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Poem: "The Peacehorse" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Peacehorse"

This poem came out of the September 6, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was sponsored by janetmiles. It was inspired by a Facebook post from Sarah A. Hoyt:

For the record, if I read one more story about someone going to battle mounted on a stallion, there's going to be a temper tantrum. (And this one isn't it, yet.)

I remarked that just because stallions tend to be rambunctious doesn't necessarily mean they ALL are, but of course, the unridable stallion really is a cliche.  She replied:

Elizabeth Barrette, Try reading five of these in a row. By the time you get to the "He rode a black stallion, an ungovernable beast only he could mount" you're reaching for the dramamine.
Whereupon I thought that it would be a great deal more interesting to write and read about a mannerly  stallion, who would be more valuable than a bad-tempered one anyhow, and there I was in the midst of a fishbowl about "pets and livestock" so off I went to write this...


The Peacehorse


He rode a black stallion,
a mannerly beast
that anyone could mount.

Now the horse was trained for battle,
fierce under fire,
but calm as could be in the paddock.

The old general rode him to war,
and then to parley,
where he whickered politely at the mares
and then ignored them.

The enemy commander scratched himself thoughtfully
and said, "I don't suppose you'd like to sell your horse?"
The old general replied, "I don't suppose
you'd like to delete paragraph three from section two
of this proposed armistice?"

"Deleting it would be beyond my authority,"
the enemy commander said regretfully.
"Perhaps we could revise  it a bit?
If you'd let him cover some of my mares?"

So the two soldiers
worked out the armistice agreement
while the horses lowered their noses to the clover.

It turned out that the black stallion
had what the breeders called very good stamp,
which meant that the colts and fillies he sired
carried on all his best qualities:
the sleek body, the glossy black coat,
and the even temper.

That was how the black stallion
came to be called the Peacehorse
and how the Hipparchy of Pelip
came to have the steadiest horses in all the lands,
so calm that even the stallions
could be ridden by anyone.

* * *

"The Peacehorse" belongs to The Ocracies series, and you can read its other poems on the Serial Poetry page.  I had been thinking that this fishbowl might spawn a nation run by farmers or something like that.  I was really amused to turn up "hipparchy" in the Phrontistery list, referring to "rule or control of horses," which seemed like a reasonble fit for a nation run by horse breeders.  I suspect it inclines them to take the long view of things, and it certainly influences them in the context of battle and its aftermath.

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Comments
lupagreenwolf From: lupagreenwolf Date: September 8th, 2011 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I love the concept as well as the execution--well done!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 02:42 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

That's really good to hear.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 8th, 2011 04:33 am (UTC) (Link)
I quite like verses four and five, in particular.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 04:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I love hearing which bits are someone's favorite.
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: September 8th, 2011 01:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Me, too. It made me yip, which is unfortunate when reading at work. :-)

That's a nice horse. I approve.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well...

I'm sorry about the work-related disturbance, but glad that you like the poem so much.

I've read a lot of speculative fiction, and a vast majority of horses in it are either generic, implausibly perfect, or laughably wretched in ways the author probably did not realize or intend. When I write about horses, I tend to leave them generic if they're not important to the story, or give enough detail to make them more realistic. One of my writer-friends, Doranna Durgin -- who is an experienced horse person -- tipped me to the excellent book The Body Language of the Horse. That's where I found the reference to horses liking watermelon rind, which had previously seemed like a bizarre thing for centaurs to like.

*chuckle* Although I do have a huge black war stallion deep in my early Hallelaine writing. He was safe for designated people, but savage with anyone who didn't have proper permission. Someone tried to steal him once. He did not require any assistance in thwarting that attempt.
msminlr From: msminlr Date: September 8th, 2011 10:56 am (UTC) (Link)
There was an essay in one of the Grantville Gazette ebooks [spinoff fiction from Eric Flint's novel series that begins with 1632] about the history of what horses were ridden by military folks.

For a long time there was much machismo in Western Europe about stallions as warhorses. This didn't abate until the time of the US Civil War, when there were large groups of City Kids who needed to be taught to ride in the Union cavalry and geldings were MUCH more suitable for such inexperienced riders.

OTOH, the armies which spread Islam across North Africa and Central Asia preferred to ride mares into battle.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

I have read some of that background.

Also interesting is that Native American riders -- who have traditionally related to horses in a very different way than the European model -- have had pretty good luck with riding a variety of horses. Without the machisimo, there's less tendency for a rider to get into fights with a stallion over who's in charge. It's a much more collaborative experience.
jenny_evergreen From: jenny_evergreen Date: September 8th, 2011 12:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't expect to like this as much as I did; I got choked up at the end, even!
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 04:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

The Ocracies seems to lend itself well to "and that's how" or "and that's why" story concepts. I think it's because the underlying theme of the series is broad -- the ways in which people govern societies -- revealed through the specifics of individual poems and people's lives. These poems are little glimpses of ways in which a culture's structure influences the choices that people make. Those small details then reflect back on larger truths.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

It seems to be resonating with a lot of people that way. I'm pleased.
siege From: siege Date: September 8th, 2011 03:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been working with Epona lately, and this poem was a very pleasant surprise in my daily friends list. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

I like Epona. She is a good horse goddess.
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

I thought that was a wonderful explanation for why some horses are just downright hostile. Another good example is Dark Dancer in Daughter of the Blood: caught halfway between animal and sentient, with only one person who really understands him.

The 'unmanageable stallion' motif can be made to work, but you have to know what you're doing and take the time to establish an individual personality for the horse.
paka From: paka Date: September 8th, 2011 07:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
What I've read is that Japanese warhorses were never geldings; I assume there must have been some fairly well-behaved stallions, but I read this in the context of badass warlord types having an attendant to help with the horse.

I do very much like the idea of horse breeding being part of someone's negotiations for peace. There must've been some time that this happened; I just don't think it's been written down (Mongolia got a written language pretty late in the game).
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well...

>>What I've read is that Japanese warhorses were never geldings; I assume there must have been some fairly well-behaved stallions, but I read this in the context of badass warlord types having an attendant to help with the horse.<<

You get what you support. The Japanese may have chosen to breed for responsible stallions. Some Europeans bred for headstrong stallions, because they were impressed if some macho guy could actually manage to ride one, and then of course everyone wanted the famous guy's stallion to cover their mares. That kind of grandstanding generally has not been appreciated in Japan, where the epitome of masculinity is more genteel and people are more impressed by not needing to make a garish display of force in order to get things done. A taste that shows in heroes, literature, and history may also show in livestock.

>>I do very much like the idea of horse breeding being part of someone's negotiations for peace. There must've been some time that this happened; I just don't think it's been written down (Mongolia got a written language pretty late in the game).<<

Some Native American tribes would do that, although I think it was a more widespread and enthusiastic practice in the Middle East. Both of those cultures would raid, trade, and negotiate over horses; they used animals as markers of wealth and status, as well as for practical purposes. They also both favored very tough horses because of the harsh local conditions. Arabian horses were bred for intelligence, speed, and durability. Mustangs were bred for flexibility and ... hm, congeniality is about the closest I can describe it, a personality of horse that really enjoys working with humans. You can still see those traits in today's horses, which makes them popular for shows and rodeos. Basically, the smarter the horse, the better the chance of him learning to behave reliably.

Similarly, the desert horses in my fantasy world of Hallelaine -- especially in Waterjewel -- are way towards the smart end of the scale. Some are like Arabians, others a bit more like Lippizans. They can puzzle out some things like a dog, or a dolphin, or a chimp. There are legends of sentient horses there. Let's say I have some suspicions.
rowyn From: rowyn Date: September 8th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hee! Adorable.
eseme From: eseme Date: September 9th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really loved the verses with the negotiation. So fun!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 9th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

That's good to know. Some other folks have picked out those verses as favorites, too.

I like showing how things work, especially certain types of social skills that I think the world could use more of. In this case, it comes down to resolving a conflict by finding common ground. Folks decided they were more interested in breeding terrific horses than in continuing to kill each other, and they were willing to tinker around with their available options until they found something that would serve.

*ponder* This suddenly makes me think, if I were stuck with doing Middle East peace talks, I'd abandon the conference room and haul the guys out to the nearest paddock to talk about horses. Maybe that would get somebody to budge an inch.

And that makes me wonder if the Pelipi are known for being effective negotiators. The nations have different strengths and weaknesses.
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