I blogged a couple weeks ago about using animals as part of your setting, and today I’m going to talk about something else: their behavior.
Horses are a good example of a regularly misused animal. If it’s just an everyday situation where your character is saddling up their horse to go out for a trail ride (or whatever else) make sure you know how saddles and bridles and blankets work. If it’s fantasy and you’ve got warhorses riding into battle, don’t forget that horses bleed just like the rest of us and the odds of your character’s horse coming out of some epic multi-day battle unscathed are incredibly slim. Your character can’t gallop a horse through the woods in a terror for three days without stopping. They physically cannot do it.
Sometimes animals interact with humans in ways we wouldn’t expect. Many animals that we consider scary and dangerous are actually just as afraid of us. Some have very specific patterns of behavior. Some migrate. Some have personalities that can be drawn out by their interactions with your character*.
If you haven’t had experience with an animal yourself, it’s a good idea to give it at least a quick google search to be sure you’re getting it right. And if the animal is going to play a large role in the story, then set aside some time to really look into it. Perhaps most of your readers won’t notice or care if you get some small detail about an animal wrong, just like most won’t care if you get some small detail of a setting wrong, but some will. And if you can get it right with a little research, why not do it?
*One of my college roommates had a betta fish that she had spoiled so much it only ate food if you dropped it into its bowl in the most exactly specific way and if she went away for the weekend and left it under my or one of our other roommates’ responsibility, it would barely eat and you would just pray that the thing didn’t die before she got back. Fortunately, it did survive us.