Do You Know the Horse People of Outlander?

May 17, 2016



Meet  Barbara Schnell, decades-long friend of Outlander author Diana Gabaldon. Schnell is a world famous equine photographer/commentator – see her work at is also the English-to-German translator of the Outlander book series. Barbara lives in Germany and currently owns four magnificent black Friesians, the breed featured in the Starz production of Outlander. Schnell began riding as a teenager, left the sport, then returned to horses with a passion when her then 10-year-old daughter begged to start riding.

Schnell portrait
Barbara Schnell, at work

Barbara began translating the Outlander series into German beginning with Book #4, Drums of Autumn. She has continued, moving through the entire book series and “had the honor of doing new translations of the first three, as the TV series came long,” she said. In fact, Schnell bought her first Friesian, a mare she still owns, named Ronja, with her proceeds from her first Gabaldon translation. To further the connection, Schnell’s lovely gelding Talisker is the son of the REAL Lucas, the Friesian who was the direct inspiration for the fictional Phillip Wylie’s gorgeous horse, a stallion we meet in The Fiery Cross. For Schnell it was love at first sight. “The first time I saw a Friesian (the original Lucas), I couldn’t believe that something this majestic and beautiful actually existed,” she said. “The chance to breed Ronja to him was a wonderful gift.”

Schnell’s Friesian mare, Ronja

“There were five of them–two mares, a couple of two-year-olds, and a stallion. All five black as coal, with coats that gleamed in the pale spring sun, even shaggy as they were with winter hair. I was not expert in horse conformation, but knew enough by now to notice the deep chests, barreled vaults, and the sculpted quarters, which gave them a peculiar but deeply appealing look of elegant sturdiness. Beyond the beauties of conformation and coat, though, what was most striking about these horses was their hair. …In addition, each horse had delicate black feathers decorating hoof and fetlock, that lifted like floating milkweed seed with each step.”

(Claire, upon first seeing Phillip Wylie’s Friesians, The Fiery Cross, 2001/Delacourt)

Talisker in Snow
Talisker, son of Lucas


Much has been made about the fact that book Donas is a different color and breed than the Starz TV series Donas, but the larger-boned, black warmblood horses being used instead for TV have an enthusiastic fan base. When asked what makes Friesians such perfect mounts for TV shows such as Outlander, Schnell said, “Show/stunt horse companies often use Friesians because they’re very friendly, very clever and, well … telegenic.” And we are seeing that from the happy mannered horses employed as Jamie Fraser’s mounts in the Outlander TV series. “Well, they are majestic and beautiful,” Schnell said.

Schnell on Stallion Apollo
Schnell riding dressage on her Friesian stallion Apollo
Schnell & Talisker
Schnell on her Friesian gelding Talisker, son of the original Lucas and Ronja

As for the Outlander Starz TV series, Barbara Schnell has been keeping an eye on “horsey” developments from the start. She has not been to the set as of yet, but she has talked with several of the actors. And the appearance of her favorite horse breed did not come as a surprise. “Caitriona Balfe had been posting Friesian pictures on Instagram even before they started shooting” she said.

Schnell said Diana’s inclusion of a fictional Lucas is something of an homage to the original stallion who died while Diana was writing The Fiery Cross.” Whenever Diana has come to visit we’ve been to the barn,” Schnell said. Diana has never ridden her horses but “a couple of years ago Doug (Watkins, Gabaldon’s husband) accompanied her and listened in to my husband’s dressage lesson.”

braiding Apollo w Doug Watkins
Photo by Diana Gabaldon, Schnell grooming Apollo, with Doug Watkins

While horses may rule Schnell’s daily world, the other animals populating Gabaldon’s books have a piece of her heart, as well. First, “I think the white sow might be good for some great comic relief” in the Starz TV series. But as with many horse people, her biggest vote is for a dog — in this case, Young Ian’s wolf-hybrid. “The critters are an intricate part of the story, much more than just flavor. Lucas notwithstanding, Rollo will always have a very special place in my heart!”

Photos courtesy of Barbara Schnell. Top: Talisker and Apollo.

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