Website designed by Basha O'Reilly
by Susan F. Craft
In this motorized era the majority of humanity suffers from equestrian amnesia. Consequently finding correct facts about horses, saddles, distances, etc. is increasingly difficult, which explains why the LRG-AF routinely receives requests from authors in desperate need of truthful equestrian knowledge which they can incorporate into their work. To help encourage equestrian literary accuracy the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation commissioned the creation of the most precise and detailed Equestrian Writer’s Guide ever created. Leading the project was author Susan Craft, who had incorporated the LRG-AF’s equestrian advice into her own fictional work. Assisted by an international team of published, best-selling Long Rider authors, the result is an extraordinary set of equestrian facts, figures, distances and writing rules which reflect the honesty of true equestrian experience.
Thoughts on equestrian writing by Long Rider authors
Jeremy James is a Founding Member of the Long Riders’ Guild. Author of the two classic equestrian travel tales, Saddletramp and Vagabond, James is described as "Great Britain's poet of the saddle.” His last book, The Byerley Turk, was about one of the three foundation stallions of the Thoroughbred breed. Legend had it that all three of these horses were Arabians. Yet while researching the project, James uncovered astonishing and previously “lost” Ottoman equestrian manuscripts in the Topkapi museum in Istanbul, which proved the Byerley Turk was a Turkoman war-horse.
Far be it for me to presume how anyone might tackle such a subject, since we all have our own idiosyncrasies when it comes to what to spout upon the subject of horses, but if there were one suggestion I would advance it would be to stop and think about any piece of received wisdom that people tend to hoy about without further thought. I sense that such things ought not to be accepted on face value since so often received wisdom is all tied up with opinion rather than fact, that and – well – straightforward bigotry. It’s only when one starts to unearth what lies beneath that one realises a whole world of difference lies exposed to view and richer, wider world it is too – by a long chalk. The snag is that not everyone is going to love you for it because you’ll be seen as something of an iconoclast, and people hate to see their precious traditional values questioned, but if you know you have hit a seam which has the power to do this, then it were dishonest not to do so. You’ll need courage and yes you’ll be laughed at; yes, people will reject what you say but the final word lies in your hard evidence and if you’ve got it, then that remains irrefragable and, mock as they may, you will be proven right. Your efforts will set the record straight and that’s as good as it can get because you are dealing in truths not hearsays and as a writer of even the meanest integrity, you will have done your job.
CuChullaine O’Reilly is a Founding Member of The Long Riders’ Guild, who has spent thirty years studying equestrian travel techniques on every continent. He led the Karakorum Equestrian Expedition through Pakistan and was thereafter made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. CuChullaine is the author of Khyber Knights, The Long Riders, and The Horse Travel Journal. Publisher of The Long Riders Literary Collection, he is now working to establish the world's first equestrian archaeology programme. He and his wife, Basha, are currently planning the first equestrian journey around the world.
As a writer you need to address all of the issues dealt with in this fact sheet 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.
a North American Long Rider who rode from Arizona to New
Mexico across the Despoblado Desert, retracing the equestrian route of Coronado,
a 16th Century Conquistador. In addition to writing two accurate
equestrian travel accounts, Cities of Gold and
Talking to the Ground, Preston's fictional work can be routinely found on
the New York Times bestselling list. One of the
fictional accounts written by this prodigious and successful writer was recently
made into a feature film.
Sadly, many writers either think they know more about horses than they do, or they simply guess when it comes to horses. In Hollywood and in too many novels nobody walks a horse. They leap on and gallop away, and hours later, when a real horse would be crippled up or buzzard bait, they are still tearing along the trail, their super steeds not even slick with sweat. But I think my pet peeve is when I read about a character who, never having ridden before, mounts up and is suddenly riding like an expert, tearing across the landscape bareback at a full gallop, leaping fallen trees and ten-foot ravines, outrunning helicopters or motorcycles or bad guys on black stallions. Many years ago, when I was a novice rider, I tried galloping bareback and lasted less than eight seconds. As with anything else, if you want to write about horses accurately, your characters need to ride at their level of experience and skill. When I wrote my novel Thunderhead, I had a lot of fun putting inexperienced riders on horses and watching them get joggled around, fall off, or turn their saddles upside down because they forgot to tighten their cinches.
As fiction writers, we cannot be experts in everything we write about. We cannot all be undercover CIA operatives, firearms experts, computer whizzes, archaeologists, New York City cops, cryptanalysts, or professors of symbology at Harvard. Nor can we all be expert riders. That is why research is so important.
Mare – female horse
Gelding – castrated male horse
Stallion – male horse; also called an “entire”; in the US he may be called a “stud horse”; but never called a stud by the English, which is what they call a farm or stable that keeps horses. Stallions have more natural aggression especially around other horses; usually ridden by experts.
Foal – baby horse from birth to January 1 of the next year (horses mature between ages five and seven)
Filly – girl baby horse
Colt – boy baby horse
Yearling – in the year after the birth year (too young to ride; most saddle horses aren't worked hard until at least four years old; breaking and training may start earlier)
Pony – small, usually less than 14.2 hands high. Smart and sturdy, they are often used by ladies in pony carts or carriages, or for packing goods.
Horses are measured from the ground to the top of the withers (the ridge between the shoulder bones) in hands. One hand is four inches.
The average horse is 15 to 16 hands. Very tall horses may be 17 hands, and only unusual horses reach 18 hands.
Ponies are usually less than 14 hands, two inches
Click here to see photographs of the different types and sizes of horse.
Two areas of the body—the main body and the points, which are the ear tips, mane, tail, and the fetlock or the lower part of the legs—are considered when determining the color of a horse. (This gets a little complicated because color designations differ between UK and the US.)
Appaloosa – white hair and dark patches that may be leopard, flecked, snowflake or in a blanket. These originated in northwestern US and were formerly much used by Native Americans.
Bay – red-brown body, black points—may be dark bay, mahogany bay, red bay (cherry bay), blood bay, light bay, sandy bay—but every bay horse always has black points
Black – black body, black points—may be smoky black, jet black, coal black, raven black (true black is rare)
Brown – brown body, brown points; may be a seal bay (dark brown with black legs, tail, and mane) or a standard brown
Chestnut/Sorrel – reddish body, self-colored (non-black) points. When in UK refer to Thoroughbreds or Arabians as chestnuts—a liver chestnut, dark red chestnut, dark chestnut, etc. In the West, “sorrel” designates light reds; medium or dark reds may be called “chestnut.” Some Western horsemen use “sorrel” for all red horses no matter the shade. Light sorrel draft horses with white manes and tails are known as “blond.”
Dun – yellowish body, black points; may have primitive marks, which include a black dorsal stripe and/or zebra stripes on the legs; a red dun is a name often used for a reddish yellow horse with red points and primitive marks; a grullo is slate-blue with black points; and a claybank is a pale dun color without black points. Duns are called buckskins in the US, and even piebald or skewbald.
Gray – may be born black or bay, but each year shows more white—iron grey, steel grey, dappled grey, etc. A “rose grey” is born chestnut or bay.
Paint/Pinto – white patches patterned as either Overo (white patches have ragged edges and rarely extend over the top-line) or Tobiano (white patches have sharp edges and cross the top-line and usually with white legs)
Palomino golden coat, white mane and tail; palomino with a cream-colored coat rather than gold, is called an Isabella—a term often used in Europe for all palominos
Piebald – dark-skinned, born dark and turning whiter each year; large irregular solid patches of black and white
Roan – can be blue or strawberry; mixed colored and white hairs, staying the same every year after one year old. A blue roan has black and white hairs; red roans and strawberry roans have red and white hairs. A thoroughbred born chestnut may be called a “red roan” even when truly gray—getting progressively whiter each year
Skewbald – large irregular solid patches of any other color and white
White – pure white with pink skin; in western US white and off-white horses with blue eyes are called cremello or if it has slightly red or blue points, it’s called a perlino (true white is rare)
Blow – exhaling
through the nose with mouth shut, when curious, when meeting nose to nose
another horse in greeting; if done gently followed by nuzzling, the horses are
friendly; if accompanied by a nip at other horse or stomping of front feet,
striking out or squealing, horses are enemies.
A horse that is happy and trusting will move in a fluid, loose manner. If a horse’s neck, back, or leg muscles are tight and rigid, it generally will indicate a quick reaction or flight.
Horses require an average of two and a half hours sleep in a twenty-four hour period. They don’t need an unbroken period of sleep time, but sleep in short intervals of about fifteen minutes. They do need to lie down occasionally for a nap for an hour or two every few days. If not allowed to lie down, they will become sleep deprived in a few days. They sleep better in groups, while others stand guard to watch for predators.
Wild horses run in herds, governed by a head mare, who leads. Stallions are there to protect.
Horses are creatures of habit and love to maintain the same pattern.
Apples and fruit.
Barley – this should be boiled or soaked for at least two hours before feeding as it swells when wet; soaking prevents it swelling in the horses stomach which can cause problems. It can be fed dry if rolled and crushed first, and is good for older horses.
Bran – is easily digested.
Chaff – adds bulk to food and prevents the horse eating too quickly.
Corn – barley and oats.
Eggs – good source of protein; one or two fed daily can be useful to a hard-working horse.
Grass – wild horses can survive on a grass-only diet; doesn’t work for heavily loaded animals being urged to hurry across difficult terrain. In that sort of situation, give them grain to keep up their body weight and strength.
Hays – oat hay and timothy (horses don’t eat straw; that’s for their bedding).
Horse nuts or mixes – comprising many of the basic feeds; different types meet the nutritional needs of various horses with different exercising routines.
Legumes – peas, beans, peanuts, lentils, alfalfa and carob.
Linseed – high in protein, only one handful should be fed with a feed; it is poisonous raw and must be cooked.
Maize – should be flaked and cooked for easier digestion.
Molichaff – mixture of chaff and molasses, used to add bulk to the food.
Oats – high energy food, easily digested if fed crushed, rolled, or cooked.
Root vegetables – beetroot, carrots, parsnips, and turnips can be fed but in small quantities; cut into strips, rather than round pieces as they can become lodged in the throat. Shredded vegetables are also avoided by worms.
Salt – fed in small quantities in the feed helps to aid digestion.
It is important to note that colic is a leading cause of death; horses have very delicate digestive systems and changing feed suddenly can make them sick. They also have allergies and can founder and become permanently disabled if they eat too much.
Please also note that a very common term in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was "to bait," meaning "to feed." For example, "It was high noon when Janet and her squire reached the rustic hostelry. Here she proposed they should halt to bait their horses."
Schedule – feed horses in the morning, before setting off, allow them to graze at lunch, and feed again at night.
Water in the morning, allow drinking anytime water is encountered or anytime they wish to drink during the course of the day’s journey, and watered at night.
Quote on feeding 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 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 walk 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 slumber.”
Quote on feeding from 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 go make arrangements with the locals, find a good campsite, and obtain food for yourself and your horse. Your work starts when the horse stops!”
Quote on feeding from 1908 British Cavalry Manual –
“The three guiding rules of feeding are – feed after and not before watering – feed in small quantities and often – do not work horses immediately after a full feed. As a horse has a very small stomach for his size, he cannot eat very much at a time without impairing his digestion. He should therefore, be fed little and often. On the other hand, a horse has very large intestines; and bulk is, therefore, a necessity in his food. Horses will thrive indefinitely on grass or hay if not worked too hard, but they cannot keep in health if deprived of hay or other bulky matter, however much grain they may be given. Within limits, the harder the horse works, the greater should be the proportion of grain to hay.”
Endurance depends on a wide variety of issues – condition of the animals prior to their departure; the season; that day’s weather; geographic challenges they face that day; proper fit of the riding and pack saddles; how often and accurately the animals are fed, and how talented the riders are.
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.
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)
A team of six horses pulling a light carriage will go faster and farther than a single horse pulling a very heavy wagon.
“Every mile traveled is a mile survived. Distance is measured in time, not miles.”
How far a horse can travel in a day depends on –
· size of the horse
· age of the horse
· how much the rider weighs
· how talented the rider is
· how much gear, including saddle, bridle, saddle bags, etc., is the riding horse carrying in addition to the rider
· weather and what time of year the trip is being taken
· geographic conditions – flat roads winding across pastures in Maryland; snake infested switchback trails in the Rocky Mountains; swamps, canebrakes, sand hills of South Carolina, the Steppes of Central Asia, the Himalayas, the marshes of France’s Camargue
· Writers should be aware of how the weather affects equestrian travel. Horses (like people!) find it very hard and tiring to struggle through mud or deep snow, which sometimes pull their shoes off. If there is a very sharp, cold wind, all horses will try to turn their backs to it, which can be maddening for the rider if they are trying to travel into the wind!
· time period/era – 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; mid-1700s in back country US with little chance of equestrian services being offered at outposts or settlements
· if there is a pack horse in the equation; how much the pack saddle weighs; if the riding and pack mule get along
Quote from a 1917 British cavalry manual regarding the average pace for travelers -- “Distances covered in one hour, walk 4 miles, trot 8 miles, canter 9 miles, slow gallop 12, gallop 15 miles. The rate of marching should average about five miles an hour, including short halts. The rate of march will vary according to the nature of the country, the gradient of the roads and the climate.”
Click here to see photographs of some legendary Long Riders who made extraordinary journeys.
Click here to read about the different levels of riding ability.
Click here to see the vocabulary used in the American West.
Click here for a list of Equestrian terms and phrases found in everyday English
Members of the Long Riders Guild believe strongly in the strength and resilience of native breeds in all parts of the world. In North America, that means the fabled mustang. In South America, it's the legendary Criollo. France has the Camargue horse. And there are hundreds more examples of native breeds around the world who are tough, intelligent, and resourceful - and affordable!
Unlike ex-show horses, which have been bred for the show ring and do not usually make suitable traveling horses, native breeds have had to fend for themselves until they were caught. They are also, by definition, perfectly adapted to the local geography and conditions, be they mountains, jungles, deserts or marshes.
Many Long Riders have used native breeds. To name but a few:
Dmitri Peshkov used a sturdy Yakut pony for his astonishing solo ride of 5,500 miles from Albanzinski in Siberia to St. Petersburg in the winter of 1889. Recently his amazing journey was made into a part-fact, part-fiction film.
Aimé Tschiffely used two Criollo horses in his ride from Buenos Aires to Washington – the most influential journey of the twentieth century.
Basha O'Reilly used Count Pompeii, a Cossack Working Horse, for her 2,500-mile journey from Russia to England. Pompeii was born wild on the Steppes and ran free in the herd until he was caught at the age of three. Read Basha’s story for children, based on her journey.
Robin and Louella Hanbury-Tenison bought two Camargue horses and rode them from the Camargue to their home in Cornwall. Robin is the author of White Horses over France.
Guenter Wamser is, at the time of writing, using Mustangs to complete his journey from Patagonia to Alaska.
Here is a list of modern breeds
Here is a list of ancient and extinct breeds
Remember, it’s not the kilometers that kill your horse, it’s the kilograms.
Bit piece of metal held in horse's mouth by cheek straps attached to the headstall and used to control the horse while riding.
Bridle headgear for a horse; includes a headstall and bit and reins to give the rider or driver control.
Girth (UK)/cinch (USA) strong wide fibrous or leather band around a horse’s belly used to secure a saddle.
Crupper a strap from the back of a saddle passing under the horse's tail; prevents saddle from slipping forward.
Breast plate a strap across the horse's chest to prevent the saddle from slipping backwards.
Numnah or blanket inserted under a saddle in order to absorb sweat, cushion the saddle, and protect the horse's back.
Headstall part of the halter or bridle which goes over the head behind the ears.
Saddle back of the saddle is the cantle; the front is a pommel. There is no saddle horn on an English or Colonial American saddle.
Stirrup platforms hanging from the side of the saddle which provide the rider with stability and balance.
Click here to see images of various type of military riders and their equipment.
The saddle varies according to culture, climate, size of horse, history and job usage. Here are some of the most important basic expressions of this time-honoured art.
African saddles are found in the region of Nigeria, where an ancient, and still thriving, native equestrian culture still thrives. There are various legends as to the origins of this saddle, one of which says that saddles from the European Crusaders made their way into Egypt, and then south across the Sahara into this remote part of the horse world. High cantles and a hooked saddle horn make these African saddles resemble those used in Central Asia and Afghanistan.
American Western saddle. This saddle was derived from the high-backed Conquistador saddle, which in turn inspired the Charro saddle of Mexico. The original Spanish saddle's extremely high cantle was reduced, with enough height left to support the small of the rider's back. A leather covered horn was added so as to aid in roping wild cattle. There were three basic styles of original cowboy saddle, with Texas, Montana and California all producing various alterations of the theme. With the advent of professional roping events, in the early 1950s, rodeo cowboys like Casey Tibbs ushered in the tradition of reducing the cantle to a bare minimum, so as to allow for a faster exit from the saddle. Today's western saddles come in a variety of styles, sizes, weights and colours. Though the use of two cinches was originally desirable when roping cattle, so as to ensure that the saddle did not take too great a strain, the majority of today's western only employ one girth.
Argentine Gaucho saddle. South American saddles are made up as follows: first two saddle-blankets go on, then the carona, or skirts, which cover the blankets; then the saddle proper, to which are attached the stirrup leathers, after which the cinch and encimera, or upper part of the cinch which goes over the top part of the saddle, is put on and drawn up. Then two, three and sometimes four sheepskins go on, and a sobrepuesto, or leather top cover, either calf or deer leather, is put above the sheepskins. Over all this comes the pegual, or top cinch, and when it is all on the horse it weighs as much as, or more than an American stock saddle. The point most in its favour is that it makes a most comfortable bed, and most South American cow punchers know no other.
Australian Stockman's saddle. This saddle incorporates elements of the American western saddle, grafted on top of a traditional English saddle. In addition to a cantle, the Australians added bucking rolls onto the pommel, so as to ensure that riders mounted on "buck jumpers" could retain their seats. Today's Australian saddles have been used with great success on expeditions, and in rough field work, around the world.
Cossack and Csikos saddles, of Russia and Hungary, provide a large cushioned seat for the rider. These saddles are extremely comfortable and light-weight.
English saddle. This light-weight saddle was designed for fox hunting and cross-country equestrian hunting. Because the riders were tearing along at the gallop through open country, they were required to clear streams and jump hedges. It was thus necessary that the rider be able to come clear of the saddle in case of a fall. Unlike the cowboy saddle, which was designed to provide the rider with the maximum amount of security, the English saddle allowed the rider to not get hung up in the saddle and drug to death in case of an accident.
European Cavalry saddle. Germany, Sweden, France, England and Switzerland, just to name a few, all employed a variation on the original Hussar saddle which originated in Hungary. A light-weight wooden saddle tree was covered by very durable leather. These military saddles were designed to carry the essential requirements for horse and rider. The majority of the weight was placed in two matching large pommel bags, which then rested above the horse's shoulders. It is only during the last few decade that large American style "duffel bag" saddlebags have replaced this time-honoured cavalry tradition, as by placing the weight over the horse's loins, the rider can cause kidney and spine damage to the horse.
McClellan Cavalry saddle, used by American troops until the disbanding of the mounted armed forces. It consisted of a light-weight wooden tree with various D rings for attaching gear. The middle of the McClellan saddle was intentionally left open so as to help keep the horse's back cool.
Mongol and Tibetan saddles share a common origin and many similarities, in that they place the rider in a deep V shaped saddle tree. The actual space provided for the rider is extremely limited. Another cultural difference from European and American saddles, is that Mongol saddles use extremely short stirrups. This requires the rider to ride with his legs bent. Though used by various foreign travellers, the majority complained about the pain and danger encountered while trying to adapt to this different style of riding and saddle.
Pack Saddles. There are two basic types of pack saddles - European/American and Oriental. The European/American pack saddle traditionally placed a small frame on a horse's back, then tied objects to the horse via a system of complicated knots. The Oriential pack saddle relied on a frame that reached so far down the sides of the horse that no cinch, or ropes, were required to carry the heaviest loads.
Sidesaddle. Before the 13th century, European women rode astride. After that a variety of political, religious and sexual factors helped establish the tradition which said that "good" girls didn't ride with their legs on both sides of the horse. One primary reason for this change of mounting was the misbelief that riding sidesaddle protected a woman's virginity. The sidesaddle was thus an artificial invention which placed the majority of the female's rider weight on one side. This resulted in injuries to the horse. Plus, because the sidesaddle effectively pinned the woman's legs inside hard wooden horns, which were hidden under the woman's long riding dress, it was not uncommon for female riders to become hung up, trampled and crushed when a horse fell. Because of a combination of sexual repression, and engineering ignorance, early 20th century suffragettes were advocates of doing away with this dangerous piece of equipment. Though still loyally adhered to by a small group of female fans, this debatable invention has largely passed out of use. Here is an excellent article by CuChullaine O'Reilly about women's fight to ride astride and to vote.
Spanish saddles are a direct descendant of the original saddles used by European knights, and their mounted descendants, the Conquistadors. Unlike European and American saddles, which either have horse stuffing or a sheepskin underlining, the bottom of Spanish saddles are stuffed with straw, so as to provide a soft pad for the horse's back. The Spanish saddle has a small pommel, thought it is not used for roping. However, it has a large, high cantle to support the rider's back. The saddle is traditionally covered with a soft sheep skin, to ease the ride. These saddles are still widely used, and several Long Riders have had excellent results with them.
Click here to see photographs of the different types of saddles and horse equipment.
Near side - left side.
Off side - right side.
Forehand - front of the horse.
Hind quarters - back of the horse.
Farrier - a maker and fitter of horseshoes.
§ Gestation; horses are pregnant for 335-340 days
§ The oldest horse, ‘Old Billy’, lived to be 62 years old.
§ To figure out how old a horse is vets will look at their teeth (they have 24 teeth)
§ The first domestication of horses was probably in the steppes of central Asia between 3000 and 4000 B.C.
§ On a carriage, the leaders are the front team, and the wheelers are the back team.
§ Horses can be driven as a single horse; a pair; a four-in-hand, holding all the reins in one hand; a team of six; a tandem, with one horse in front of another; or unicorn style with three horses — one in the lead and two as wheelers
Click here to see photographs of Miscellaneous Riders
Click here to see a list of Famous Horses
Susan Craft has
a degree in Journalism from the University of South Carolina.
She is a member of American Christian Fiction
Writers, Carolina Christian Writers, South Carolina Writers Workshop, The
Historical Novel Society, Crown publishing group, and serve as chair of the
Inspirational Fiction Writers Section of Christian Media Association. Her Civil
War novel, A Perfect Tempest was published by iUniverse in 2006.