Possible distance travelled by horse over 6 weeks?

Worldbuilding Asked by Tonny on December 5, 2020

I always get very annoyed if a writer is sloppy with maps and travel-distances.
E.g. “They left city Y and arrived in city X 5 days later.” When you look at the supplied map Y and X are a 1600 kilometers apart. Must have been really special horses.

So I like to avoid doing the same. Problem is that I don’t know much about long-distance traveling by horse. And finding info on the Internet is very hard or my Google-Fu is failing completely on this one: All I can find is enduro-racing for horses and speed-records for horses. Neither of which is relevant for my problem.

To get to the actual questions, first some background:
For a story in a Fantasy setting (late Medieval/early Renaissance world) I have a group of 8 people traveling by horse. The travel is going to take them 6 weeks. This duration is a given to make several parallel time-lines match up in the story. I like to keep the traveling as realistic as possible. Presume earth-like conditions.

Travel is subject to the following constraints:

  • This is the only “magic/fantasy” aspect: The rider and his/her horse are magically bonded. This means the horse and rider can’t be separated by more than a kilometer. The horse can’t be abused or ridden to death: this would mentally unbalance the rider. So the horses need to survive the journey and arrive in reasonable condition. Each rider needs to ride his/her own horse. Due to the bond riding a different horse is impossible.
  • The riders and horses are accustomed to prolonged long-distance travel, but the horses are not specifically bred for this. They are high-quality riding horses, but not physically exceptional in any way.
  • Riders travel light (couple of saddle-bags, blanket). Majority of luggage, armor, food-supplies and camping gear goes on the pack-horse(s). Pack-horses can be replaced as needed. At most 1 pack-horse per rider.
  • Assume travel in summer in temperate climate. 20-25 Celsius during the day. At night at least 10 Celsius. About 18 hours of daylight. Weather is mostly dry, with the occasional light rain or maybe a short thunderstorm.
  • The party will often usually camp at night in the open. Horses will be able to find sufficient feed and water. At least every 4th or 5th day the party will encounter a village or town with an inn or a caravanserai so they can spend the night in comfort. In such places they can also buy supplies and pack-horses. A farrier is available in such places too.
    (This item is slightly edited to clarify that an inn is less frequent than camping, but there wont be more than 5 days between inns.)
  • Terrain is mostly flat or gently rolling plains. Some hills, but they are not steep. Woodlands, prairie, pastures and fields near villages/towns. The roads consist of hard-packed dirt or a dirt-gravel mix and are in decent condition. After rain they will dry out quickly so one can presume the travelers won’t have to deal with heavy suction mud.

Now for the actual questions:

  1. How much distance can I expect the party to cover on average per day? (Bear in mind they will have to travel continuously for 6 weeks.) I can add a few resting days if needed for the benefit of the horses.
    I have a great deal of leeway with the map (like adding an inland sea or impassable mountain range) so I can easily make the route match up to the kilometers required.
  2. What would the typical traveling-day look like? I have no idea how fast the horses would actually go. How many resting-breaks would be needed during the day? How long would those have to be?

I’m hoping for some enlightenment on the subject so I can construct a convincing “travel-blog” for this story.

20 Answers

I found this answer by googling 'how far can horses travel'.

Essentially, it depends on the horse. Horses are athletes, and well conditioned horses that are used to travelling long distances can travel much further than horses that are not used to such activity. If your horses don't get out and do this particularly often, then 20-30 miles (30-50 km) per day is probably a good estimate. Wikipedia supports this, with a claim of 30 miles (50km) per day for a small mounted company. This involves the horse walking for most of the duration of the day, with short breaks.

Of course, a fit horse can travel further than this. Mounted soldiers would ride their horses 50-60 miles (80-100 km) in a day. This is more taxing on both the horses and the riders.

Over the course of 6 weeks of travel, it's possible that good riding horses would get into better travel shape, and be able to go further, perhaps in the 40 mile (65 km) per day range. This would involve spending much of the day at a pace faster than a walk, such as a trot, though not at a canter or gallop. Trotting would be interspersed with periods of walking to allow the horses to rest while still moving forwards.

Assuming two slower weeks to get into shape, this would give you a total distance of:

$$ (14 text{days} times 25 text{miles/day}) = 350 text{miles} $$ $$ + (28 text{days} times 40 text{miles/day}) = 1120 text{miles} $$ $$ = 1470 text{miles} $$

around 1470 miles. Allowing for some variation, this becomes between 1200-1500 miles (1900-2400km) over 6 weeks.

Note that, at the upper end of this, the riders may have more trouble than the horses. During the middle ages, long rides were usually taken on horses referred to as palfreys, which possessed a smooth, ambling gait rather than a trot. This made them much more comfortable to ride for long distances, since a trot is quite bouncy. This isn't something that the horses are trained to do or learn to do over the course of a ride. Rather, it is a breed characteristic of certain horses. If your riders are not on such horses, they will probably be travelling more around the 20-30 mile per day range, and as such their total distance will be more around 1200 miles for 6 weeks.

Correct answer by ckersch on December 5, 2020

Ok, in the 18th and early 19th century the Mail Coach in England went at 8mph, day and night, changing horses every 20 miles or so; a fast sporting curricle was expected to do up to 16 mph but not sustainably. The Prince of Wales drove to Brighton from London - 51 miles - in 4 1/2 hours; he rested his team and drove back in 5 1/2 hours. But then his team of horses would have cost the equivalent to a Ferrari in this day and age! most coaches expected to travel 100 miles in a day with 12-16 hours travel, changing horses 4 times. A rider would go faster, of course, not having the weight, and the stamina of the horse as well as how heavy the rider and his kit may be will all play on the equation. cooling the horse by walking slowly regularly is the key, also not letting it gorge on cold water, which can make the poor beast keel over and die. Horses are ridiculously fragile.

the land you describe sounds like prime farm land; is it really so uninhabited all the way? the medieval pattern for settled land is a market town every 12 miles, with villages about 6 miles away [you can check this on a map, using tracing paper to make marks; you end up with a honeycomb pattern most places in Europe], this being the distance a peasant farmer can cart his goods/drive his herds and flocks in one day to markete, 6 miles, and then return at night.

Answered by Sarah Waldock on December 5, 2020

Comments: A human in shape can travel further and faster on his own feet than on a horse. Accounts of American SW tribes describe long distance travel at 40-50 miles a day living on parched corn. Corn was packed in moccasins, as the time a pair lasted was about the same as the time to eat through that much corn.

I recall somewhere reading that standard forced march proceedure for cavalry in America's old west was 50 minutes riding, 10 minutes leading your horse. This is similar to what is often used for marching infantry.

Grazing is going to be critical, as well as a grain ration. Without the grain ration, a horse needs to spend a lot more time grazing. That in turn will mean additional pack horses.

Mention was made of the Oregon Trail above. This was the speed that a wagon could move, usually pulled by a pair of oxen. Oxen are not fast, but are steady and easier to care for than horses. 2 mph for 6-10 hours a day.

Answered by Sherwood Botsford on December 5, 2020

20 miles a day would be humane. Most of the. Answers are not allowing tacking up, untacking., feeding, a. rest. after feeding(at least 3 times a day) grazing , the. (horse can eat or sleep in his off time but not both) Long term works out to about 20 miles. Problem is food. Covered wagons found 15a day was good. On good roads. )

Answered by Carole boldt on December 5, 2020

I thought I'd throw my two-cents in here, both on a few realism points and a few specific to the fact that you are writing fiction.

Real: 1. The figures of 35 km/day are only about as applicable for your group as the moun-switching courriers. They apply to large cavalry units (who have to travel as a unit and so are necessarily slower and also have large ammounts of setup/takedown). 2. The Oregon trail figures are likely closest to your goal, but keep in mind that these travellers didn't necessarily have a deadline other than "be done travelling before winter starts". I'm guessing the riders in your story have a more immediate need to get where they are going, so their overall progress would be faster. I'd wager somewhere in 30-40m/day.

Fantasy: 1. Especially with the concept of the magically bonded mounts, I'd feel it not just "ok" but almost vital for your mounts to be equally "heroic" examples of their kind. You'd want to specify at least in passing that their performance was NOT typical, but a hero's mount pushing harder, being heartier and bolder than a typical horse is quite fitting. 2. If the rider can sense the horse's needs and discomfort through their bond, would not the horses also be able to sense their rider's sense of urgency or need to reach their goal? With the horses not wandering too far while foraging at night, it seems like the bond is dual-directional, no?

Answered by HA Harvey on December 5, 2020

Keep in mind the cavalry trials of the 1920s. The test was 60 miles a day for 5 days, 9-10 hours per day (walk and trot), total of 300 miles. Up and down difficult hilly terrain in Vermont. The horses could not wear bandages of any kind, and had to carry 225 to 275 lbs (the weight changed each year), simulating a cavalry horse carrying rider and equipment. Each horse was judged for soundness at the end of each day. Around 20-30 horses started each test and only 4-6 finish sound and fit to continue. Purebred Arabians did very badly, and the opinion was that they were not able to carry the weight. The bigger part-Arabians did well. So, if you are thinking in terms of on-going travel, the figures already given of 30-40 miles a day seems fair. In addition, if you are doing a medieval/renaissance fantasy, keep in mind that in the real medieval/renaissance world, riding horses used to travel long distance were gaited horses. Gaited horses are able to travel long distances more quickly and keep going forever for three reasons (1) they have been bred as riding horses for 2000 years, so they do this well; (2) they can maintain higher speeds for longer distances going walk-rack-walk-rack; (3) studies are now showing that the large heart in the thoroughbred originated with gaited "travelling" horses - so many gaited horses also have the large heart that allows them to maintain a higher travelling speed over a longer period of time.
Saddlebreds, for example, are fantastic endurance horses, although they are rarely used for this event. In the cavalry tests mentioned above there was only one Saddlebred entered. He was a 5-gaited show horse ridden by his lawyer owner (and they lost their way and had to travel several extra miles in one race). This horse was entered in two tests and he finished and scored both times.

Answered by Lila on December 5, 2020

I don't really have anything to depend on except my experience growing up on a farm. Most likely distance travelled in day would be 30+ mi per day average travel. Don't forget that travel time is reduced by caring for the horse time: break time means you pull the saddle & saddle blanket off the horse. Their backs itch after a long ride. And brush the horse down. Treat your horse as you would treat yourself!!! You don't go on a long hike and take a break leaving your backpack on.

Answered by Steven on December 5, 2020

According to "An Equestrian Writer’s Guide"

Based on a loose “ideal” situation, a Long Rider can hope to average between 15 and 25 miles a day. You don’t ride a horse cross country like you drive a car. That means the Long Rider usually rides for five days and then takes two days off to rest himself and his horses.

When talking about speed, the guide goes on to say..

Walk – 3 to 5 mph (four beat movement or gait)
Trot – 8 to 10 mph (two beat movement)
Canter – 15 mph (three beat movement)
Gallop – 25 to 30 mph (A two-beat stride during which all four legs are off the ground simultaneously. This is a four-beat movement)

Answered by Andrew Neely on December 5, 2020

Recent facts: in 2012 a group of cossacks rode with their horses from Moscow to Paris to commemorate the chasing back of Napoleon in 1812. They took 65 days for 2800 km. In includes restdays and they travelled als light als possible so little or no saddlebags.

Perhaps interesting to know that there are serious plans to ride from Moscow to Wladiwostock nearly 10.000 km. One of the problems they allready recognized is that they will find on most of the rote no villages.

Answered by Peter on December 5, 2020

assuming this is a ragtag band of heroes and not a army to answer you first question, 20-25 miles a day for the terrain you describe and travelling reasonable daylight hours. a good reference would be the old west, it took 5-6 months to travel 2000 miles along a trail. (the Oregon Trail) thats 80-100 miles a week. a cowboy (on his own) would take about a week to travel 150-180 miles cross country and even slower in a group. any reference from the 18-1900s would be a good indication but anything 20th century would include riding on roads (built up infrastructure) so you could easily double that figure. but i can't see it being healthy for the horse to travel more than that, especially if you wanted that horse to do the same the next day. As for the second part that depends on the journey and the situation (are they on the run, is someone following them or are they on a mission for god) hope this helps and good luck

Answered by roy on December 5, 2020

Useful tool from Stanford to calculate travel in Roman Empire

Answered by roman pilip on December 5, 2020

Data from the ancient Roman army: Cavalry without foot had a marching speed of around 35 kilometers per day. This is only a little bit more than what marching foot would achieve (ca. 25 km per day).

  • Keep in mind that long distance travel speed for horses is walk, not trot/canter. And the aim was that this speed could be carried on for indefinite durations, without horses or riders being worn down, or out of shape in case of sudden engagements.
  • Further the horses needed to carry a fair bit of heavy equipment i.e. the cavalry man plus his gear (easily another 40 kg).
  • Also, Roman troops generally fortified their camps each night, and cooked meals based on raw grain, which took time to grind and prepare. If this is skipped, there might be some more time for daily travel.

All in all, I'd take these 35 km to be the minimum of what you could expect from a heavy packed, slow traveling cavalry group on decent roads. If your group is lighter packed, smaller, and doesn't mind wearing their horses down a bit (i.e. giving them a couple of weeks rest after reaching their destination) I think 60 km per day is a realistic maximum.

P.S. If somebody is interested I can look up the exact sources for this (a book about the legions of Augustus).

Answered by fgysin reinstate Monica on December 5, 2020

I have this problem a lot, because the nature of medieval fantasy is that people travel quite a bit. As a fellow writer, to get around the problem of being accurate with maps/time and distances, I get around the problem by never putting a scale or mentioning distances in miles/km/leagues. Just decide that, on your map, two weeks' travel = x cm. The great thing about medieval fantasy is that in that sort of time period people don't have the world's best idea of distance - and everyone's distances are different (take the difference of London, Bristol and York miles for instance). The 'universal measurement of distance' is time taken to travel. I have two major cities that are two weeks' travel by horse and I base all other measurements against this.

Answered by Sifa Poulton on December 5, 2020

You might check out this site about people who actually do such long rides.

Another point to consider is that horses are grazing animals, and have evolved on a fairly continuous food supply moving through the gut. They don't do well on one or two big meals a day. Also for additional verisimilitude, you might want to put in details about hoof care &c. And remember, horses aren't sports cars!

PS: Another practical point is that on a long ride, it's rather nice to get off and walk with the horse occasionally, otherwise you can get pretty stiff. (Or even trot: I can keep up with my horse pretty well at a moderate trot, though I've never managed a canter :-))

Answered by jamesqf on December 5, 2020

Some data points:

Teddy Roosevelt got up and rode 100 miles, from sunrise to sunset, at 51 years old, after receiving so many complaints from army cavalrymen that had to ride 25 miles a day for training!

Bud and Temple Abernathy - Rode 4,500 miles from New York to San Francisco in 62 days in 1911. They were aged 11 and 7 and traveled without adult supervision. == 72.5mi/day (and allegedly w/o buying new horses - but also, lighter weight than full grown adults).

Answered by user3082 on December 5, 2020

I suspect this isn't the answer you are looking for exactly, but based on what you say, your rider likes his horse, so this may be interesting. When the Spanish missionaries were setting up missions along the coast of California, their main requirement was that they be a day's ride by horseback apart. So if you look at a map of California and check the distance between any big coastal city starting with "San" or "Santa" (plus Los Angeles, look up why if you are curious), it's about 30 miles.

A horse can certainly be ridden faster, but if you have long distances over multiple days and you want to keep the same horse and have it survive, this is about what you want to do. Add to that a comfortable/safe place to stop for the night and have a warm meal, and 30 miles seems about right.

Answered by IchabodE on December 5, 2020

Although I haven't done much long riding, I know a few people who do and I do spend as much time as possible in the saddle, so I have some thoughts here.

The answers that say that a horse travels on average at brisk walking speed for a human are basically correct- you can actually make somewhat better time if you trot some of the time, cantering/galloping everywhere in the way that people do in films or video games is entirely inaccurate. On average it is a little faster than travelling on foot, but the biggest advantage is that the rider is not as tired at the end of it.

Bear in mind that horses are very capable of carrying a rider a long distance, but if you are wanting to also carry supplies, camping equipment and any other needs for the road then you will probably want to have some pack animals along. These may be horses or ponies but there would be a good chance of donkeys or mules being used for pack too.

The biggest problems that you will run into on long journeys are likely to be to do with the comfort of the equipment over time- a well fitted saddle will be comfortable enough over time, but any problems with saddle fit quickly tell on the horse's ability and willingness to keep moving. Likewise there are many reasons that lameness can arise from muscle strains or hoof abscesses to much more serious injuries. A considerate rider will get off the moment a horse shows any sign of lameness and if it seems serious that would probably be the end of the day's travel. Horses are surprisingly fragile.

The quality of feed is also important- a sudden change in richness risks a horse colicking, which is often fatal. Likewise mouldy or bad feed is liable to result in colic. Too much energy ( typically too much grain ) and you'll find yourself sat on an unexploded bomb - although once you're engaged on a long journey like this, then higher-energy feed in smaller portions will help to maintain strength.

In terms of the journey there is also a consideration of how you keep the horses from wandering off overnight- tethering them individually may not be practical so I would expect to either picket or hobble them. Hobbling ties up a leg ( or ties too legs together ) so that horses can move but not very fast and they're unlikely to go far away. If you have a well established herd, you would probably only need to hobble the lead mare and the others would be unlikely to stray far from her. However it is not unknown to have to spend a while tracking down hobbled horses in the morning if something has spooked them or it smelled like some interesting food off in the distance. Picketing - tying the horses to a line between two trees or posts - keeps them exactly where you know they are, but they can't browse during the night beyond the feed they are given. Horses are trickle-feeders by nature so it is healthiest for them to be grazing as much as possible- allowing them to browse overnight fulfills this need. Some useful information on setting up camp with horses.

You might imagine that carrying a rider from a horse's point of view is a little like our experience of carrying a heavy backpack. There are lots of ways that even a well fitted saddle can cause problems over time ( especially if the rider is not expertly balanced ) and an experienced rider will make sure they lift up the saddle from time to time to allow the back to cool down and get some ventilation but also on a long journey you would probably want to give horses at least one day off every week or so, just to give them a chance to stretch and recover from their travels. Bear in mind that descriptions of very fast journeys have tended to describe situations with remounts available or where horses were ridden beyond the limits of welfare.

In terms of a typical day's travel you would tack up as late as possible once you had broken camp, load up the pack animals and saddle the horses. You would probably ride in roughly 3 hour stretches with a mix of walk and trot depending on the terrain and conditions, taking short ( 20-30 minute ) breaks during which the riders dismount and maybe lift up the horses' saddles a bit to let their backs air. If there was an opportunity for them to take on water at the same time, that would be ideal. Horses suffer much more from heat than from cold so starting early to make the most of cool mornings and possibly taking a break through the hottest part of the day would be smart- both of these would probably a good idea from the riders' perspective too. At the end of the day you would want to walk the horses for the last few miles to give them time to cool off. It isn't ideal for them to finish the day sweated up so if that can be avoided most riders would endeavour to do so.

It may be worth reading some accounts of long distance horse travel- I recommend The Fairly Big Ride as being entirely online and a really enjoyable read.

Answered by glenatron on December 5, 2020

A horse walks at an average 4-5 km/h. Horses walk at the same speed as people. If you paid attention at movies, you would see horses and humans always keeping the same pace.

I ride mountain bikes in the country, and I use my cycle computer to get that data from real "work" horses (not thoroughbred).

Answered by user4787 on December 5, 2020

The Persian "Royal Road" couriers could make 240 miles a day.

Mounted couriers could travel 1677 miles (2699 km) in seven days; the journey from Susa to Sardis took ninety days on foot. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote, "There is nothing in the world that travels faster than these Persian couriers." Herodotus's praise for these messengers—"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"— was inscribed on the James Farley Post Office in New York and is sometimes thought of as the United States Postal Service creed.

Now, this was with a government maintained route with way-stations where horses would be swapped out to avoid breaking them down, where fodder and food were available for the couriers all the time. Having to scrounge food for horses and men, and rest would cut into the time considerably.

If you are going out into the wild and expecting your horse to forage, fine 'riding animals' aren't usually the best choice, as they need grains rather than grass. Often in history wiry ponies able to live off grass were better able to hold up rather than fancy horses or worse yet, warhorses.

Answered by Oldcat on December 5, 2020

I use ORBIS from the Stanford University to get the travel time right. It let you calculate how long it take to get from point A to point B in the Roman Empire using different roads and mean of transport.

I assume they travel on roads in a place similar to Portugal and central Spain probably. The trip from Lisboa to Zaragoza took 17 days for 947 km. On average, they can ride 56 km per day.

So in 6 weeks we have 42 days = 2352 km

Your second question is harder to answer. I know they travel in a climate with a relatively dry but not too hot summer. Actually, the climate of central Asia is also a good candidate. Obviously, they need to rest at inns. Your likely to find village with inns since you are travelling on a road. Water is usually not a problem because roads are normally located with access to water source. If it's not the case and water is scarce between the villages like it's the case in Western China (Xingjiang and Qinhai) you need also to transport your own water and possibly some food. However, these places are much drier and a camel is more appropriate than a horse.

Answered by Vincent on December 5, 2020

Add your own answers!

Ask a Question

Get help from others!

© 2024 All rights reserved. Sites we Love: PCI Database, UKBizDB, Menu Kuliner, Sharing RPP