Thundering of Hooves

Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? 
Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible. 
He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. 
He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. 
The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. 
He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. 
He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting. 
Job 39:19-25
 
Horses are beautiful, powerful, and full of fascination. Whether leading charges in battle, carrying kings in triumphant marches, racing across plains with urgent messages, or working in fields and carrying packs for traders and peasants, horse take their place in many books.
But, as epic as horses can be in writing, there limits to what they can do. So how fast and how far can horses really travel?
Horses have four basic gaits.
1. Walk: averages 4 mph
2. Trot: averages 8 to 12 mph
3. Canter: averages 12-15 mph
4. Gallop: averages 25-30 mph
Now it is obvious that a horse can’t sustain a gallop for hours on end. Even after walking it will eventually get tired. Here are a few accounts of horses through history to give you some basic references.
Mounted knights, during medieval times, could move fairly fast and cover 50-60 miles per day. Traveling 20-30 miles a day was considered a good distance, however. (Source)
During the 1860s, the Pony Express horses averaged nine mph over 25 mile stages.
In the Middle East, 26 mile marathons are won in just over an hour.
Texas Rangers once rode 60 miles between noon and dusk.
Mongol horses were hardy. In a history book I read, it said a Mongol horse once covered 600 miles in a single day. That’s 25 miles an hour…a sustained gallop for 24 straight hours. Unfortunately I don’t remember what the book is called, so I can’t verify the source. And this is not something any horse could do. A mounted Mongol army could travel 130 miles in two days, moving without a break.
But how about common travel? Here’s a handy list of the average miles per day a horse can travel under different conditions. This is assuming the horse is suitable for riding, conditioned for overland travel, and in good health. Also assuming that the weather fair, the roads/trails are in good conditions, and the travelers are riding for about ten hours a day.

On Roads / trails
Level or rolling terrain: 40
Hilly terrain: 30
Mountainous terrain: 20

Off-Road (or unkempt trails etc)
Level/rolling grasslands: 30
Hilly grasslands: 25
Level/rolling forest/thick scrub: 20
Very hilly forest/thick scrub: 15
Un-blazed Mountain passes: 10
Marshland: 10

Different conditions will make a change in time, as seen below.

 

 
A horse pulling a cart or a heavily laden horse: half the distance
 

 

Trained horses and riders (rangers, scouts, messengers): add half to the distance…though a horse won’t be able to keep up this pace for more than a few days at a time. An exceptional horse could maybe double the time.
Poor weather (heavy rain or wind): reduce distances by a quarter
Bad weather (heavy snow): reduce distances by half if not more.

(Source)

 

Found on Pinterest

 

 

What about the exceptional horses who make epic runs to carry urgent messages of invasion or pleas for help? How fast can some horses be pushed?

 

 

 

The Trevis cup is a 100 mile competition covering rugged and mountainous trails in the western United States. The Arabian horses that win this race, with little or no baggage, usually reach the end after about 17 hours.
In 1935, 28 riders rode Akhal-Tekes, a rare breed of horses from Turkmenistan who are known for their endurance, from Ashkabad to Moscow, This 2,600 mile ride included 215 miles of the harsh Kara Kum desert. They finished in 84 days.
The Marquis of Huntly rode from Aberdeen, Scotland, to Inverness (105 miles) in seven hours using eight relays of horses. Each horse averaged 15 mph for around 13 miles.
In 1886, Frank Hopkins rose a stallion 1800 miles in 31 days. He averaged 58 miles a day, traveling no more than ten hours a day, and the horse finished in excellent condition.
Found on Pinterest
Now, I have no idea how far or fast winged horses can fly, but here is a picture of what such a creature might look like. I want one. Anyway, I hope this has been helpful. For more writing details on horses (in general), this website has quite a bit of useful information.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Great article Hope! I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Pingback: August Highlights – Boating, Swords, and Personality Types | Writing in the Light

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