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Questions from writers & answers from CuChullaine O’Reilly of the Long Riders’ Guild

Page 2

I'm attempting to write a fictional book -  but it involves traveling on horseback. If you could please help me with some of my enquires it would be very much appreciated. For the moment, I have only a few questions:  How far can a horse travel in one day?

That depends on the age and condition of the horse, the weather and the terrain being covered. For example, I doubt a 98-year-old granny could hike up a hill with a 50 pound pack on her back as fast a twenty-year athlete. Same applies to horses.

How fast can a horse travel when he's walking, trotting... umm... and everything?

 "Everything" is a bit vague, isn't it? So here's a rule of thumb. Horses should be able to walk briskly and do 3 to 5 miles an hour on average. They trot at 5 to 7 miles an hour. They canter faster. They gallop even faster. However, most travellers will alternate between a walk and a trot. They seldom run a horse for a lot of reasons. It is tiring, the equipment usually bangs about and you run the risk of creating saddle sores and then the ride is over.

How much can saddlebags hold?

Saddlebags should not hold more than ten pounds on either side. Remember, it's not the kilometers that kill your horse, it's the kilograms.
What is the average height of a horse?

 What's the average height of a husband? Tell me where your story is set and what breed of horse you're talking about and then I can answer that question. Better yet, determine what breed of horse is in your story, then Google that breed. You'll find great descriptions and details on line.
If you  can help me with any of my enquires, I would be grateful!

Thank you!

No, problem.


I don't know much about horses. I am researching our local history in order to write an historical-fiction article. The year is 1758 and the rider is George Washington and his Indian guide. It is the time period right after the English chased the French out of the Ohio Valley and established Fort Pitt. There were Indian and military paths/roads. They had to ford the Susquehanna river at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and stopped on this side of the Schuylkill River and did not need to cross it. The ride is being done in December but the weather is mild.



Dear Gretchen,

Fording a river is tricky at best, and dangerous at worst. Read this story about a Long Rider who dies crossing a river with his horse.

Allow extra time for your Long Riders to stop and examine the banks of the river, test the footing for the horses, peer at the other side to make sure it appears to have solid footing for the horses to ride out on. Nobody crosses rivers in winter without a sense of dread and fear of death, either by drowning or exposure. Consider any stream a distraction that will slow the horses.
And remember that the riders will take this opportunity to stop and water the horses, for a few mouthfuls only.

I would seriously consider adding a pack horse to the story of this ride.

I say that because how else are you going to be able to have the travellers have a coffee pot, a pencil and paper, George's extra shirt, some food, the brush and hoof pick needed for the horses, etc, if you don't have a trusty pack pony trotting alongside?

Not taking a pack pony is like saying you bought a car without a trunk. True, there are sporty two-seater sports cars that only hold driver, passenger and what goes in the glove compartment. But people don't set off to tour America in cars like that, nor would two seasoned Long Riders set off across the eighteenth century wilderness without taking similar precautions.


How far can a horse travel in one day? Or a pack of horses?



Dear Ami,

Whereas I can guess at what you mean, i.e. how far could a horse travel in an ideal day, that question can't be answered by me until you, the author, determine what are the factors involved.

To ask how far can a horse travel in a day is reminiscent of asking how far can a car travel in one day. A taxi cab crawling through snarled New York city traffic isn't going to make as many miles as a Porsche screaming across a sunny interstate in barren Nebraska, if you see what I mean.

Being writers and publishers, as well as equestrian experts, we are sympathetic to your desire to be accurate. But you'll have to figure out a lot of assorted details before you continue.

Here are some examples of what will effect your ultimate answer.

What size is the horse?

How old is it and what is its health condition?

How much the does the rider weigh?

How talented a rider is he/she?

How much gear, including the saddle, bridle, saddle bags, etc. is the riding horse carrying in addition to the rider?

Is there a pack horse in this equitation?

If so, how much does the pack saddle weigh?

And do the riding and pack horses get along?

What time of year is the trip being undertaken, i.e. is it sunny, rainy, snowy or windy?

What are the geographic conditions, flat lovely roads winding across pastures in Maryland or snake infested switchback trails in the Rocky Mountains?

What age is the trip being done, i.e. late 19th century with accommodations for horse and rider found along all major roads in the Eastern part of America, or early 21st century when you can't find a horse shoer or a barn if your life depends on it?

Those are the sort of issues that you, the writer, need to consider before you continue your literary journey.


I am writing an American Revolutionary War period fiction novel. My characters are travelling on horseback and with a mule across South Carolina from the coast to the mountains in 1781. They will follow the Cherokee Trail 168 miles through various terrain--swamps; canebrakes along the river; sand hills; piedmont; to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the far northwest corner of South Carolina.


1. How often should they stop to rest the horses?

2. How many times a day would the horses eat?

3. What could the horses eat along the way? I'm thinking that since they stick close to the river, there should be access to grasses. Should I have them pack some feed on the mule, such as corn or oats?



Dear Susan,

Thanks for your message, which isn't the first The Guild has received from potential authors seeking to introduce the elements of equestrian reality and accuracy into their work.

As for your specific questions, here are some brief answers to each query.

How often should they stop to rest the horses?

This depends on a wide variety of issues, including the condition of the animals prior to their departure, the season, that day's weather, what geographic challenges they face that day, the proper fit of the riding and pack saddles, how often and accurately the animals are fed, and how talented the riders are. You, the writer, need to address all of these issues if you wish to introduce the concept of equestrian accuracy into your work, otherwise you shall find yourself placing your characters into those Hollywood fictions wherein cowboys galloped their horses from sunrise to sunset, and then mysteriously found themselves comfortably sitting around a blazing campfire, complete with a giant pot of coffee and a Dutch oven full of beans. Such departures from reality, while perfectly adequate for the cartoon cat Felix and his magic bag of tricks, don't actually work for equestrian explorers.

How many times a day would the horses eat?

They will be fed in the morning, before setting off, allowed to graze at lunch, and fed again at night. Here is a direct quote about these issues taken from the legendary lady Long Rider Ella Sykes, who rode across the Takla Makan desert of Central Asia in 1914.

"The rule was to rise at 5 a.m., if not earlier, hastily dress, then emerge from the tent to attend to the horses. As soon as they began their morning meal, we ate our breakfast in the sharp morning air. The horses were then saddled and loaded. When everything was adjusted, and everyone ready to start, then we would walked out of camp leading our horses for nearly an hour before we began to ride. We usually marched for five hours and then halted for our lunch. We would lie by the water, in the shade of a tree if possible, as the sun by noon was very powerful. When the worst of the heat was over, we would ride for another three hours to camp. After dinner we turned in to dreamless slumbers."

And here's another example from the forthcoming Horse Travel Handbook.

"Give your horse a good feed of grain at sunrise. While he eats, pack up your camp and take a light breakfast. As soon as you have both eaten, saddle up. Give your horse frequent breaks, and consider the cavalry system of 10 minutes’ grazing every hour. By starting soon after daybreak, you will have completed that day’s journey by early afternoon. Only Long Riders understand that you need the afternoon to make arrangements with the locals, find a good campsite, and obtain food for yourself and your horse. Your work starts when the horse stops!"

And here are some other examples of equestrian travel wisdom which your characters would have known.

"Every mile travelled is a mile survived. Distance is measured in time, not miles."

"Remember, it's not the kilometres that kill your horse, it's the kilograms."

That last bit of advice is very important, as the Road Horse and pack animals will break down if overloaded. So here again, you the writer have to tell your readers how much equestrian travel knowledge your characters have? Are they experienced or amateurs, as each example will affect the outcome of your story.

What could the horses eat along the way? I'm thinking that since they stick close to the river, there should be access to grasses. Should I have them pack some feed on the mule, such as corn or oats?

Yes, if they are going to be travelling for nearly 200 miles, the travellers would have tried to take some sort of corn or oats so as to augment the animals’ diets. Remember, horses can survive on a grass only diet, such as wild horses. But that doesn't work for heavily loaded animals, who are being urged to hurry across difficult terrain. In that sort of situation, you must give them grain to keep up their body weight and strength.

How often should they stop for the horses to drink?

They should be watered in the morning, allowed to drink anytime water is encountered and they wish to drink during the course of the day's journey and watered at night. Free access to water refers to a horse in a stable, not in the wilds, such as you describe. But, you must also determine how your horses are going to be secured at night? Will they be kept in a farmer's barn, tied to trees, hobbled?


I have spent all afternoon fruitlessly searching the web to find out how far and fast a single horse in good condition could have travelled in 17th Century England (1640s) and over how long a period without it being detrimental to the horse. I would be most grateful if you could provide me with this information. I am writing a historical novel and have a mounted messenger travelling from London to Cornwall, and I want to be accurate about how fast this might have been achieved. Can you help me?

Jo Field


Dear Jo,

Let's see if we can't come up with something believable in terms of this Cornwall ride.

London to Cornwall?

Let's say that works out to be about 400 miles, give and take because of the crooked lanes, etc. Next, let's say that the rider is male, average weight about 150 pounds, and can ride well. Both these factors will affect the performance of the "road horse." That was a common expression for the type of animal who would have made this journey in those days.

Most importantly, let's be sure that the messenger in question is a hardened long distance rider, otherwise you can throw this study out the window right now.

The reasoning behind that statement is this. Would you believe a writer three hundred years from now who told her readers that back in the "good old days" of 2005 a man with no physical training could run the New York marathon? Of course not. Such a statement flies in the face of physical reality.

Consequently, an inept message rider might have eventually been able to make the long ride from London to Cornwall. But he would have been a physical wreck, as well as being days behind a tough rider.

So now we've got a physically tough specimen, who can ride well and has a sense of long distance travel.

Next give him a light weight saddle with stirrups and a fundamental snaffle bit. Even if you give him spurs, don't make him use them. These thorns of cruelty would not have been necessary for a good road horse.

What's he going to eat and drink on the way?

He'll stop at farm houses and inns along the way because, being in a hurry, he won't want to burden his horse with the extra weight of food for himself. Plus, in those days, everyone will have food for his horse, as well as a water trough too. So the horse can eat and drink, as can the rider on their way to Cornwall.

And remember, as soon as the rider comes to the inn, he always sees to his horse before he feeds himself.

This is important because ostlers would traditionally sell the rider corn, then steal it back out of the manager.

Make your rider watch his horse settled in. And this also means making sure that some other stupid animal isn't going to steal the horse’s corn or kick him.

You as the writer better be sure that you tell your reader that these things happen. Otherwise you've just placed a 17th century man in an automobile situation, one where the driver gets in, or in this case on, and then steps down with any thought what so ever to the "vehicle" when he reaches his destination. That works if you're driving from London to Cornwall, but not riding.

So horse and rider are lightly equipped.

What about the horse?


Unlikely. While stallions who are raised in herds, say on the steppes of Russia, are taught "good manners" by the mares, this situation would not have occurred in your 1640 England. The French differentiate between stallions. A stallion is a male horse used only for breeding. An entire is a male horse which is also ridden.

But your messenger would have been unlikely to have been riding such an animal.

A mare?

Maybe. But not if the messenger does this for a living. In this case he wouldn't want to risk his livelihood on a horse that could come up pregnant after a night in an inn stable. If the messenger is making this ride on his private horse, then a mare is possible, but still unlikely. This leaves us with the obvious choice.

Your messenger is almost certainly riding a gelding.


Say eight years old. The horse is fully grown, physically sound and road hardened by then.


Say a cob, that's likely in a historical sense. Plus, they are hardy travellers. Richard Barnes is a noted English writer and Long Rider. In the late 1980s he rode around the entire perimeter of England on his lovely Cob, Remus.


Most horses are bay. Meaning brown body with black mane and tail, as well as black from the knees down.

Make all four hooves black too, as this denotes tough hooves capable of hard riding. White, or light coloured hooves, are believed by most horse cultures to be apt to splinter.


Not too long as this is a working horse, not Trigger in a parade with Roy Rogers.






Horses aren't stupid, regardless of what stupid people say about them.

Throw in a dash of mischief, a sense of humour, and iron constitution and a willingness to push himself hard out of duty to his rider and presto, you've got a horse people want to read about.

Plus, make sure this horse has just been shod a few days before the journey. This way you won't have shoes falling off on the way. And if he's been shod a few days ago, then he won't run a chance of being sore from the stupid peasant horse shoer.

Next, make your rider love and take care of his horse. Otherwise he may be carrying an important message, but he's nothing but an oaf.


When do they travel?

He gets up at dawn and checks his horse first thing. First his horse gets a morning drink, then his corn. While the horse is eating, the man feeds as well. Now, they're both ready to leave early. The rider walks the first ten minutes to allow his horse to loosen up. Then the rider checks the cinch and swings aboard. Now they're ready to travel.

This team are in good shape, remember.

So they can walk, trot and canter - which is what they do. The rider walks for fifteen minutes, trots the next thirty, then canters the last fifteen - but only as and when the road conditions allow. This isn't the M4 he's riding on. But all things considered, he rides an hour, then dismounts and walks for ten minutes.

At noon, if there is no sign of habitation, he off saddles and let's the horse graze for half an hour. All the while he snacks on something kept in his coat pocket. They both drink from a stream.

Then repeat, saddle on, ten minutes to warm up, then repeat the three gaits. This goes on until early afternoon, at which time he begins to look for shelter. Remember, if he doesn't feed, and most importantly rest the horse, he'll kill it. So the horse must be brought in cool, and be seen to before anything else, otherwise you risk imperiling the integrity and believability of the journey.

It's early to bed and even earlier to rise for horse travellers.

If horse and rider are going well, and the roads don't slow them too badly because of mud, rivers, stones, etc., then you can safely count on your messenger doing 30 miles on a full day, 40 miles if they push it, and maybe one fifty mile day.

But that better be the last day in the saddle and they better arrive in Cornwall that night because a fifty mile day will wear your horse down so far that he'll need at least one full day's rest before he can be ridden.

So, let's say one fifty mile day - 50

add in eight 30 mile days - 240

and finish off with three forty miles days - 120

that gives you a total of 410 miles in twelve days.

Lest you deeply desire to speed things up a bit, let me tell you that if you've never ridden 400 miles in twelve days, then you have no idea how bad your body will hurt.

Your knees ache.

Your fingers will swell.

Your face will be burned.

The small of your back will be a torment.

And don't forget your hard ridden horse will be tender footed.

So when they reach Cornwall, he sees to his horse, then delivers his message.


Does that work?

If not send me another email and we'll help you some more.


Dear CuChullaine,

I had hardly expected to receive a reply, let alone such a comprehensive one. I can only thank you for taking such trouble and for all your informative and knowledgeable comments, which I will weave into the story of this ride and it will be so much more believable.

Just a thought: if he rode one horse and led another and changed over every so often, he would presumably be able to go a little faster? Perhaps his second animal could carry a saddle with saddlebags and some grain? (He is also carrying a small hamper containing four homing pigeons!)

And suppose he dispensed with a saddle for himself, but used instead a sheepskin to reduce weight - would that be possible?

 He could ride across country here and there, so could cut corners. London to Bodmin in Cornwall via non-motorway roads today is about 235 miles and I had reckoned on his achieving it by riding approximately 8-10 miles per hour, stopping every couple of hours for a rest and choosing to spend the night on safe farms that he knew rather than at inns, but I so like your description of the risks he and his horse would face at an inn that I must include at least one such stop.

From what you say, he would not have been able to ride continuously for two hours at sustained speeds.  I had fondly imagined that if he left London on Thursday at about noon, he would arrive on Sunday night. But now I realise this might be impossible?

And yet, during the English Civil War, messengers did ride such distances at remarkable speeds - though I imagine they changed horses en route, by riding 'post'.

Most certainly he loves his horse and one of his men is a horse breeder who is already experimenting with first cross native (Exmoor) ponies and thoroughbreds to give a combination of stamina and speed (I daresay it is a little early for this to be happening, but not by much I believe).

He is of course a fictitious character and being the hero, is necessarily very tough!

But again, I had no idea of the effect such a long ride would have on him - though in the days when I used to go riding I could hardly walk after a long day in the saddle - so yes, I can see that both he and the horse would lose a lot of weight and that he would be exhausted.

I had imagined he would be riding a mare. Would there still be a risk if she was not in season?

I had also imagined that she would be a dun.

Did they geld horses in those days? Yes, of course, they must have - but the risk to the horse must have been very high I would have thought, since they were relatively clueless about hygiene.



Dear Jo,

Being writers and publishers, as well as Long Riders, your thanks is all the payment we need. One of the aspects of The Long Riders' Guild is to protect, preserve and promote the ancient art of equestrian travel. Yet we are encouraged to think that it is a new wave of writers, like you, who will interweave authenticity into their stories which will in turn help The Guild to educate a new generation of readers.

Who knows, perhaps one of your readers will become so inspired by your story that he/she decides to ride from London to Cornwall.
Now, here are answers to your second set of questions.

The concept of riding one horse and leading another, is known as "à la Turkeman." It was named for the Turkemen horsemen who used this method when they went on slave hunting raids into Persia. While other horsemen recognized the concept, I doubt if your messenger would have done so for a number of reasons. And there are other considerations involved with this method as well.

First, money. Two horses means twice as much initial outlay and twice as much money on the road.

Second, forget the cowboy movie idea of the carefree horseman cantering across the wind swept steppe, with his trusty pack horse cantering merrily alongside. You want to talk equestrian reality. That's fine. You want equestrian fantasy, go watch a Lord of the Rings movie.

Here's an excerpt I just sent to a new would-be French Long Rider. Louis is preparing to ride across Afghanistan alone and he too brought up the issue of how to handle his pack horse. These are some of the thoughts I shared with him about this seldom recognized dangerous equestrian practice.

"What happens when you have found this lovely, quiet, dependable, strong pack horse - don't trust him. At least not at first.

What you have to remember is that you, the Long Rider, are sitting up in the saddle. The only way you have to control Tauruq, your riding horse, is by your bit and bridle.

But what about the pack horse? How do you control an animal who does not wish to go to Herat? Who wants to turn around and go home to what he knows? Who resents Tauruq and wants to pull back from him? What happens when such a thing happens?

You, the Long Rider, who are riding along with your eyes on the beautiful landscape and your mind up in the clouds, are suddenly yanked backwards by the pack horse. Of course Tauruq doesn't feel the pack horse pulling on the rope in your right hand. So he just keeps walking straight on. And what happens when the pack horse pulls the rope, or stops suddenly, or leaps to the side? You, the Long Rider, get yanked straight backwards out of the riding saddle without any notice.

If you are lucky, your foot does not get caught in the  stirrup, so the frightened Tauruq doesn't now drag you to death.

If you are lucky, you find yourself lying on your back looking up at the sky.

 If you are lucky, you have only lost your breath and not broken your back or cracked all your ribs on a rock."

I think you can see, Jo, how this pack horse idea is not workable in your story line. Yes, your messenger could use a second horse. But that will not only complicate your messenger's life. It will also slow him down, as illustrated above.

As for the idea of the messenger carrying homing pigeons. Let me ask you this. Let's say, for the sake of this literary exercise, that you're afraid of spiders . Perhaps you've never actually been up close to a spider. But you've seen them crawling around the barn. And they smell funny. And they're a bit scary.  So now someone comes along and wants to tie a hamper full of spiders on your back. What are you going to do?

If you haven't been trained to know that spiders are not scary, you're going to put on an impromptu rodeo in the courtyard of the London inn where you're stabled. While introducing another animal onto a horse's back is feasible, you the writer better make sure that you tell your reader that Coco the riding  horse had been trained in advance to do this. Otherwise you've just introduced fantasy into your equestrian travel story.

This is not to say that animals weren't packed on horses. The best example I know of is the one where Mongol huntsmen would carry hunting leopards on the back of their horses. But here again, this only occurred after the horse had been trained.

I suggest one pigeon, in some sort of small pocket of the rider’s coat, or something of that sort. What you're trying to do is to keep the riders' equestrian profile sleek, clean, functional and believable.

Now, about the idea of riding all day on a sheepskin. Good question. Here's the answer.

Why don't you go buy an old bicycle, take off the seat, place yourself on the hard iron bar below and then ride ten miles to the pub. Imagine the pain. Now put your rider on a bareback horse, multiply this times 50 to account for the long ride to Cornwall, and bingo, you've got your answer. A rider so sore he can’t stop groaning long enough to deliver his message.

It's not about the weight of the saddle. The saddle does two things. It provides a base of support for the rider which distributes the weight of the rider evenly over the horse’s back. If you withdraw the saddle the rider's weight is bearing directly down on the sensitive spine of the horse. So now you not only have a blood-soaked and pain ridden rider, you also have a horse with an injured back.

But there's another element as well at work here. It's not just the saddle that you've done away with. You also threw away the stirrups.

And why is that important?

Because when the rider places the ball of his foot in the middle of the stirrup, and then presses down, something magical happens. The stirrups create a sense of balance which allows the rider's self-confidence to soar. This is why your messenger can twist and turn in his saddle all the way to Cornwall, looking about in confidence, as opposed to say ancient Greek horsemen in togas and sandals who perched on their horses and prayed to Zeus to let them survive.

No, you need the saddle, the stirrups, the bridle and the bit. Don't bother with anything else, i.e. a crouper. And don't even think about a breastplate, as despite what those Hollywood Ivanhoes pretended to use, they weren't invented until the 1950s.

Regarding riding across country and cutting corners to save time. Two thoughts.

First - short cuts make for long delays. And yes, you can quote me, or make someone else  say that. Think tall hedges, fast flowing rivers, muddy creek banks, angry farmers who despise strangers trampling their crops, barking dogs, nosy brats, and worst of all - locked gates.

So keep him on the road. It's faster, safer and he won't waste time trying to pull his horse out of an unexpected bog.

Second - how does your messenger know how to get from London to Cornwall?

Do you realize that most people in that age had never been more than ten miles away from where they were born? Even in today's world we caution modern Long Riders about this lack of local knowledge. Local people traditionally do not know what lies ahead, nor can they be trusted to judge distances. Some examples of colourful time-keeping involve the natives who told Long Riders that they could reach their destination in the time it took a leaf to wilt, in the time it took to smoke two cigarettes, or in the time it took milk to curdle.

So your man is well travelled and he knows this road well?

You better make sure you say so, and explain why he's an exception, because he's on a horse, not driving a new BMW with a GPS system.

In regards to whether he stayed in inns or farmhouses. Know what I'd do?

First, I'd locate a map from this exact time period. I'd study this, looking for landmarks, rivers, etc, that your rider would have needed to look for if he wasn't going to get lost. Next I'd drive it - very, very slowly. And I'd make notes of everything that would not have changed since the days of your rider. Look for what your rider would have seen. Give your reader the topography. Tell them how the land changes from London to Cornwall. Let them smell, as well as see, the way things change as he rides south. Plus, if you drive it, you can also determine exactly where he would have stayed, one night an inn, the next night a field, then a cottage, etc.

Now, as for your idea that your rider could have left London on Thursday and reached Cornwall on Sunday. No, he wouldn't have been travelling that fast unless his name was Jim Kirk and he shouted, "beam me to Cornwall, Scotty."

Regarding your thought that, “during the English Civil War, messengers did ride such distances at remarkable speeds.”

Ah, but now you've entered into another scenario altogether. If your messenger wants to do this, then there are other things to consider. He could definitely have travelled faster, but then you, the writer, lose so many elements of the story.

The idea that your rider is mounted on a cross between a Thoroughbred and an Exmoor does provide a theoretical combination of stamina and speed. But I think you're on very thin ice with this Thoroughbred cross idea. The great Welsh Long Rider and author, Jeremy James, has just released a new book about the origins of the Byerly Turk, one of the first four originators of the Thoroughbred line. And that horse came from the Balkans much later. So you better double, and then triple check your equestrian history on this. Otherwise some sharp eyed editor is going to rip you to pieces.

Besides, why not promote the classic horses of Britain? These are worthy animals with great histories. If I was your messenger, I would take a horse I trusted over an experimental model. This would be especially true if he was in situation where time and reliability counts.

Regarding your idea that the rider/hero is tough.

Why are heroes always tough? Why can't he be little, or have a limp, or lisp or something? Don't you realize that it's when he mounts that horse, that this is the magic moment when he becomes more than what he was.

If you take a hero and put him on a horse, what have you got. Roy Rogers and Trigger. Roy never misses and Trigger never gets tired. Total rot.

But if you take a slightly flawed human, and put him on a damn good horse, you know what you've got. A new creature, one whose eyes burn with confidence. One whose bravery is rooted in the fleetness of the animal below him.

And know what you call that kind of human?

A centaur!

I’m glad to learn that you realize your rider won’t have an easy time of it. Make him suffer. Make him get rained on. Go hungry. Have the horse step on his foot. Make them sleep in the barn together and let him listen in his sleep for the horse to alert him. Now you've got a wonderful team and people will love that.

Regarding the idea of mounting your hero on a mare.

You've got a point about her not being in season. But I still think it would be unlikely. The Long Riders' Guild has a massive library and I can't recall a single source from this time period, especially Gervase Markham, the most famous English equestrian author of that time, who ever mentioned "gentlemen" riding a mare.

As for making your horse a dun, now here you've accidentally struck gold.

You should look at the book, Horses by the famous British equestrian scholar, Roger Pocock. He has a LOT to say about why duns were the best, and most trusted color of horses.  If I were you, I'd get Pocock's book and read up on duns. It would work into your story beautifully.

And besides, on a purely personal note, I rode a dun gelding when I made the longest ride in the history of Pakistan. Most durable and intelligent horse I ever rode.

In answer to your question about gelding, yes it was a common practice in those days.

I hope my candor hasn't offended you, Jo. We work very hard here and I'm very tired. So I hope my honesty doesn't come across too strong. But the bottom line is, you don't want to make any elemental equestrian mistakes if you can avoid them.

OK, keep writing and don't worry about asking more questions. That's one of the things we do here at The Guild.


Dear CuChullaine,

Once again you have astounded me - and I am grateful for your candor. Thank you. You have been such a help and I will acknowledge that and the Long Riders in my book if I am ever fortunate enough to be published (that I should be so lucky!)

Ok. He has a dun gelding and no pack horse. By the time he makes this journey, the reader will know that he is a wealthy aristocrat and a much travelled and intelligent man - but yes, though courageous and resourceful, he has plenty of weaknesses.

He will travel with a light saddle and snaffle bit - but he will keep his pigeons and I will ensure the reader knows his horse is trained to carry them. In fact I will make the point at some stage with him trying to carry them on a strange, borrowed horse and running into trouble as a result.

I will also illustrate the difficulties of pack horses by introducing a little comedy with an incident such as you describe. However, in rural 17th Century Devon they were the only method of carrying goods over any distance and must have been well trained.

I will give him 10 days to get to Cornwall and will have both him and his mount completely exhausted and sore at the end of it.

I have a print of a late 16th Century map and will try to show the reader his journey as you suggest, but I cannot dwell on it for too long as this journey is but one incident in an ongoing story.

My choice of a dun was not by accident. When I was younger (much!) and worked on a farm in Somerset, I used to ride a dun mare.  She was 16 years old and the most intelligent, responsive animal I have ever known, so much so that I often rode her only with a sheepskin and a halter. She was wonderful. I always used her to fetch the cattle back from the hills, and sometimes we would go off for a whole day riding about the countryside with a large deerhound for company - they were great friends - but I realise that this was a whole different scenario to making a fast and hard journey over a long distance, for we were only rambling.

I love the photograph of you and Pasha. My hero's horse's name is 'Turk'.

I have a published set of accounts kept by the Countess of Bath between 1639 and 1645. She rode regularly from her house in North Devon to her house in London and back again during the English Civil Wars - her journeys are documented and it used to take her and her escort of several men 5 days, but I imagine they changed horses along the way. Her baggage and belongings followed on pack horses and wagons and took 12 days. This journey was undertaken at least twice a year, sometimes more. The names of her horses are listed in an inventory at the back of her accounts and 'Turk' was one of them. From his name I had assumed he must be a thoroughbred, but obviously not from what you say.

What horses did they use for racing in those days?

But I know you are tired and busy - and I must stop asking questions, but I find your answers so interesting. So again, thank you CuChullaine.

All the best,



Dear Jo,

Glad to be of help.

Rushing out the door for a trip abroad.

Do let us know when you and the dun reach Cornwall.

Until then, best of luck with your project.


Hello - I wonder if you remember me. I very much doubt it since it is now almost three years since you so kindly put me right on matters of equestrian travel in the 17th Century for my novel - which was then entitled 'A Kind of Twilight'.

I finished writing my book - changed the name to 'Rogues & Rebels' - and it has just been published - launching on 31st July!

I wanted to tell you and also to say that I have acknowledged your help (and the Long Riders Guild) in my foreword.

I hope all is well with you and yours,

Kind regards,

Jo Field


Dear Jo,

CuChullaine here, writing to say how pleased we were to receive your message !

We of course remember when you contacted The Guild in search of equestrian answers and are delighted that our equestrian advice proved to be of value. In fact recalling our exchange of emails reminds me that I am long overdue in publishing a list of equestrian facts that would be of service to other writers like yourself who are also anxious to be accurate in terms of equestrian matters.

With the release of Rogues & Rebels, we hope that this will prove to be the first of many equestrian related works to come from your pen.

If so, then I really must draw your attention to the immense historical equestrian importance of the Duke of Newcastle. A brief glance at Wikipedia will give you an inkling of this man's incredible influence on the modern equestrian world - all of which was directly linked back to the war which you are currently writing about.

Moreover, given the fact that Cromwell was such a talented cavalry general, I believe there would be real interest in comparing the differing equestrian styles of the two opposing armies i.e. Cromwell versus Newcastle.


Dear CuChullaine

Great to hear from you - and very many thanks for your good wishes. Thanks too for the most interesting information about Cavendish/Newcastle - which will undoubtedly be useful to me as I pen my sequel “Secrets & Ciphers.”

Jo Field

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