Heh – horseback edition

I was doing some research for a novel that’s in progress, and wanted to double-check something:  so I went online and looked around.  I found a thread asking, “What’s considered ‘a day’s ride’ for folks on a horse with average load over average terrain (relatively flat, even)? Not necessarily flat-out, but at a pace that won’t wear out the horse?”

There were the usual thoughtful, considered answers, like “Anywhere from 15 to 30 miles is a realistic number to work with”, or “Everything I’ve read indicates a good days travel on horseback is around 30 miles, more or less”.  However, this answer made me do a spit-take.

My daughter (and wife and I) started horseback riding lessons in February. Based on how my ass feels afterward, I’d say 200 yards.



  1. I could do 10 miles or so without much effort when I was a a kid. It felt like my liver and kidneys were trading places ever so often, but after a few weeks riding, they made new homes, and it evened out.

    I wrangled horses at a summer camp one summer, and I bet we rode 10 miles a day easy on those old wore out horses. They wouldn't move faster than a trot, no matter how many times sneakers pounded on them.

    Some horses have a foxtrot, not a walk, not a trot, but in betwixt the two. Easy on the rider and the horse can cover some ground, too. I'd bet 30 miles on a horse with hard fat and in shape was easy. The horses that were ridden back then were used to it. I'd guess 40 to 45 miles out in west Texas. We had a golden palomino mare that could glide across the miles in a foxtrot.

    Story went that Billy the Kid rode a horse to El Paso in a day, and it died when he got there. 100 miles?? (dim memory there, YMMV)

  2. In the Calvary 50 miles per day was considered normal. Pony Express that would just be getting the horse warmed up.

    Modern day endurance rides run typically 50 to 100 miles, but that is pretty much rider only. There is (was?) a 250 mile ride (5 days, 50/day) in Michigan. The Tevis in California is one of the hardest 100 milers terrain wise. Top rider/horse contenders have finished it in just over 10 hours.

  3. The Pony Express comment by Steve S got me thinking… I went to that museum in St Joe MO and remembered something…

    Pony Express – Wikipedia
    Jump to Horses – The horses were ridden quickly between stations, an average distance of 15 miles (24 km), and then were relieved and a fresh horse would be exchanged for the one that just arrived from its strenuous run. During his route of 80 to 100 miles (130 to 160 km), a Pony Express rider would change horses 8 to 10 times.

  4. St. Joseph, MO. Where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended. Lot of history in that old town, lot of good museums, and a lot of corruption in the city government. If you're ever in the area, the Patee House, Jesse James Home, and Pony Express Museum are all worth the visit.

  5. As the others have said, 15-30 miles/day and definitely dependent on terrain! I’m surprised the guy wasn’t complaining about his thighs too! Most of the Calvary horses were in good shape, and they alternated between walk, trot, canter, walk, trot, etc. as they rode their patrols. Unlike the movies, they seldom galloped as that was a short distance (a mile, maybe more) and the horse needed to be given a break after galloping.

    1. @bruce A man in great shape could go farther than a horse in a day, a man in good shape could go farther than a horse in a week. But he's carrying less and is going to be useless at the end of it.

      And yeah, 15 was the Pony Express, rode-every-day mileage, 30 for a daily rider, 40 for a horse in good shape if it's being ridden daily for more than a week, they'll need a good bit of rest after that though. Cavalry also often carried spare mounts, so they'd swap off to give their horses some rest.

  6. Plains Indians' war parties could cover an astonishing amount of ground in a day, but they had strings of horses and changed mounts as necessary. Not like the US cavalry.

  7. Dont know if its relevant to your story but I remember reading once that the little towns in farm country tended to be about 20-25 miles apart to service farm communities. The premise was that a farmer could drive his wagon to the closest town, take care of business and return home on a Saturday. I guess if you know how far the little towns were apart in the region you are writing about you might have a working figure for at least a days wagon ride.

  8. Peter, if one reads L. Lamore, one get's a good idea of a horse's and its rider's limitations. As for me, I have a rule after being thrown twice in no more than a 100 yards: Never trust a large moving entity that has a brain of its own.

  9. For whatever it may be worth, Heinlein has a throwaway comment in Starship Troopers (as a comparison with the trained troopers' endurance on foot) to the effect that 50 miles was good mileage for a horse.

    On a related note, in England, at a time when transport was horse-powered, there was a convention that one offered hospitality at a rate of one night per 50 miles travelled from homeby one's guests.

  10. The Boy Scout Council in Portland (OR) has 75 horses at Butte Creek Ranch, some of which are ridden 165 miles to Camp Baldwin in 9 days before Camp Baldwin is opened and after it is closed for the season. Scouts pay $650 to ride them.

  11. I was born and raised on a horse farm. My first hand knowledge is that first ride you take in the spring will have you crippled up for days – even if you're a child and want to run around and play baseball. By the end of the summer, you could stay in the saddle all day and not feel it.

    Calvary would generally ride for an hour, then walk next to the horse for 15 minutes or so. Spare horses were included in case a horse broke down and couldn't be ridden.

    Mules or burros were used as pack animals. If you want a lesson in humility, just try riding a burro sometime, then remember that Christ rode a burro colt without incident. The only way you'll ever ride a burro is if the burro lets you.

    A horse's go-to gait when it wants to get from point A to point B is the trot, or jog trot. Just a little faster than walking, horses can jog a long way. Given the weight of one rider with saddle (150 pounds, absolute max), a horse is able to run a little over a mile.

    All this depends on the horse and rider being in shape. Remember, we have no cars, no bicycles, none of that. You wanted to go somewhere, you walked or rode. The people and horses back then were hard.

    While I'm at it, I heard from Chatelaine, Big Mike's mother, that your westerns are excellent reading and she enjoys them. I think the idea is that you stop fooling around and write a few more.

  12. During round-up, we'd often do 40 miles over rough terrain a day.
    But there was fodder waiting at the end, and the horse generally got the next day off.

  13. In southern OK, most towns are 10 miles from the county seat, so that you can ride there, conduct business and return in one day.

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