I had the pleasure of virtually meeting Roland Clarke through the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog. Although his upcoming release, Spiral of Hooves, is not historical fiction, it does revolve around the world of competitive horse eventing and (bonus!) includes Canada as one of the settings. Naturally, I was intrigued.
Today, Roland discusses the progression historically from ostler to eventer. At the end of the post is an opportunity to win a signed copy of his new release.
The modern world of my mystery novel Spiral of Hooves, released in its second edition on August 7th, and the riveting 17th century saga of Cryssa Bazos’s Traitor’s Knot may seem centuries apart but they have a key element that links them. In opening chapters, my main character, Armand Sabatier finds his “temporary role [as a groom] meant more duties, and the horses proved soothing companions, healing for his troubled mind.” Cryssa’s character James Hart is an ostler and has “a talent that every innkeeper prized. Master and craftsman, his art was horses.”
The term ostler dates back to around 1386 for “one who tends to horses at an inn.” Down the ages, this had been a crucial role as horse transport, from single mounts to carriages, was central to a nation’s infrastructure. However, with the advent of the combustion engine and the arrival of a new form of ‘horsepower’ the traditional ostlers disappeared. But the role of grooms has merely adapted as horses moved from central to the economy to recreation and sport.
Another crucial area was the working horses on the farms, requiring sturdier draught breeds more suitable to heavy work, like the Shire, Suffolk, and Clydesdale in the UK, although some of the pony breeds had proved more than capable. Again, the combustion engine ended the era of the working horses after many centuries.
However, most relevant to both novels is the military angle. James Hart is a cavalry officer at the outset of Traitor’s Knot. The sport at the centre of Spiral of Hooves, eventing, has its origins in the training and testing of military chargers. Cavalry dates to pre-Iron Age and the use of chariots. As larger horses were bred, cavalry with mounted horsemen emerged and the tactics evolved, with different units appearing – including mounted archers, light cavalry, heavy cavalry, and dragoons who fought both mounted and on foot. As the English Civil War showed, firearms changed tactics profoundly.
Eventually cavalry became obsolete as World War I demonstrated. My grandfather was a cavalry officer back then and was appalled how the horses suffered even more than the troops. Today, the cavalry regiments are armoured units, although some retain horses for ceremonial roles.
Eventing arose as a sport around the turn of the 20th century, “to create a competition in which officers and horses could be tested for any challenges that could occur on or off duty — precision, elegance, and obedience on the parade ground; stamina, versatility and courage on marches and in battle; cross-country jumping ability and endurance in traveling great distances over difficult terrain and formidable obstacles in the relaying of important dispatches; and jumping ability in the arena to prove the horse’s fitness to remain in service.”
The equestrian sport of Eventing was first introduced at the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1912 under the name “The Militaire.” In continental Europe, many of the events are still called ‘The Militaire’, especially in France, a key country in Spiral of Hooves. French cavalry was decimated in the Napoleonic Wars so in 1815 a cavalry school was established at Saumur and the distinctive black uniforms of the Cadre Noir are still there, offering the best equitation training in France.
However, as the role of horses has changed, so have the teachers and the methods used. Horsemanship evolved as the requirements changed, although at the roots are still the teachings of the past, back to Xenophon’s fourth century B.C. treatise On Horsemanship.
Saumur is one of the few equitation schools that keeps alive many of the haute école (F. “high school”) cavalry-derived techniques while embracing modern methods, some more suited to recreational riding. Unlike the Spanish Riding School, the Cadre Noir began as a cavalry school and then expanded to a civilian role. Today, very few of the Cadre Noir are military, most are civilians. As well as performing the haute école movements and teaching, they also run world-class competitions, like the three-day-event that is central to Spiral of Hooves.
Yes, readers will meet some 21st-century Cadre Noir officers, just as I did when I worked as an equestrian journalist, primarily covering eventing. My career as a journalist and event organiser, coupled with my imagination, created the horse-based mystery that is Spiral of Hooves, when I retired, wings clipped by multiple sclerosis.
I must avoid spoilers – suffice to say the Cadre Noir and Saumur are key clues along the twisting trail. However, James Hart’s counterpart in my novel might be the heroine, Carly Tanner, who is a groom working nights in an ‘inn’ and has the horsemanship skills of a cavalry officer. In fact, the first woman joined the Cadre Noir in 1984, and nowadays women in the military are more widespread. And that might be another spoiler or a ‘hareng rouge’.
If you enjoy mystery/thrillers revolving around the world of horses, horsemanship and deceptions, pick up Spiral of Hooves today.
About Spiral of Hooves:
In Canada, researcher Armand Sabatier witnesses what could be the murder of groom Odette Fedon, but traumatic images from his past smother his memory, and a snowstorm buries the evidence. Harassed by nightmares but fighting through them, Armand remembers the crime a few months later. By then he is in England, where he is dragged into a plot involving international sport horse breeding.
Suspecting everyone around him, Armand is forced to brave the past that he has kept buried. But what made Armand leave France? Where did he learn to survive and fight for justice? Why is the English rider Carly Tanner treading the same path as the first victim, Odette? Can he save Carly before he has more blood on his hands?
Spiral of Hooves is an enthralling mystery full of twists, turns, and suspense, set against the competitive equestrian world of eventing. Characters are thrown together from different countries by their ambitions, ideals and desires, and by their passion for horses. Relationships are tested and challenges surmounted as the mystery builds.
Spiral of Hooves is available from Amazon on Kindle and for the first time in
paperback. Click here to purchase your copy.
Roland Clarke is a retired equestrian journalist, photographer, and event organiser. Sadly, Multiple Sclerosis clipped his wings, and he was unable to meet deadlines or get to equestrian events easily. Recently, his wife Juanita and he moved with their two dogs, Quetzal & Treeky to Boise, Idaho having lived in Harlech, North Wales for over two years.
To celebrate the re-launch of Spiral of Hooves, Roland is giving away a signed paperback copy of the book. For a chance to win, leave a comment below. The contest closes Midnight (EST) on August 21st. Good luck!