Horses and starships in the same novel?
Well, why not?
I’m not talking about horses as transportation, at least not on Central. But as Winston Churchill said, the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man. Why shouldn’t people capable of interstellar travel keep and breed horses for sport and recreation? Derik does and so does Vara, though they don’t have much else in common.
The Humans of the Confederation never forgot where they came from. They didn’t (and don’t) interfere with us, but they took a lot of plants and animals with them, including cacao and honeybees, both now widespread in the Confederation. When Humans on Earth began domesticating plants and animals many of the domesticates were imported by the Confederation—including horses. On Earth at that time, they were used largely for warfare and transportation. In the Confederation, they were a novel form of recreation and several horse sports were developed.
I actually invented three sports for Homecoming, including one, obstacle racing, on horseback. (The other two are pattern chess and plasmaball.) When he has any spare time, Derry designs obstacle courses—and they can be fiendish. These courses combine elements of several equine sports of Earth with a few taken from dog agility.
Obstacle racing started out in my imagination with the cross-country phase of three-day eventing. This gave me the jumps, the banks, uphill and downhill jumps and the idea of a more or less fixed course. The idea of two or more horses taking the course together in an actual race came from steeplechasing. The pen jump comes from handy hunter classes. The weaves come from pole bending, but the obstacles the horses have to weave through are rigid—trees or boulders. Hard on the riders’ knees if the horse makes a mistake! Finally, the course may incorporate elements from a trail riding class—opening a gate to go through it, for instance, or retrieving an article from a box.
Canine agility incorporates jumps and weaves, but it also has tunnels, teeter-totters and a high walk. The tunnels in obstacle racing might be covered bridges, caves or large culverts. The teeter-totter can be taken at speed, but the horse must be taught to accept the change in footing as the balance of the teeter board shifts beneath him. The high walk as used in competition is the only type of obstacle that requires technology not available on Earth. Physically, it may be a narrow bridge without a visible railing or a narrow trail with drop-offs on either side. In either case, this is an obstacle that could be very dangerous to the horse—not to mention the rider—so the sides are normally protected by force fields. If the force fields actually come into play, the horse is automatically disqualified, but will at least live to try again!
A particular course need not use every type of obstacle, of course. Derry’s courses, at least, are designed to take as much advantage of natural obstacles as possible.
In addition to being divided by age of the rider and level of experience of the horse, there are several types of obstacle racing in competition. The riders may go individually, with advance knowledge of the course—the easiest type of class. In scramble classes riders go in heats of three to six riders at once, with a final class made up of the heat winners, usually with some change in the course. Finally there are the surprise classes, where the riders have no knowledge of the course until five minutes before they start their rides.
The obstacle race in Homecoming is not this type of competition, of course, just something set up by Derik to entertain his son (and himself.) But this kind of event does exist as a competitive sport, and if I ever get that trilogy published, it will come up again.