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Old 06-25-2012, 04:18 PM   #1
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Facts about horse and carriage travel.

I'm writing a medieval/fantasy story, and I wanted to know some facts about traveling on horseback and in carriages or carts. Generally speaking I want to know about the pros/cons of such travel.

Specifically:
-How far/fast/long can horses or carriages travel under normal circumstances versus what would be capable during emergency situations.
-Benefits of carriage travel, and the shortcomings. How much would carriage travel typically cost?
-Under what circumstances would it be suitable to just walk there?
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Old 06-25-2012, 04:22 PM   #2
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What country and time period is this set?
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Old 06-25-2012, 04:24 PM   #3
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The only thing I have to offer is the expense. Even pre-car, bus, etc. days, it did involve some expense to 'keep' a horse, or two, and to maintain a wagon, cart, carriage, etc.

I have a diary written by a great-grandfather (early 1900's, New England, USA) and he walked everywhere. He was working class, had a little farm, worked for a printer, sold wood off a lot he owned. He scraped by, wasn't poor, might have eventually made it to the middle class in his older years.

In his diary he speaks of 'borrowing' a horse and cart, or wagon. Of knowing a neighbor who 'finally bought a horse, must be doing well.' Of having teamsters come to his woodlot to pick up wood - and I knew he meant the original teamsters, with teams of horses and wagons. Every day he walked somewhere. Walking was nothing to him. Walked to work, walked to neighbors and friends, walked to church. His wife walked and she wrote for a local newspaper. Walk-walk-walk.

Probably you could write it where owning a 'team' and a carriage was no big deal, everyone had one, but this man kept notes of every expense he had to the penny. In his 60's he bought a second house and rented the first (and by the standards of rural New England was finally doing pretty well), but he never wanted the 'expense' of maintaining a horse. Cheaper to borrow or rent one - or walk.

(He learned to drive in his 70's.)
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Old 06-25-2012, 04:33 PM   #4
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Oh yeah, I keep forgetting. America is the default everything on this board.
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Old 06-25-2012, 04:49 PM   #5
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What country and time period is this set?
It's not set in any real world location.

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Walking was nothing to him. Walked to work, walked to neighbors and friends, walked to church. His wife walked and she wrote for a local newspaper. Walk-walk-walk.

In his 60's he bought a second house and rented the first (and by the standards of rural New England was finally doing pretty well), but he never wanted the 'expense' of maintaining a horse. Cheaper to borrow or rent one - or walk.

(He learned to drive in his 70's.)
The situation I've sort of put my MC in would more entail the renting of a horse/carriage, but I guess walking was no big deal for people even just one century ago.


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Oh yeah, I keep forgetting. America is the default everything on this board.
o_o?
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Old 06-25-2012, 04:51 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fiender View Post
I'm writing a medieval/fantasy story, and I wanted to know some facts about traveling on horseback and in carriages or carts. Generally speaking I want to know about the pros/cons of such travel.

Specifically:
-How far/fast/long can horses or carriages travel under normal circumstances versus what would be capable during emergency situations.
Depends hugely on the condition of the roads/recent weather. You're not going anywhere in a carriage/coach without a decent road with bridges or good fords. How good are the roads in your world?
'The Medieval Traveller' by Norbert Ohler has good coverage of this
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Old 06-25-2012, 04:53 PM   #7
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It's not set in any real world location.
If it's your creation, then decide on something and run with it. Doesn't matter what actually happened, it's your world. In fact, the more you concern yourself with getting things "historically accurate", the less chance you have of selling the reader on it being an actual cool and interesting place on its own.
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Old 06-25-2012, 05:06 PM   #8
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If it's your creation, then decide on something and run with it. Doesn't matter what actually happened, it's your world. In fact, the more you concern yourself with getting things "historically accurate", the less chance you have of selling the reader on it being an actual cool and interesting place on its own.
I see what you're saying, but I'm not devoting a whole chapter to horse and carriage travel, I'm just wondering what situations would and wouldn't call for it. If it turns out the situation my MC is in right now doesn't call for it, then I won't mention horses at that time.
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Old 06-25-2012, 05:21 PM   #9
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The thing to remember about medieval times is that it's a glaring "Haves vs. Have Nots". Horses are expensive and very demanding in their care, so they would belong to the Haves. And the vast majority of people did not travel more than a mile from the place they were born, even if they were Haves, but Haves could travel farther than Have Nots.

Is your character a Have or has a Have on his/her side to provide such things?
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Old 06-25-2012, 05:29 PM   #10
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The thing to remember about medieval times is that it's a glaring "Haves vs. Have Nots". Horses are expensive and very demanding in their care, so they would belong to the Haves. And the vast majority of people did not travel more than a mile from the place they were born, even if they were Haves, but Haves could travel farther than Have Nots.

Is your character a Have or has a Have on his/her side to provide such things?
She's the sort who could easily get a Have on her side, should she find the need.
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Old 06-25-2012, 05:34 PM   #11
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Specific to how long horse and carriage can travel, the answer is about 6-8 hours with a couple of rest stops. Long distance travellers usually went by stagecoach, where teams of fresh horses were kept along the route. The stage would stop at an inn each night.

Short hops in a carriage would be a pain. You have to catch the horse out in the pasture (not always easy to do) and then have to hitch it to the carriage. You have to have a place to "park" it while you're conducting your affairs at your destination, then unhitch and groom the horse when you take it out of harness. Easier to walk, probably.

Very few people in cities owned horses, since you need at least an acre per horse for pasture. They have to be fed twice daily and (maybe) stabled at night. During winter, there's the cost of hay and fodder.

Most people who owned horses in earlier centuries needed horses for their business, teamsters, farmers (plow horses), loggers, trappers, hunters, and, of course, cattle herders (cowboys), although the horse might be owned by the rancher. I've had up to 5 horses at a time (spoiling my progeny) and, believe me, they're more trouble and expense than they're worth. "Pleasure" riding is a modern invention.

I used horse travel in a romance/erotic novel and left out all the stuff about feeding, watering, defecation, night-hobbling, and such. Readers just know that the characters are travelling on horses and it sounds noble and romantic.

Hope that helps,

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Old 06-26-2012, 12:03 AM   #12
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-How far/fast/long can horses or carriages travel under normal circumstances versus what would be capable during emergency situations.
It depends mainly on the road quality, and secondarily on the carriage quality (particularly the wheels) and weight.

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-Benefits of carriage travel, and the shortcomings. How much would carriage travel typically cost?
In medieval times, there weren't regular stagecoaches where you could buy a ticket to travel from Point A to Point B. So you had to own the carriage, or hitch a ride with a family member, or borrow a carriage. Costs would be limited to lodging and food for the people and horses at nightly stops, unless they're able to stop and lodge with friends/family.

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-Under what circumstances would it be suitable to just walk there?
If you were poor, you probably didn't have a choice, unless you could beg a ride on a cart. If you're rich and own a vehicle, you'd only walk if it were a short way and you were dressed for it (no velvet slippers!) and the road/path were easy to travel.
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Old 06-26-2012, 12:15 AM   #13
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If it's your creation, then decide on something and run with it. Doesn't matter what actually happened, it's your world. In fact, the more you concern yourself with getting things "historically accurate", the less chance you have of selling the reader on it being an actual cool and interesting place on its own.
Yeah, but even in fantasy world, I want the details to be right. If the author has hir horses galloping all day long and making 100 miles in a day I'm going to think the author is a twit unless s/he tells me about the super special magic that makes these horses better than Secretariat. So it's a good question.

I want my fantasy to be based in reality (oxymoronic as that sounds). Or at least internally consistant; and that's easier to do if you come from someplace solid.

However, Fiender, it really does help if you tell us which country and time period you're basing your fantasy on. Even if it's just this bit of the fantasy. "My fantasy is going to have Roman Roads" or 12th century Aztec roads or 9th century Russian roads or 13th century Chinese roads. It really does help to narrow things down.

If you've got a Roman road system then you're travelling faster and further with your horses and wagons than if you've got 9th century Russian roads, where you're basically screwed. So what is it?

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Specific to how long horse and carriage can travel, the answer is about 6-8 hours with a couple of rest stops. Long distance travellers usually went by stagecoach, where teams of fresh horses were kept along the route. The stage would stop at an inn each night.
Did they have stage coaches in Medieval anywhere? I thought those came in post renaissance?

But yeah, 6 to 8 hours pulling a load is not unreasonable. And you're making less than an average of 9 MPH.



Mirandashell, what the heck? That was a very good post about how hard it was to keep a horse even in 20th century America (much less medieval anywhere). Good grief.
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Old 06-26-2012, 01:17 AM   #14
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You might research the history of carriages. It will give you an idea of what to expect as far as the general type of vehicle (cart, carriage, wagon, coach, etc.), what the vehicle might look like (one seat facing forwards, two seats facing each other, one seat facing backwards, etc.), whether the driver is up front or back behind, whether it might have any sort of suspension to ease the jostling (leather straps, or iron springs, etc.), and how many horses might be required to pull it.

The others are right, too, in that you need to have at least a vague idea of what era and location your fantasy is set in. It might be fantasy and therefore magical or entirely made up, but unless it's really unique and "out there", it's going to be equivalent to some place and time in our history. Whether that's 12th century Europe, 1st century Rome, or whatever, is up to you. But knowing the historic equivalent gives you a starting point, a foundation upon which to build. And it helps others to answer your questions.
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Old 06-26-2012, 01:31 AM   #15
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Mirandashell, what the heck? That was a very good post about how hard it was to keep a horse even in 20th century America (much less medieval anywhere). Good grief.

I was kidding! Don't worry, you'll get used to it if you stick around.
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Old 06-26-2012, 01:46 AM   #16
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Short answer: it depends.

1.) It depends on the road conditions and what type of cart or carriage your MC is using. Lighter phaeton and dogcart types didn't come around in general use until much later. And for much of the early medieval period, horses didn't pull carts; oxen did. Horses were for riding, and were for the wealthy only. Also, horses were generally the heavier draft types early on, which were then bred down later on for riding horses. (Even knights rode the bigger drafts; they had to, with all their armor!)

2.) Therefore, being draft horses, they don't run fast and they don't run far. If you want lighter riding types, you need to put them into your story.

3.) Horses are expensive now, and they were expensive then, too. I generally spend at least $1000/year on my horses (give or take, and that's x's 8 horses).

4.) Carts and carriages have very bad springs, and no shocks, so . . . you can well imagine why most found it easier to either walk or ride. Even stagecoaches in the 1800s were incredibly rough to ride in. Dangers included being waylaid by robbers, wheels breaking, axles breaking, harnesses breaking, the horses running away . . .

5.) But that doesn't make riding any easier, and it's almost as dangerous. Riding all day for several days straight is exhausting and rubs you in all the wrong places. You find that you hurt in places you never knew muscles existed. The most comfortable gait for a horse is the walk. For humans, too.

You might want to see if you can find a local driving club or Renaissance faire and talk to those guys; they might even be willing to take you for a drive in a proper cart so you can get the real-life experience. Try the Society for Creative Anachronism; I'm willing to bet there's one near you.
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Old 06-26-2012, 01:53 AM   #17
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Medieval people, rich or poor would stay over night at a monastery where they would get food and drink. The poor would probably get a straw filled mattress in a dorm with all the other poor travellers. The rich would get a room and a bed. They would give a donation towards their board and lodging. Their horse and carriage would also get board and lodging. You could use a similar set up in your own world. Some items would be transported over land in wagons drawn by horses or oxen and they might give people lifts in return for a some kind of monetary reward. Carriages could be very uncomfortable as they may not have springs and would just be hung on leather straps - so travellers might get jolted about a lot and/or sea sick caused by the swaying. Road conditions, as has already been noted, had a serious effect on travel. Few people would travel during the winter not only because the roads were either frozen and so rock hard or because they were flooded, but also because the small amount of daylight meant you could not travel very far. http://www.newrider.com/Library/How_.../coaching.html has information about coaching historty in England.
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Old 06-26-2012, 06:21 AM   #18
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IIRC, when travelling in large groups, women (particularly the 'frail' kind) rode in litters, while men rode horses.

This is a useful resource: http://www.writing-world.com/sf/horses.shtml
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Old 06-26-2012, 05:09 PM   #19
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Well, noble ladies/sick/old gentry might I suppose (go by litter) but most of the ladies rode if they could afford the horse - not side saddle either, they used riding skirts (split up the middle) iirc. In England most carts/wagons were for transporting things, not people (except the driver). Most were pulled by oxen (though if your man is a farmer he may have some, or indeed a horse) and there weren't many coaches available so unless you were very rich....

However this is your world. If you want coaches to be available, have coaches. Just make sure the economy (and the people) can afford them. Why would your standard mediaeval bod need a coach? What would all that outlay on horses, coach, harness, running costs etc get them? Can he afford grooms too? Then he's a very well off bod indeed. Can he afford (and is the technology available yet) for heavy wheels that can take the roads? Plus, does he need men-at-arms too? I mean if he's rich enough to afford a coach, he must have something worth stealing....

So, you can have what you like, as long as it fits in with the rest of your culture/economy. If your guys are subsistence farmers, they will walk, or at a push perhaps have a mule/pony to ride. If they happen to be king, they could get away with a palace on wheels perhaps (How do you know he's king? He's the only one not covered in....) surrounded by his best men etc.
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Old 06-26-2012, 11:33 PM   #20
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The horses that carried litters were specially trained to keep in step, so that the litter didn't sway about too much.
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Old 06-27-2012, 01:46 AM   #21
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Agree with some of the other posters that a lot depends upon roads and terrain in your world. Roads used infrequently are apt to grow shut, get big holes, fallen trees, etc.

I suppose you could write in something akin to a livery stable (or have her steal a horse), but remember, if your MC isn't used to riding, she's going to be extremely sore afterwards. It's not just the legs; if she gets a spooky horse that's hard to handle, her forearms will be sore. It's hard on the back, too.

I once rode my horse 18 miles split over 2 days. My hips started hurting after just a few hours, and I had to get out of the saddle and walk at times. Throughout the following week, my muscles were so sore I couldn't cross my legs or go up stairs.
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Old 06-27-2012, 02:02 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Evaine View Post
The horses that carried litters were specially trained to keep in step, so that the litter didn't sway about too much.
Litters were carried by people; in England, they were carried by members of the Porter's Guild. They were used much the way one might use a taxi today, for short trips.

Carriages are a post-medieval development; chariots, wagons, and covered wagons were used in the Middle Ages.

That doesn't mean your world has to abide by those strictures.

The pilgrimage trade meant that people could and did lease horses for temporary use, sometimes for several months at a time. Also mules and donkeys.
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Old 06-27-2012, 03:52 AM   #23
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Wow, so much information! I could swim in it.
<_< *puts words in pool, dives in*

Um, I know my post said carriages but wagons and such never crossed my mind. If those were more easily accessed or more convenient...?
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Old 06-27-2012, 05:06 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fiender View Post
Wow, so much information! I could swim in it.
<_< *puts words in pool, dives in*

Um, I know my post said carriages but wagons and such never crossed my mind. If those were more easily accessed or more convenient...?
In England and France they had four-wheeled spoked wagons with sort of like tent coverings—the pictures look like the wagons used to cross the U.S. prairies by homesteaders.

Heavy loads going short distances (a day or so) were often hauled by oxen, but mules were also used to pull wagons.
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Old 06-27-2012, 05:17 AM   #25
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Several cultures also had horse litters strung between two horses side-by-side. I can only imagine how cumbersome and uncomfortable that might be.
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