Riding horses over long distances: what gait?

If you ride a horse all day (say for 8 hours) what gait do you use? Most depictions in movies seem to imply the horses going at full gallop, but can a horse really go all day carrying a rider at a gallop, or even a canter? Did Ghengis Kahn and Attila the Hun and Geronimo gallop for 8 straight hours?

My wife, the horse person in the family says that a horse can trot or fast gait for eight hours.

Alas, I cannot remember the site, and I am too tired to go on now, but the pony express had stations, and fresh horses at an hours galloping distance apart from each other.

I’d be surprised if a horse could keep up a trot for eight hours straight, but I’m sure it couldn’t gallop for that long. I don’t know much about gaited horses, but I imagine a rack or running walk might be more sustainable for long periods.

Western-trained horses move somewhat differently than “English” trained horses, and the trot and lope (canter) of Western-trained horses were developed to be comfortable and sustainable for both horse and rider for long periods of time.

Endurance riders who compete at long distances will do a combination of walk, trot and canter, depending on the conditions and fitness of the horse, with the majority of the distance at walk and trot.

Horses wouldn’t generally be worked for eight hours straight, if you were going to ride a horse that kind of time and distance (say mustering cattle), you’d spell them several times during that period, and you’d spend a lot of time walking.

In general terms, how far can you reasonably travel on a horse in one day? On successive days?

Assume cross country or rough roads/paths, decent weather and conditions, and a desire to get where you are going as quickly as reasonably possible but not run you or your steed into the ground.

I went on a 5 days horse riding trip when I was about 15.
From what I remember, we were riding about 8 hours a day with a break for lunch (a good hour if not two). We mostly had the horses “walk” (I am not familiar with the proper terms in English). We would have once a day an awesome galloping frenzie when the terrain permitted it.
We were travelling 30 to 3 kilometers a day ifI recall correctly. We were not hurrying.
Damn, it was so awesome…! :wink:

oops 30 to 35 kilometers a day…!

How long do you want your horse to last? A modern rider will not want to abuse his horse but I’m sure G.K. and Attila the Bun didn’t care as I’m sure worn out and lame horses were used to feed the troops.

How far a horse can reasonably travel in a day depends on a lot of things. As you mention, terrain and weather are two of them. Other factors will be the breed and size of the horse, the horse’s (and rider’s) fitness level and general condition, the skill of the rider and the fit of the horse’s equipment.

Some breeds of horses tend to have naturally better endurance than others, which is why Arabians predominate in the sport of endurance. All else being equal a fit Arabian, the energizer bunny of the horse world, will be able to travel farther and faster than, say, a warmblood. Some of this is to do with size, since smaller horses can cool down faster, some of it is to do with the kind musculature (think of the difference between a human sprinter and marathon runner).

I’ve ridden endurance-trained Arabians who found anything less than 50km to be uninteresting, while my own big horses would be seriously challenged by the same distance.

A good, balanced rider will make a lot of difference to a horse. Think of carrying a balanced load as opposed to one which flops all over the place. The balanced load is easier for the horse to carry and much kinder on the horse’s back.

And like wearing comfortable shoes to walk, you’ll get more distance out of a horse if its equipment is suitable and comfortable.

So the answer to your question is sort of, “it depends”, but you could look at endurance riding for an answer. In Australia the Tom Quilty endurance ride does 100 miles in 24 hours (160 km on one horse in one day), with compulsory vet checks to ensure the welfare of the horses. In the US the Tevis Cup covers a similiar distance.

There is also the Shahzada, a five day, 400 km endurance ride held in NSW (Australia). Again, the rule is one rider, one horse for the five days, with vet checks.

If it is any help, in the old days when the Army had nearly as many horses as horses’ asses, the standard for mounted troops was 40 miles a day, day in and day out. Thus the old song:

Oh, the drums do bang
And the cymbals clang
And this is the way we go
Forty miles a day
On beans and hay
In the regular army, oh.

That sort of thing was hard on horses but back then horses were transportation, not pets. For example in the great Louisiana-Texas maneuvers in 1940 the First Cavalry Division went into a 60-day operation with something like 25,000 horses, cavalry mounts, artillery draft animals and quartermaster horses and mules. The unit was just about giddy with delight because only 600 animals became unfit for use during the operation.

When Teddy Roosevelt wanted to clear the dead wood out of the officer corps, he imposed a fitness standard of completing a fifty-mile horseback ride in 24 hours. That got rid of a lot of old duffers, many of whom were veterans of the Indian Wars and even of the Civil War.

On a long hide you need to change pace every once in a while just to keep horse and rider from stiffening up. Walk, slow trot and canter. Seldom if ever a stirrup to stirrup, hell for leather gallop. Occasionally you need to stop, dismount and let the horse blow for a few minutes

The Mongols rode their horses hard, all right, but those small, homely beasts were incredibly tough – able to go a long way on poor forage. Also, the Mongols would switch horses during their long rides. Each warrior led a string of remounts, and could jump from one horse to the other, at any gait.

Yeah, I guess all that riding led to Attila being called like that. :smiley: