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Horses in the Borders

Updated: May 17

Horses were absolutely central to the world of the Border reivers. In the 1500s, the favoured nags (the word didn’t take on negative connotations until much later) were stocky little beasts called “hobblers”. At only 13-14 hands tall, they would be considered far too small for an adult today (which is why they were bred out of existence in the 1800s). But back in the days of The Trail of Blood, they were prized for their hardiness: their ability to survive in the cold hills and also to travel extremely long distances in the dead of night.

In The Trail of Blood, Antoine declines a hobbler, in favour of his trusty steed, Carbonel. But later in the story, he regrets his decision, when his horse gets stuck in a peat bog: the kind of marsh that a local horse might have traversed easily. I included this as a little nod to the real-life Antoine de la Bastie, who met his end, when his horse became mired outside of Duns.

These days, horses are still a huge part of Borders culture, not least because of the Common Ridings which hark back to the tradition of villagers marking their boundaries. In days gone by, this would have been a threatening ritual. But today, there’s nothing more uplifting than seeing hundreds of horses clatter past your house, on the way to some ancient battlefield or other.

Woodcut of horse's head

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