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Wanting to keep my writing realistic, I try to keep distances traveled in the humanely possible range.

The current setting is thus:

  • Medieval style world, roads available, they are travelling north, climate like Germany/Holland/Scandinavia

  • A group of mostly military (only one not-experienced rider among them) horsemen travelling as fast as they can because their life depends on it need to cross a windswept plain. About 12-15 persons plus horses.

  • They ride light (light armour) but heavily armed (everyone carries either one or two swords or a bow with full quiver and a shortsword, and an occasional axe or warhammer present).

  • They have pack-horses for supplies and enough mounts. Rations are simple dry rations for the men and oats for the horses. Water is available on the plain.

  • The not-experienced rider is a thin woman, but she is a magic healer (magic does come at a cost in the form of energy drains).

  • They are being followed and they know that. The windswept plain houses many nasties and you don’t want to be there for much longer than you need.

How far could they have traveled in two days and three nights, taking minimal breaks and only one longer rest due to extreme fatigue?

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    $\begingroup$ In the Kingkiller Chronicles, Kvothe drives a horse 60 miles in half a day. Of course that's fiction, but I'd like to think it has some backing on reality. Consider also that that horse was a war horse and very sturdy (in the book, Kvothe has to actually slow the horse down towards the beginning of the journey in order to pace it, because it was eager to gallop). $\endgroup$ – Neil Sep 10 '18 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ @MissMerivana That looks like less than two horses per person, so I would expect travel slower than e.g. Mongol army scouts, who had a string of horses for each person. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Sep 10 '18 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ "...pushing the horses to the brink", and then "I try to keep distances traveled in the humanely possible range." That is a funny typo. Normally I don't bother to point them out, but this one had a comedic effect in how it actually changes the meaning to counter the title. You probably meant "humanly possible"... which is still funny since it's horses and not humans. Fun all around. Maybe "physically possible". $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Sep 10 '18 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ “the brink” of what, exactly? If you mean that the horse can recover afterward with no permanent damage caused by injury or malnutrition, then you should stipulate that in your question as one of the criteria. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Sep 10 '18 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ How much healing can the healer do to horses? Can she do health potions in advance or just healing spells? If we drive the horses to near death every 2 hours can she heal them 100% every 2 hours? Assuming we strap the healer on so she can't fall off, and then drain her dry like the desert sands how many heals can we get? $\endgroup$ – cybernard Sep 10 '18 at 22:44
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The answer to this depends on the rider's preference: do they want to travel "AS FAST" as they can or do they need to travel "AS FAR" as they can.

Riding a horse in medieval times didn't meant that the rider was constantly on the horse.

Going as fast as you can meant that you could travel 80-100 km with the horse cantering but that also meant that after two hours of constant effort the horse would just drop dead.

Going as far as you can (or going as far as you can in the shortest time) would mean that you are constantly on the move. Riders don't ride the horses all the time but they are walking with them.

A horse is an unusual animal in that after 4 hours of constant moving they will stop. It don't matter how fast or how overladen they were, they just need to rest.

A few examples:

  • James Mowat - 350 km in 36 hours. Edit based on info from a Canadian site - Mowat did in fact change horses during his trip and it took him 3 days. (I assume it's because he started late on the first one and finished on third day)
  • Ashgabat – Moscow horse ride by Turkish horsemen in 1935 - 4128 km (of which around 900 were through a desert) in 84 days.

Traveling at night, without lights (to not attract nasties) would require riders to walk beside horses. Maximum speed of 4 km/h.

So I would say that 400 kilometres is a safe distance to assume. Maybe 600 if you don't want to keep the horses and can ride them to their death at the end.

Horse distance trivia: Crusaders in Prussia built castles separated by a distance that a rider could travel in one day (from dawn till dusk). As you can see from this picture Crusaders' castles in Prussia the distance was different depending on roads, geography and ease of travel (barbarians, big forests and so forth).

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  • $\begingroup$ Got a link for James Mowat? I can't find much on Google. $\endgroup$ – mjt Sep 10 '18 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ jamesmowat.ca/about/history-of-james-mowat $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Sep 10 '18 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ +1 For the Prussian Cavalry $\endgroup$ – Jalapeno Sep 10 '18 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ In my opinion, this answer is overestimated by 200km. With the requirements including an INEXPERIENCE RIDER and leading pack animals, the group will not be trotting or cantering. Long term progress will be at a walk. $\endgroup$ – JonSG Sep 10 '18 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ On this website, you should choose another adjective than to say that the horse “is a magic animal” $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Sep 10 '18 at 23:08
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How far can you travel on horseback [...]

traveling as fast as they can

At full speed (gallop): about 2-3 km. Horse gallops at about 40 km/h so that would be about 5 minutes.

Maximizing distance: about 50-60 km per day.

40km is the largest distance that separated Pony Express stations. At the station the rider would change to a fresh horse. A single rider, weighting max 57kg with 9kg of mail, rode about 120 km per day - that's only relevant in showing that such figure is impossible with one horse instead of 5.

Middle Ages horses were not as good, their saddles were not up to par and your riders are much heavier. Wikipedia says about Middle Ages horse riding that "Small mounted companies might travel 30 miles (50km) a day."

Both horses and men needs rest. Riding at night on dangerous plains is simply not practical, the best you can hope for is horse breaking a leg and leaving your stranded there.

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    $\begingroup$ It is certainly possible to ride a single horse more than 120 km in a day. 100 mile/160 km endurance races are fairly common. Of course you use specially selected and well-conditioned horses for this, and don't do it day after day. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 10 '18 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Can you do it as a novice, inexperienced rider, while leading a second horse and perhaps also a pack horse? $\endgroup$ – JonSG Sep 10 '18 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer, though there are a few differences between the topical question and the Pony Express. For one, though they did pride themselves on speedy delivery of messages and parcels, the riders were rarely in danger of capture and whatever else like in the situation of the question. On average, though, I think it shows a certain optimum which the horses and rider in that situation would be hopeful to achieve. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Sep 10 '18 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ @JonSG: Probably not, but I was contesting the claim that a horse simply can't be ridden more than 120 km/day. Fit horses with experienced riders can travel a good deal further: unfit horses with inexperienced riders might make 12 km if they're lucky. It's the same as comparing an ultramarathon runner with your garden variety couch potato :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 11 '18 at 4:58
  • $\begingroup$ @JonSG You are over-egging it. The inexperienced rider will not be leading a second horse or a pack horse - that will be handled by the more experienced riders. It's also not clear how inexperienced the mage is - there's quite a difference between "never been on a horse before" and "rides a couple of times of month" - both of which are not "has spent several hours a day riding for the last 10 years"/ $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner Sep 11 '18 at 11:34
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endurance_riding

Endurance riding is an equestrian sport based on controlled long-distance races. It is one of the international competitions recognized by the FEI. There are endurance rides worldwide. Endurance rides can be any distance, though they are rarely over 160 km for a one-day competition.

There are two main types of long-distance riding, competitive trail riding and endurance rides. In an endurance ride, discussed in this article, the winning horse is the first one to cross the finish line while stopping periodically to pass a veterinary check that deems the animal in good health and fit to continue. As with human marathon running, many riders will participate to improve their horse's personal best performance and consider finishing the distance with a proper vet completion record to be a "win".

In the United States, most endurance rides are either 50 or 100 miles (160 km) long. Shorter rides, called Limited Distance rides (LD), are organized for new riders to the sport or young horses being trained. However, LD's have evolved into a competition of their own, in which more experienced riders and horses also participate. There are also longer, usually multi-day, rides as well. In the USA, the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) sanctions endurance rides. In the UK, Endurance GB is the governing body. Winning riders can complete 100-mile (160 km) rides in 14 to 15 hours.1

Any breed can compete, but the Arabian generally dominates the top levels because of the breed's stamina and natural endurance abilities.

Readded as a quote.

SO if 160km in 14 to 15 hours in race conditions I would say the horse wouldn't be able to be used that night and little the next day.

So if you wanted to keep your horses I would say it would be around the 300km mark. If you didn't want to keep the horses then you could probably get this up to 450km but that would mean a hard ride at the end and your riders would arrive very tired.

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I think the most relevant point is that your party's speed will be limited by the slowest members... it's all well and good how far a conditioned endurance horse might travel in a day, but let's talk about those pack animals. :D The inexperienced rider is one thing -- if she can stick to the horse well enough, she could probably keep up with a faster pace -- but the pack horses are quite another. How much weight are they carrying, and what kind of cargo?

A fully laden pony carrying over 200 pounds is not going to be going anywhere in a real big hurry. And the kind of cargo matters, too. An animal with an unwieldy load, like fence posts or an artillery piece, won't be capable of moving faster than a walk. Even going up to a trot, that gait has a lot of up-and-down movement and bounce to it, which is very likely to unbalance or even completely unravel the load the horse is carrying; and then even if the load remained 100% secure, the pounding the horse's back and joints would take would sore him pretty quickly.

With a lighter load, closer to 100 pounds, the pack animal is a lot more maneuverable, and if his cargo is properly hitched and not too bulky he might be able to keep up with a more brisk pace, but he's probably going to have an unhappy time with it. A stiff, dead weight is a lot more difficult and awkward to carry than a living rider, even an inexperienced rider like your healer.

If your characters really want to get somewhere fast, I'd recommend they leave the pack animals behind. I'm sure there are some circumstances I don't know about from your question of why they have the pack animals (it's sensible in general for a group that large, if they're not staying at an inn or something every night), but for two days travel, assuming there's grazing available, I'd think they would be able to carry all they need with them on their saddle horses.

Perhaps a member of the party can take a longer (and safer) alternate route with the pack animals and meet up with the main group again later, when matters are less urgent, or they could sell their pack animals at one end of the journey and buy new packers and supplies when they reach the other side of the perilous plain. But if the group is going exactly as you've laid it out, count on a walking pace of around 4mph.

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