When I was a preteen I could name all the essential horses in Lord of the Rings. But even then, I knew not to expect much equestrian nuance in high fantasy.
Most of the time, the sword-wielding main character rides in on a well-groomed and perfectly behaved steed. The accuracy of the regional breeds is laughable, and the horsemanship is often pretty meh.
To make matters even more ridiculous, it seems like every horse ridden on screen is a “stallion.” A gelding or a mare is seldom mentioned, as machismo usually trumps practicality.
Perhaps these are trivial complaints. It is fantasy, after all. Heck, the stalls probably magically muck out themselves. But these thoughts occupy my mind.
Or at least they usually do.
My usual jadedness was oddly quelled by Netflix’s The Witcher. The series is the story of Geralt of Rivia, who works as a “Witcher,” a genetically-modified monster exterminator who roams from place to place, looking for villagers who will pay him to take care of the pests that keep eating their relatives.
Yes, the Series does fall into some of the fantasy equestrian traps. (There is one scene where two of the characters find saddled horses behind a house that had purportedly been abandoned for months. Oh, and the stirrups just happen to be the correct lengths for them.)
But, there are bits of brilliance too that made my horse-girl heart sing.
One is that Geralt, the white-haired heartthrob, prefers his mounts to be mares. Roach, the name he gives all his steeds, comes from the literal translation of a Polish word that means both mare and oddly enough sweet little fish.
Despite my digging, I couldn’t find anything that suggested why Geralt is a mare guy, but whether it is the books, the videogames, or the show, the Witcher always spends his coin on mares, and he always names them Roach.
I am also a card-carrying member of the mare fan club, and if I was a Witcher out fighting bloodthirsty monsters, I’d prefer a mare too. They may be judgmental, moody, and occasionally full of drama, but they are also fierce, intelligent, and get things done.
Once on a group trail ride, I was on the back of a stocky horse not even 14 hands. Despite her short stature, she ran the herd. Toward the end of the ride, a Percheron, with a red ribbon warning that he kicked, came up behind us. The tiny mare pinned her ears and started backing up towards him. She was ready to pick a fight and inform the 17-hand upstart that his behavior was unacceptable. Fortunately, I moved her off the trail and away from the draft horse before either of us ended up with hoof print-shaped dents in our skulls.
The red mare I rode as a child liked to puff herself up and sprint around the arena the minute she had an audience. Her flashy gait often spooked other horses.
The horse I have now I often jokingly refer to as “The Honey Badger,” because like that small aggressive predator from Africa, she don’t give a S%#@. At a fun show this fall, she charged into the ring treating the one pleasure class I entered like it was a championship jousting tournament, then pranced her way back to the trailer, convinced she could do 12 more classes. Her recent illness be damned.
Thinking about it now, I can imagine Roach killing monsters by herself—simply out of spite.
Alas, the two leading horses that play the various Roaches in the series are male. Their genitalia is edited out in post-production.
While this fact is admittedly disappointing, Henry Cavill, the actor who plays Geralt of Rivia, takes his horsemanship seriously. In one Interview, he revealed, “I do a lot of talking to horses. If I could spend most of my professional career on or around horses, I’d be happy.”
It is also well reported that Cavil is a massive fan of The Witcher books and video games. He knows how essential Roach is to Geralt’s humanity. In season two, Cavil reworked an important Roach scene because he was unhappy with how little the original version understood Geralt’s affection for horses. I won’t reveal it here, dear reader, but you will know it when you see it. It is bittersweet and sad but pays perfect homage to the heroic nature of mares.