just for pleasure, and the principles still apply.
Peri Hippikes led me to travel through centuries, then millennia of equestrian evolution following a multitude of tangents. However, as fascinated and absorbed as I am by the research, children generally consider history tiresome unless something piques their interest and I use this notion throughout the Opal Dreaming series. The area of interest being, of course, horses. I have seen how children who love horses, whether they ride or not, absorb a lot of specific and peripheral knowledge. I know I did. I recall one piece of random information from my early riding days was that the intricate and elegant dressage movements I aspired to originate from the training of horses to fight in battle.
The Opal Dreaming series essentially traces the significant periods in equestrian development from 3000BC to today. Melding history and fiction is a popular genre and I wanted more than to just tell a story set in another era. I wanted to include some of the skills I had acquired over the years so I focus, in detail, on the equine and riding practices applicable to the period in which each book is set. These practices and techniques then become progressively more complex throughout the series, as they did throughout history, building to the advanced levels of contemporary competition.
I also wanted to highlight the concept that many things are not as new as we would like to believe. A touch of fantasy never goes astray and the Australian opal, renowned for being mysterious, is the vehicle that moves Erin, a young teen who hates history but loves horses and is the voice of today, through dreamtime to view the past. Erin’s actions often reflect those of the historic characters in her dream. This creates the link whereby readers may recognise and compare the similarities of not just the horse related aspects but also of daily life from the past with that of the present, and there are many.
Back in the real world, for example, I recently spoke to a girl about her first horse as she enthused about the principles of modern “natural horsemanship.” I agreed with her while explaining, to her amazement, how the current methods she was learning had their origins when ancient tribes observed the behaviour of herds in the wild in order to domesticate them. It was something that had not occurred to her.
When Erin wakes from her dream, she recalls these connections and realises maybe history is not so bad after all and I hope readers will do the same thing.
However, one of the hardest things I find with the research is weeding out the superfluous information, probably because the subject is of such interest to me. I always want to add just one more important snippet from all those engrossing facts I had accumulated and try to weave them seamlessly into the story. And sometimes, my enthusiasm takes over and discipline fails me. It is like editing your own work; you love that brilliant paragraph you wrote, but…
The first book in the Opal Dreaming series, The Bronze Horses, takes Erin to the Eurasian steppes in 3000BC, while the second book, The Marble Horses, due out later this year, is set in Ancient Greece and reveals the advice offered by Xenophon. I hope the series achieves my aims for, and entertains, the readers.
Details about Opal Dreaming The Bronze Horses is available at Morris Publishing Australiahttp://www.morrispublishingaustralia.com