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Questions from writers & answers from CuChullaine O’Reilly of the Long Riders’ Guild
I was wondering if you might help me with a horse-related question or two. I'm just trying to work out some distances against a map I've made and I find myself unable to work out how fast a person might travel on horseback, which is throwing the scale all off.
Could you tell me how many miles a rider could travel in two days, over flat plains land, with only one horse? I mean in a real hurry, figuring in minimum sleep and rest for both rider and horse. Obviously it's impossible to be dead accurate but just a ballpark figure would be great.
Also, do you think you could tell me the average travelling speed of a person on horseback (again in miles per day) assuming flat terrain, eight hours sleep and no particular hurry?
In answer to your question regarding extreme distances, I'm afraid the Guild is extremely wary of record-seekers and macho horse-abusers. For the sake of horse The Guild does not encourage, nor recognize, "record" riding. By that we mean "how fast can I ride a horse from Point A to Point B." The reason the Guild takes such a tough line on this issue is because in the past a number of cruel people literally rode horses to death in order to satisfy their egos.
A perfect example would be Francois Xavier Aubry. He was the notorious French-Canadian horse-killer whose legacy of equestrian infamy has been largely misinterpreted by the pedestrian media, both past and present, who prefer to depict the small hard-riding man as a saddle-borne hero, instead of the cold-blooded savage which he was.
In the late winter of 1848 Aubrey left Santa Fe on horseback for Independence, Missouri. A hard man, Aubrey was not one to concern himself about the welfare of his mounts - along the way he rode to death a good saddle horse and three mules. As soon as Aubrey accomplished his business in Independence, he returned to Santa Fe in late spring. Once his business was completed there, he announced that he was determined to make the return journey to Independence in only eight days. However on this journey he very nearly lost his life to Indians who took his horse and what belongings and food he carried. Aubrey later recalled how he managed to escape and walked forty miles before he was able to obtain another mount. When he finally arrived in Independence, Aubrey had missed his mark by only ten hours. Nevertheless he claimed that allowing for time lost along the way he had actually made the long ride in seven days.
Again Aubrey had abused his mounts mercilessly, and the cruel toll this time was six horses dead and half a dozen more left permanently wounded. The news of Aubrey's accomplishments soon spread across the plains and upon returning to his old haunts in Santa Fe, Aubry offered to wager $1,000 that he could make the ride in six days. He boasted, "I'd kill every horse along the trail before I'd lose that thousand dollar bet.”
Yet it was the murderous rider who died instead, stabbed to death in a bar brawl in 1854. The Long Riders’ Guild believes that holding Aubry up as a role model is an act of journalistic naivety and equestrian folly.
In answer to your specific questions about distance, depending on terrain and the condition of the horse - most Long Riders average about 20 miles a day WHEN the horse and rider have achieved top condition.
In your message, you asked how far a person could get with one horse in two days of hard riding. If the horse was fit, and it was a life-or-death situation, then 100 miles in two days would be feasible if it was a one-off.
If your horse was incredibly fit and you were riding in easy (i.e. flat and not too hot) country, you could cover 50 or 60 miles in one day. But the horse would need a rest the next day. In fact, a Cossack Long Rider who built his two horses up to a peak of fitness, and fed them an immense amount of oats a day, rode from Kiev to Paris in 1889 at an average of rather more than 50 miles a day, riding each horse for half a day. (This is called riding à la Turkmène.)
A person switching horses in this manner could achieve much faster progress - the Mongols used to travel a hundred miles a day, swapping horses every 20 or so miles, as did the people riding the Pony Express in the USA. You could go on indefinitely like that, if you were fit and a reasonable horseman!
I am working on a piece of fiction that involves a long journey by horseback-- something that I have never done in this lifetime. I am wondering if the Long Riders’ Guild might be willing to provide descriptions of long travels by horseback and/or advise me of other resources/ writing that might be useful reading.
First a few questions, followed by a few suggestions.
Where is your "journey" going to take place? How many horses and riders are involved? What time of year will they be traveling? What type of saddle and gear will they be using? What year will the ride be set in? What breed of horse will be featured?
You must first answer all of these fundamental "equestrian basics" before your story begins.
In addition to encouraging people to take a life-changing equestrian journey, the Guild also publishes the world's largest collection of equestrian travel books. If you visit www.horsetravelbooks.com , you will see accounts of equestrian journeys from all parts of the globe, even Antarctica.
Finally, keep in mind a couple of obvious visual facts in regards to writing about equestrian travel. Think Hollywood - then equate that with everything you don't want to do ! Do you ever remember seeing a cowboy movie where they ever fed or watered the horses, did anything except walk or gallop, brushed or cared for the animals, discussed the mileage they had to cover the next day, or mentioned the physical pain of the rider caused by covering great distances in the saddle? Of course not, because neither the actors nor producers knew nor cared about these equine realities. Readers however are a more discerning bunch. So the more equine authenticity you pour into your work, the more believable and important your story becomes.
I am writing a movie script and I need help
with the logistics of Long Riding. My characters are travelling in ancient
Israel from south central Israel, near Jerusalem, to the far north. Their
mission is twofold, (1)for one person to quickly reach and retrieve another
person, and (2) to spy out the land. Later, a great many will be travelling
secretly in a horde--yes, secretly and unknown to the enemy--to recruit and to
get to the battlefield.
First and foremost - ancient Israel had little or no equestrian culture! The Hebrews associated the horse with their enslavement by the Egyptians, which is why they fled on foot. This was one of the reasons the Romans conquered them so easily. So the very basis of your story might be viewed by many people as flawed!
1 - One traveller on a native horse could, in emergency, cover 50+ miles in a day, provided the terrain wasn't too mountainous, and if it wasn't a long journey. But actually it's the Endurance Racing people who can best answer that question - Long Rides are the antithesis of speed!
2 - I am not familiar with the region you mention, but would imagine the person would carry light, nutritious food such as nuts, dried fruit and bread.
3 - Difficult - if the army needs to stay hidden most of the time, they are not going to proceed very fast! Horses walk at the same speed as humans, about 3 m.p.h. I have no idea how big a party they could travel in and still remain unseen - depends on whether there is any cover (trees etc.). Maybe they would travel at night and hide during the day? They could move faster this way, provided they were on fairly safe ground (i.e. not mountains!), and it would be cooler as well as safer.
4 - The biggest problem in a desert area would be the lack of water. There would also not be much in the way of good grazing, certainly not enough for a large group of horses. For the army, therefore, rather than the lone horseman, they would have to take pack-horses and grain. This brings us back to the problem of there not being a strong equestrian culture in ancient Israel - they would not have known anything about pack horses!
Therefore, may I recommend you read Duff Hart-Davis's book, Horses of War. Although it is not set in the region you describe, it will answer many of your questions.
I'm working on a fantasy novel that includes quite a lot of long-distance horseback riding, all in an alternate (but geographically similar) Central Asia. I was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions for me. The main thing I'm trying to work out right now is how far my characters would probably be traveling each day. I assume this is going to vary a lot depending on circumstances, so here's an outline:
1. The two protagonists are competent riders.
2. Both horses are mares. They are in good shape and have been well cared for in the past. They were given to the protagonists some months back because they were steady, trustworthy horses that could be trusted to carry the inexperienced.
3. The protagonists do not have pack animals and so the horses are also carrying their food; they're also carrying a small wool tent and some other survival equipment.
4. Occasionally the protagonists will have to ride double with other people. I'm sure this will slow down their progress a lot, but I have no idea how much.
5. It's fall in central Asia and getting cold.
6. They are avoiding roads, but also trying to skirt the mountains as much as possible. (This is a pre-technological society so the roads are not especially good.)
Can you give me any information about likely daily mileage? Also, what big considerations am I totally missing here? I'm trying to avoid (as one fantasy author puts it) treating the horses like wind-up toys (you know, where the horses can gallop all day and never get tired and never get hungry or trip or do anything else at all inconvenient)...
When I found your site through Google, I discovered wonderful and fascinating information about riding in Central Asia.
The Long Riders' Guild was formed so as to encourage equestrian travel around the globe. However, one of the delightful side effects has been the unexpected appearance of authors like you who are anxious to tell their readers about the realities of equestrian travel. We are therefore delighted that you had the sense to realize that horses are NOT wind up toys. Those authors and screenplay writers who continue to try and get away with this sort of tired 20th century lazy research are going to get roasted.
We're practically living on coffee and are about to drop in our tracks. Consequently, I don't even have time to send you a detailed email answering your very reasonable questions regarding equestrian travel in Central Asia. I would suggest that it would be easier for us, if I just call you. Then, you repeat the questions, and I'll give you the answers over the phone.
Thank you for your fascinating website. I am a writer and, in support of a portion of my current story, I need an answer to a very basic question, but no one I've asked in my area seems to have a good one. That is... How far can a mounted group of 8 men (non-military) ride in a day, being appropriately conserving of their mounts. They are riding purposefully, the terrain is mildly hilly, light forest/meadow, weather fair and mild. (eastern Alabama, 1763). Any help you can give me on this would certainly be appreciated.
Though the Guild has supplied information to other writers in the past, we are always glad to hear from authors who are seeking to authenticate the equestrian portions of their work.
There are equestrian elements involved in your story which I believe need to be addressed before you can move to the questions of how far and fast your literary riders can travel. Before you jump to the mileage, you have to ask yourself some basic questions as a writer.
First, what type of saddles and horses are these men using? Your question about mileage cannot be answered unless you first take into consideration what type of horse's they are using AND what type of saddles they are riding in.
I am guessing that we are talking about English speaking riders. So chances are they will be using some sort of early English style saddle. The saddle DOES make a difference to your story for the simple reason that if all eight men are riding comfortably, then you, the writer can expect them to make good time. If one man is riding bareback, or is using some sort of second-rate junk saddle, then your entire group will be slowed down as they wait for him to struggle along in ever increasing pain. So the first thing is to tell your reader about the type of gear they use. I suggest that you make a quick search through the modern Black Powder/Mountain Man community for this sort of saddle knowledge. There are a couple of books, which I think are printed by Rebel Press, that discuss various aspects of early American tack. You might get some ideas on saddles, and don't forget bridles, from these mountain man enthusiasts.
But, for the sake of your story, let's say that all eight men are in good saddles.
Then I have to ask you, what are they riding?
The horses you are familiar with today were largely non-existent in 1763 Alabama. No Arabs, no Quarter horses, no Appaloosas in 18th century Alabama. So what were they riding? You have to decide and tell your reader about the mounts from the horse stock available at the time.
If these men rode into Alabama, from a New England colony, then they might have using the famous Narragansett Pacer. These were very well known pacing horses, highly prized by both Indians and Europeans, that made very fast time. They are also now extinct. No one knows exactly why. But your eight men could certainly have been using them as the time frame is just right.
They might have also been on Conestoga horses. These were used to pull the famous wagons, but could have been ridden as well. They were not considered a breed, but rather a type of horse and were very common at the time.
And finally, there were many wild Indian ponies available as well. What ever type of horse they used, the chances are that any horses they had would be, by our standards today, considered small. By this I mean they would have been between 13 and 15 hands high and probably weighed no more than 1,000 pounds.
A horse in those days would have had to be tough, be able to eat anything, be expected to stand outside in the cold, and be ridden hard. Traveling men, like the eight you described here, were looking for what was known as "road horses." In other words, forget the pedigree papers, these men needed to cover ground, not show off to their neighbors back home.
So be sure you explain this concept to your readers, as the majority of people today view horses as nothing but over sized backyard pets.
In terms of trying to authenticate the actual types of horses they might have used, I suggest you locate a book entitled The Horse in America by Robert West Howard. Printed in 1965 by Follett Company in Chicago, it is long out of print, but contains a treasure trove of relevant info. It has info on all of the breeds I described above.
When it comes to the saddle and other issues, find the book Man on Horseback by Glenn R. Vernam. Printed in 1964 by Harper Row, it will tell you everything you need about the development of mounted men. It also has a great deal of info on early American tack.
You can find both these books very easily by using your inter-library loan system.
Now, with all that background, and these clues, what about your original question - how far could they actually ride?
Here is how I see it. They feed their horses before dawn, grab a quick bite of something themselves, brush the horses and tack them up, and are in the saddle as the sun comes up - say six a.m. They start by walking next to their horses for the first fifteen minutes, thus allowing the animals to limber up, then they all cinch up their saddles, and only then do they mount up as a unit.
It's now about 6:30. They ride at a fast walk, which means they're making between three and five miles an hour, so long as the landscape is conducive to this. After an hour, maybe two, in the saddle, they walk again, for ten or fifteen minutes to allow the horses to rest. They have loosened the cinches while they're walking.
It's now 8:30. If they encounter hills, they ride up hill and walk down the other side. This keeps the weight of the rider from slipping down onto the withers of the horse, which causes the saddle to pinch, which in turn causes instant massive internal bruising, that result in saddle sores, which in turn leads to open festering wounds, that puts the animal out of commission.
They ride up and walk down a lot of hills for a couple of hours.
Its now 11 a.m. They push on for another hour along easier ground. If the ground is level, they interchange their gaits, going from a walk to a trot to a canter back to a walk. They ride like this for an hour, making an average of seven miles an hour.
It's now past noon.
They dismount and walk beside their horses, allowing them to catch their breath, while the men look for a place to take a noon time stop. They look for the best grazing, and water if it is available, then stop. They let their horses stand for at least fifteen minutes. They can tie them to trees, or perhaps they hobble them. If there is grass, the horses are allowed to graze. They are only given a drink after they are thoroughly cooled.
At one p.m. the men rise, re-saddle, and walk out next to their horses. After ten minutes they remount and ride again. The landscape allows them to walk and trot, so they make good time. They ride like this for two more hours, at which time they start looking for a campsite suitable for their horses. This takes another forty-five minutes, and it is now easing up on four in the afternoon.
The men and horses are all in good shape, so they've made good time. They've been in the saddle from six until four. Between their various gaits, they've averaged five miles an hour during the course of the day. Subtract the time it took them for lunch, re-saddle, walking beside their mounts, etc. You can safely estimate that they've covered a minimum of 25 miles, and perhaps as much as 40 miles that day - depending on how hilly it was, how often they trotted, what condition the horses were in to start with, etc.
At four p.m. the horses, and men, will start thinking about their evening meal. The horses, because they are traveling, will have developed a new herd ethic. They have no barn to call home. So food has taken on a big social significance. These horses look forward to their evening meal and rest.
The sex of the horses will also have to be considered when your riders picket them. Stallions will fight. Mares will also fight. Geldings will go along with the rest.
But as a writer, don't overlook that fact that you are NOT describing eight bicycles being leaned up against the barn wall for the night.
These are eight hungry, tired, crabby, sentient beings that are not only sure to fight to some degree or another, they can also be counted on to make a ton of racket before dawn of the next day. Depending on each of their personalities, they will strip the bark off trees and eat it, dig holes in the ground with their hooves while they are picketed, kick and squeal at each other, in short make a damn lot of trouble and noise until sunrise.
Plus, do remember that these are big, often times cranky animals, that step on your toes when you're not looking or break your bones when they shy at shadows. That’s why we always caution would-be Long Riders never to forget that the horseman's grave is always open.
Thus, no matter how good you are, or in this case your characters, any equestrian journey is going to have serious delays, setbacks, and accidents. It's the nature of what we do.
So that is my "short" answer to your question.
Eight good horses, eight fit riders, decent country, say 20 miles a day minimum, and 40 miles a day maximum.
But do not forget to add in the fact that this sort of travel is absolutely brutal on a person's body. If you're not ready for it, your riders will be suffering the pains of hell. Everything will hurt, especially their knees and the small of their backs.
With all due humility, I would also suggest that you check out my book, Khyber Knights, if you want to read very accurate descriptions of the realities encountered in equestrian travel. It has enough equestrian adventure, and raw descriptive material, to give you a very strong idea of the realities of what your Alabama men would have found in the saddle.
Right - hope that gets you started. Let me know if you get stuck with any other equestrian travel question. Good luck on your book and best wishes,
I'm researching an endurance horse race that took place in Colorado sometime around 1910. So far I've had no luck. Supposedly the race was run between Denver and Trinidad, which is about 200 miles. Of course there was cheating, horses dropping dead, etc. This information came from an old cowboy whose grandfather told him the tale. I should tell you the reason I'm interested in this particular race. I'm a novelist and my hero is planning on entering for the prize money, which I believe was $500. The man who supposedly won didn't start in Denver with the others, but entered at about Colorado Springs. I don't know the actual course, I'm sure that I-25 did not exist in the early 1900's. I'm mainly interested in knowing if such an event actually took place.
Thank you for contacting The Long Riders' Guild regarding your equestrian concerns.
The Guild is devoted to the practice and preservation of equestrian travel. What you are interested in is classified as "endurance racing."
Being a Long Rider is about making a long-distance, life changing equestrian journey. Endurance racing is about running your horse from one place to another, cross-country, often for a financial reward or a personal trophy.
However, with those definitions set aside, The Guild is coincidentally able to help you.
We maintain and publish the world's largest collection of equestrian travel material, including equestrian travel books in five languages. During our world wide search for this equestrian knowledge we occasionally come upon, and make note of, equestrian issues of relevant interest such as cavalry travel methods and endurance races. Consequently, we do in fact have a great deal of information on hand regarding the race you are interested in.
There are in fact two famous American endurance races from the same time period - the Chadron to Chicago and the Wyoming to Colorado races.
These two most famous of American endurance races could only be compared to the Super Bowl Sundays of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They instigated a massive outpouring of public attention.
The first one, which ran from Chadron, Nebraska to Chicago, Illinois concluded at the World's Fair in 1893. The Finish Line was held at "The 1,000 Mile Tree," which was conveniently located just outside the main entrance to Buffalo Bill's Wild West show tent. Thousands of people witnessed these exhausted men and horses ride up to the Finish Line, where they were personally greeted by Cody. Moreover, photos were taken before, during, and after the race, copies of which we have on hand. The racers stayed around Chicago for days, signing autographs and enjoying their mounted moment of celebrity.
What is also important is that the Chadron race was the one that introduced the concept of vet checks into the endurance racing world of today. That race was kept under tight control all the way to Chicago. Here is a link to an article which will give you all the names and details regarding this important event. http://www.thelongridersguild.com/chadron.htm
It has, to the best of our knowledge, never be fully appreciated in either a book or film.
Of more specific interest to you is the fact that by the early 1900s American endurance racing had become such a huge spectator sport that the largest newspaper in Colorado sponsored a race from Evanston, Wyoming to the newspaper office in Denver. An estimated 25,000 people witnessed the conclusion of this race !
This race was used as the basis for the well-known 1970s movie called, "Bite the Bullet," which starred Gene Hackman, James Coburn, Ben Johnson, and Candice Bergman. This film is available on DVD. It is this race which we believe you are interested in.
We have several old articles on file about this race, including the names of the newspaper publisher who sponsored it, names and photos of several of the racers, their horses, etc.
If you could be so kind as to confirm that this is the race you are researching, The Guild will provide you with photocopies of this information.
I’m doing research for a book on an old road through Texas called Trammel’s Trace. There is evidence that the namesake of the trail was a smuggler of horses, not only between Fulton, AR and Nacogdoches, Texas -- the 180-miles of the Trace -- but also to Chihuahua.
My question is what kind of equipment or manpower would be needed to herd a couple of hundred horses through a wooded trail over that distance? Is there a name for the kind of lashing that would be needed?
Your "Trammel's Trace" project is very interesting. I took some time to study the internet regarding this trail before writing you back. Looks to me like you've got a strong historical story here, one which would include great history and a massive amount of intriguing equestrian clues.
After looking at your email again, I have a couple of suggestions.
First, if I was in the research stage on this project myself, I would obtain a copy of an out of print book called Old Brands and Lost Trails. Written by Ivan Denton, and published in 1991, it is an excellent account of a forgotten horse trail. The author not only "rediscovered" a lost horse/cattle trail stretching from Arkansas to California, he then spent six months riding it. The book is very well researched and well written.
The reason I recommend Ivan's book so strongly is because of its unique resemblance to your own project. There can't be that many "lost" trails ending up in Arkansas. So this book could almost serve as a published blue print of your own project. Ivan's research and ride revolved around the Cherokee Trail that went from Arkansas to the California Gold Fields in the 1850s.
In terms of your request for equine information, I'm afraid you're going to have to be more specific.
Do you mean riding and pack saddles?
We can help you there but do tell us more about specific years, nationalities, etc. We can help you with specifics but we can't write it for you.
Next, even though The Guild is the world's largest source of info on equestrian travel, I'm afraid there are no Long Riders on record who herded a hundred head of horses from Mexico to Arkansas. Yet here again, I do have a clue for you.
There was one Long Rider who had a similar equine experience as the one in your Trammel story. She was a British Long Rider, explorer and author named Beryl Smeeton. Between October, 1937 and January, 1938, she made a 1,000 mile ride through the Andes. Beryl rode alongside a taciturn gaucho who had been hired to take a herd of horses ALONE from Argentina to Chile. Her account of this amazing journey is terrific and can be found in her book, The Stars My Blanket. I believe Beryl's account is the most factual one you are going to find.
The people she describes could easily be "seen" in the Spanish setting of Trammel's day.
Finally, you know what they say. The best writers always write about what they know. Have you considered riding Trammel's Trace from the Mexican border to its Arkansas terminus? From an equestrian travel point of view, this couldn't be easier.
Plus, if you "re-open" this ancient equestrian trail while researching your book, every newspaper and television station along the way is going to be falling over themselves to interview you. With a saddlebag full of eye-witness research, and all those glowing articles, I would venture to guess that publishers will be a LOT more interested in your Trammel Trace project. It worked for Ivan, why not you?
OK, don't hesitate to email again if you get stuck on more equestrian issues.
Always glad to help an equestrian writer.
Good luck on your project.
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