Writing Thoughts: Distance Traveling in Fantasy

When making up a fantasy realm, or any story involving long-distance trekking, people often include a staple creature: the horse.


Art by limsh

But not every writer has ridden a horse, and fewer and fewer people have even touched one, let alone taken care of one. I guess there are exceptions, but even in those circumstances that does not make anyone an expert. But still, it’s important to learn whatever you can, when you can. Here’re a few things I’ve come across in my research regarding horses, riding, and how they may be applicable to a fantasy story.

Horses poop. A lot, and pretty often. As grazing animals, they spend a lot of time eating, and that continuous stream of fibrous material means frequent pit stops.

Horses do not whinny or neigh nearly as much as the movies would have you believe. Much like how swords should not be making a metal-on-metal shink! sound when drawn (don’t do that!), this is something depicted often in popular media. Horses communicate with much calmer sounds (as well as an array of body language), and generally only make the iconic sounds we’re used to hearing when extremely alarmed or irate. A battle scene? Sure. Walking along peacefully through the forest with nothing but a rider and some companions? More likely the horse is quiet.

A human can outdistance a horse. As reinforced in this article, humans can outrun dogs, wildebeest, even horses, after a certain period of time. The article gets into great detail…

“…what most sets us apart as runners is that we’re really cool—we naked apes are champion sweaters and can dissipate body heat faster than any other large mammal. Our main rivals for the endurance-running crown fall into two groups: migratory ungulates, such as horses and wildebeest, and social carnivores, such as dogs and hyenas. They can easily out-sprint us by galloping. But none can gallop very far without overheating…”

The way a friend described it to me was this: humans evolved, eventually, into predatory animals, but instead of the route in which lions and wolves took – which involved strategy, yes, but mostly sprinting and catching running animals – we grew not to match or overtake prey with speed, but with endurance. The simple scenario is sighting some antelope or what have you, beginning the chase with whatever tactic you have in mind, and then going after it. Eventually the animal would exhaust itself and all our ancestors need do was walk up to it, weapon-of-choice at the ready.

It can pay to have things like this in mind, whether designing and adventure or a courier system in your world. Here’re some links to excellent resources:

There’s the trope for automaton horses, when they never seem to need food, water or care, and related, blatant ignorance of horse biology. Heck, I didn’t know horses couldn’t vomit, either.

Then, aside from the internet, there are indeed specialized books on the subject.

Happy writing, dear readers! Ever have a horse-related experience you’d like to share, or a certain animal-related peeve seen in stuff you’ve read?


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