In the 1997 Disney film version of the classic cartoon “George of the Jungle” there is a hilarious scene of a buff, long-haired George (Brendan Fraser) running alongside a frisky horse, his shirt open and sculpted chest gleaming. Jane and several other women are watching him, utterly spellbound and drooling, when one of a group of men observing the scene says, “What is it about chicks and horses?” The joke, of course, is that the women are obviously NOT mesmerized by the horse. Nevertheless, would even George/Brendan be as appealing, virile, and sexy if he were chasing a poodle?
There IS something about chicks and horses – at least where they are involved with handsome men. I have been atop a horse maybe five times in my entire life, counting pony rides at the fair, so I am miles away from any kind of an equestrian expert. Obviously women, even small ones, can handle a horse. They do it all the time. And a mature horse is certainly gorgeous and awe-inspiring all on its own. But, come on, be honest, don’t we females love visions of a powerful stallion in full gallop mode with a rugged, whiskered, and sweaty man controlling? Maybe wielding a sword at the same time? Or roping wild steers? Sure we do!
When I decided to write MY Mr. Darcy as a superb horseman, I wasn’t thinking of George of the Jungle, but I was inspired by the general idea of men and horses. Primarily, I was inspired by the scenes in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice when a masculine Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) is sitting on that black stallion glaring at Mr. Wickham, and later when he is crazily racing through the wood after being rejected by Elizabeth. Yum. I loved the images and had to include that facet as a part of his life.
Then I decided to take it a bit further. Research came into play as it always does in my story. Why stop at just creating a Mr. Darcy who is a skillful rider? That wasn’t all that unusual in an age where horses were the standard of transportation. Having a manly hero who can manage a huge beast can be creatively used in a clichéd chase scene or something, but it does not make him unique. So it occurred to me that all these horses had to come from somewhere, didn’t they? Someone had to breed them, right? Ends up that not only is the answer obviously yes, but horse breeding was a very lucrative business, and one that was undertaken by wealthy gentlemen, especially those with vast estate lands at their disposal. Fabulous!
My crash course in horses and everything associated with them is not complete, by any stretch. I learned enough to get by in my story. I wanted Darcy to be a man passionate about horses. I wanted horses to be an integral part of Pemberley’s economy. I wanted Darcy to be a hands-on type of Master, in various ways, but especially when it came to horses.
I chose Thoroughbreds out of the various horse breeds common in English history because I also discovered via my studies that horse racing was a national sport that became a phenomenon during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14). Racecourses, like Newmarket and Epsom Downs, sprang up all over the country. The rage escalated rapidly, leading to a group of elite gentlemen forming the Jockey Club in 1750, a group that still to this day sets all rules and standards for horse racing in England. Among the Jockey Club’s accomplishments was the regulation of all Thoroughbred breeding in the country. Only the purest bloodlines are allowed to race and breeders are required to follow stringent guidelines and keep meticulous records to prove that their horses could be traced back to the original three Arabians imported from the Middle East.
Horse racing was (and still is) hugely important and prestigious in England. I loved being able to write that into the history of Pemberley. Additionally, as financial sound and esteemed as breeding Thoroughbreds would have been, the Regency Era was a time of war. Actually, there had been several wars if you count that minor uprising across the pond in 1776! So breeding swift, intelligent, enduring horses for the military was also a money making proposition. It was almost a no-brainer to write the Darcy family in such a way. I only took it to the fun extreme of assigning a deep passion for horses as a major aspect of my Fitzwilliam Darcy. To the point that he personally commands the stable staff and even gets dirty in the training corrals. Now doesn’t that just sound yummy?