How far can they ride in a day?

posted Jan 1, 2012, 7:18 PM by Jo Spurrier   [ updated Mar 3, 2013, 5:41 PM by Amanda Teague ]

One topic I often see people asking about on Fantasy writing forums is travelling on horseback: how much ground can a man or woman on a horse cover in a day? Here I’ve done a mini-case-study of three modern-era horse treks to look at the pace the riders set, and also at the factors that influence the distance travelled in a day.

Case 1

1984, two French riders named Pascale Franconie and Jean-Claude Cazade rode two Arab stallions from the Dordogne in France to the Yemen border in Saudi Arabia and back - a ride of 21,070 kilometres.

‘We had covered 1,500 kilometres in a month (933 miles) at an average of 60 kilometres a day (37 miles), sometimes doing as much as 80 kilometres (50 miles) on good ground… during this time the horses had no more than 26 buckets of corn plus some grass.’

Later: We… covered 150 kilometres in six hours (62 miles)… People found it difficult to understand why we wanted to give 10 kilos of grain a day (22 pounds) to horses.

From: A Ride to Arabia, written by Pascale Franconie

This article appeared on pages 24-32 of the March/April 1985 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.

Case 2

Ashgabat to Moscow trek. In 1935 a group of Turkmen riders travelled from Ashgabat to Moscow to demonstrate the capabilities of the Akhal Teke horses, a ancient central Asian breed which was in danger of being destroyed under Stalin. The trek covered 4,300 km in 84 days and included a desert crossing with limited water, in which the horses travelled 360 km in three days. This gives an average daily distance of ~50km, with an average of 120 km/day for the desert crossing. One of these horses was a multiple Russian National Showjumping Championship winner and the sire of Absent, which won the individual gold medal for dressage at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Akhal Tekes seem to be the inspiration for the Westfolk’s golden horses in Katherine Kerr’s Deverry books, as well as the heavenly horses in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven.

Case 3

The Trail of Genghis Khan. Tim Cope trekked from Mongolia to Hungary, a distance of 10,000 km, over a span of three and a half years. He covered on average 30 km/day (no reference for this, it’s a figure I remember from the TV show, which aired on ABC in July/August). The DVD is available from the ABC shop, and his book about the journey is to be published by Allen and Unwin in 2011. I absolutely loved the series, and the book is on my must-buy list when it comes out.

 So, we see here that there can be a big difference in average ground covered, from 30 km/day up to 120km in a short burst, or even faster if a situation is desperate. There are a few factors that influence this number, namely the quality of the horses, the quality of their feed, and the goals/determination of the riders.


Arabs and Akhal Tekes are both breeds known for endurance, and in the first two examples the horses used were selected from an elite class, breeding stallions in the case of the Arabs, performance horses and the best of the breed that could be found for the Moscow trek. These would have been very expensive horses, chosen by knowledgeable riders. Tim Cope, on the other hand, began his trek as an inexperienced rider on an adventurer’s budget and bought his horses from Mongolian herdsmen, selecting for quiet temperament and reliability rather than performance or athleticism.


Tim Cope’s horses were mostly grass-fed, at least during the summer (as far as I can tell from the series and what I remember from his online diaries.) This is a very different diet from the corn and grain mentioned in the first article. In most cases if a horse is to perform well it needs quality, high-energy feed, namely grain and lots of it. There are horses that will do well on grass alone – they are known as ‘easy keepers’, and will stay fat and healthy on grazing that would leave a highly-bred horse skinny and in poor condition. Just how well a horse can do on grass can depend on the time of year: spring grass tends to be all water and no nutrition, and dead, dry, sun-bleached grass in an arid winter may be little better than straw. If your goal is to travel fast, grain is essential. It is also expensive.


The Moscow riders were trying to save a breed that has existed for 3000 years and seemed to be facing annihilation. They were true horsemen, and their horses were a part of their heritage and their cultural identity – it was a ride of desperation, but also an exhibition of the faith they had in their horses.

DordogneYemen trek: in the last part of the quoted passage, the riders were moving through Macedonia and were caught between arid mountains and the sea with no feed for the horses and no water. With no choice but to push on, they covered 150 km in 6 hours before they were able to buy fodder and make a camp.

Tim cope is an adventurer, pure and simple – for him, the journey was the goal. His aim was to experience the life of a nomad and see the world from a different perspective.


If you’re writing characters who will be travelling on horse-back, here are some things to think about:

What resources do your characters have? Are they looking for a horse that will get them as quickly as possible from A to B, or are they looking for a reliable mount to carry them half-way around the world? Can they afford the best horses that can be had, and can they afford to feed them? Is there grain to be bought in the lands they will be riding through? If your characters aren’t wealthy, then they’ll likely need the backing of someone rich and powerful; and if they do have money, do they also have standing enough to buy top-notch mounts when the best horses in the land are likely to be in demand by the military and aristocracy? Perhaps they belong to a culture that has raised horses for millennia, and value their mounts as much as their own kin. Is your character a village lad or lass, sneaking a farm-horse out of the stables in the dead of night? Or is she clutching a handful of scrounged-for coins as she haggles for a thick-necked pony at a horse-fair? Why are they making this journey? Are they riding for their lives, or someone else’s? Or is their journey, like Tim Cope’s, one of discovery? Do they even know where they’re going? Where your characters come from will tell you a lot about how they’ll get to where they’re going. Wherever that may be, I hope this information helps you get them there.

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