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So, after the apocalypse, there is this charity organization, ORE, that has set up HQ in Des, Iowa. They have about 3,400 members, with about 1,000 of those living somewhere outside Des. They need to stay connected with these outposts, and keep them well supplied. They have a task force of 50 messengers, who have to brave the wide open wastes and deliver news and supplies. The one problem is, it would make more sense to mount the messengers on horses. But my story relies on them walking to their destinations. What would be a plausible reason for the ORE members to not use horses?

  • The apocalypse was 500 years ago, so the Iowa environment is just the same as now. Plains.
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closed as off-topic by Mołot, Aify, user535733, Mark Olson, JBH Jun 15 '18 at 0:07

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    $\begingroup$ What would they use instead? How does their environment look like? Their routes? Why do you even need a reason? Horses are hard to come by anyway. What kind of apocalypse was it? What resources are available? And so on... $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 14 '18 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ I feel this question is lacking critical details as to why horses aren't viable. Native Americans on the Great Plains used horses. Why can't a post-apocalyptic Great Plains society? What was the nature of the apocalypse; did it cause problems for livestock? Barring detail, this appears to be a societal/cultural issue, which would be up to you, the author, to decide upon, and would make this question primarily opinion-based. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 14 '18 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ All the horses dead in the apocalypse. $\endgroup$ – Reactgular Jun 14 '18 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ As part of the apocalypse, horses prey on people $\endgroup$ – Wayne Werner Jun 14 '18 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ I'm afraid that I must VTC this question as Off-Topic:TSB. It's asking for a critical plot element, not (necessarily) a world rule. It's basically a fishing-for-ideas question with no limiting condition, which means it could be rewritten to not be story-based, but it would likely be POB (any answer is as good as any other). You need to decide as the author why there are no horses. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 15 '18 at 0:07

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Horses take a lot of food. If you don’t have a fully developed agricultural sector, or a lush prairie landscape you won’t be able to keep many horses alive.

Or perhaps horses didn’t survive the apocalypse, at least not in this area or in large numbers. This makes horses too valuable to standard messages.

How many of your 3000 survivors knew anything about horses or saddle making/tack making before the apocalypse? Where all the survivors city slickers with no idea how to handle a horse? Perhaps they do not use horses because they don’t know how.

Horses have become wild once more. They are smart and dangerous creatures that can easily kill someone by accident. Perhaps with no one who knew how to handle them all the horses have become wild and are now just another dangerous beast to avoid while traveling.

The wilds are wild, filled with stalking beasts and dangerous men. Riding a horse might become too much of a target to both. It is simpler to hide a person’s scent, and a person from sight than it is to cover the scent and sight of a horse. Walking takes longer, however it’s safer.

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  • $\begingroup$ The apocalypse was 500 years ago, most of the 3,000 were farmers or herders before they joined $\endgroup$ – Jasper R. Jun 14 '18 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ Almost everyone will be a subsistence farmer unless civilization has returned to near 20th century levels. Prior estimates about nuclear apocalypse recovery have placed recovery to something comparable to 21st century "normal" conservatively at around 50 years. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Jun 14 '18 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ After 500 years, I'd expect much of the Plains to have reverted to lush Prairie. Also, even if no one had any idea how to make a saddle, just the fact that they know a saddle can be made is a stride in the right direction. And after 500 years, I'd expect that the survivors' descendants would have all that sorted out! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 14 '18 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ Horses feed themselves quite well in the semi-desert of Nevada. There's no reason they could not do so in an Iowa reverted to semi-wild conditions. There are also mountain lions and other predators around. Domestic horses could easily kill a person, accidentally. And taming a wild horse isn't all that difficult: my current horse is a mustang trained in the Nevada state prison: blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/adoptions-and-sales/… $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 15 '18 at 4:36
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Horses mark the messenger as being a target of value. Traveling on foot, he is just another footsore traveler without any valuables or value for ransom. He blends in and keeps ORE secrets safe by being anonymous

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If your environment is a wasteland, there may not be available food to support the population of horses needed to have mounted messengers. Even if you have horses used within our settlements for farming where feed is available, the food may not be available on the trail. Horses work well when there is available forage for them. Having to manage the logistics of feeding horses on the move would seriously impact their usefulness.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's what saddle bags are for --- you carry enough fodder for your mount for the expected duration of the journey. You let him forage where and when he can & feed from the sack only at need. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 14 '18 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas: You don't carry enough fodder for a horse in saddlebags. At most, you might carry a grain ration to supplement grazing. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 15 '18 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf That's actually what I just said. You let your mount forage and only use what's in the bags when needed. i.e., when there's nothing to be grazed. Ideally, you'll get there with a full bag! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 16 '18 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas: No, that's not what you said, at least as a horse person would understand it. Basically, horses need a lot of rough fodder - hay or grass &c that they graze on, basically - that provides the bulk of their diet (and which is too bulky to practically carry in saddlebags). They're also trickle feeders, so it's healthy for them to have regular access to this throughout the day. Then if the horse is doing work, you can supplement this with grain rations for extra energy, but feeding just grain can cause all sorts of health problems: extension.psu.edu/feeding-horses $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 17 '18 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Kindly excuse me not being a horse person! Soooo, ya. Exactly what I said. You "let him forage where and when he can" on all those nice rough fodder grasses and hay and whatever's growing in the 26th century prairie; and "at need" use what you're carrying "for extra energy". And I guess cos you don't want your mount to barf himself to death or whatever horses do when fed too much grain! Will leave the details to the horse people! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 17 '18 at 5:38
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There is a big number of possible reasons:

  1. The apocalypse was hard on horses. They went extinct in North America;
  2. There are dangerous predators out on the plains. They are specifically attracted to animals like horses, while people on foot can travel stealthily;
  3. There is a new poisonous plant among the grasses. Horses will eat it, but suffer and die afterwards;
  4. Horses are sacred animals. It is unforgivable sin to burden a horse;
  5. Horses are dirty animals. It is unforgivable sin to touch a horse;
  6. Humans undergone a genetic mutation that allowed them to walk faster than horses;
  7. Horses undergone a genetic mutation and became sentient. If humans would try to use horses like they did, horses would overthrow human rule, and humans will be demoted to yahoo.
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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for No. 1, 3, and 7. A mutated strain of grass is poisonous to horses; the wild ones mostly died out except for the ones smart enough to tell the difference. Over generations they became much smarter. They've started attacking mounted riders in packs like wolves, except they "kidnap" the rider's horse to add to their herd. $\endgroup$ – Shawn V. Wilson Jun 14 '18 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ 1. People will be hungry after the apocalypse. Horses have a lot of meat. After the apocalypse, hungry armed humans wiped out all large animals and ate them. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jun 14 '18 at 23:19
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They may need stealth. And horses - or any other mount, for that matter - are not stealthy.

Sure, with a mount you can carry hundreds of kilograms of load, specially if you use a cart. But you also let all those bandits know where you are.

A single person may be able to carry medicines, letters and whatever on their body and, packing light, they may be able to cross the wasteland unnoticed among the bushes.

I know it because when I play Fallout and Elder Scrolls I always have an easier time when I am travelling alone and crouching.

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    $\begingroup$ On the other hand, riding a mount gives you a height advantage where you can spot bandits that you might otherwise miss crouching around the bushes. Also, speed, as a horse will be able to outrun bandits on foot. If they too are mounted, you'd stand no chance on foot, but at least would be on equal footing with them if you are also riding. I know this because I've seen Westerns. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 14 '18 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ I can't justify a +1 when a video game is used as justification. $\endgroup$ – T.J.L. Jun 14 '18 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ Re "...with a mount you can carry hundreds of kilograms of load": No, you can't. A general rule of thumb is that a horse in good condition can be expected to carry about 20% of its body weight. That includes the weight of rider and tack, which for taller men comes pretty close to 20% of the weight of a smallish horse. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 15 '18 at 19:11
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Horses aren't just horses. They're specialized through selective breeding. Farmers want draft horses that can pull heavy weights and provide a lot of torque when e.g. plowing, but don't need speed. Messengers want fast horses that have great speed and stamina, but only need to haul an average-sized person.

If all they have are draft horses, walking is probably easier and faster. (For one thing, you don't need to spend so much time taking care of your horses.) It's also way cheaper. It would hardly be surprising that a community of farmers, who previously didn't need to do much long-distance travel, don't have a stock of speedy horses available.

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Perhaps they need their messages to be delivered in a hurry. Humans are pretty much the best endurance runners on Earth, and over 100 miles a fit and trained human is likely to be faster than a horse, especially in hot weather. Fast horse messenger services historically relied on remount stations fairly close together, and your organisation sounds like it doesn’t have the resources to maintain such stations.

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Bad or corrupt management

Charitable organizations often attract dishonest or inept people. 50+ horses may represent a huge drain on the available funds of the organization. Funds that the ORE managers may be funneling off to private ventures, or outright squandering on useless efforts. ORE may even HAVE a stable, and a handful of horses. But due to mismanagement, the horses may not be in shape for travel. Even if some of the horses were in shape, their use may be dominated by the bureaucrats of the organization for non-messenger uses.

If the horses are too difficult to use, the messengers may just forego using them altogether.

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Paranoia about disease

Little isolated communities means a lot of inbreeding among the livestock. They are only adapted to the endemic diseases in their homes.

Bringing an animal from far away it's considered a risk vector. That horse, drinking on the communal water trough can introduce a new parasyte and, before you know it, all your livestock is dead and you don't survive the next winter.

Horses can't enter areas near villages so they don't pollute the aquifers.

The same as countries do now with diseases like the Swine Fever, but at a local level.

Luxury tax

Villages demmand money for sleeping inside their walls (we built them, you can't enjoy their protection free) or going through bridges. Horses are expensive so people with them can pay for that luxury. Let's say the same as two men.

Your ORE organization can't pay so much and your messengers go on foot.

Lack of a relay system

Horses get tired, too. Even more if they aren't feed enough, shoed properly and the weather is too hot. IF you can't change horses every couple of days, they are going only at walking pace, as fast as the messenger on foot.

Horses might be too expensive to buy, breed and feed for the work they provide.

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Horses are outlawed by those who appose the ORE organization.

While they have 3,500 members they are very small in comparison, and represent a threat to gains, lords and other organizations that feed off the lawless post apocalypse world.

Any messengers found riding horse back are killed. Restricting them from using horses helps suppress the organization, but when the messengers are on foot they blend in as regular pilgrims. As long as they keep their ORE identity a secret.

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  • $\begingroup$ Who would benefit from a chaotic world? $\endgroup$ – Jasper R. Jun 14 '18 at 21:45

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