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I an making a medieval society that uses a wolf-like animal as steeds instead of horses (in case it helps to have a description, think of a wolf built like a deer) and I wanted to know if it could out-run a horse within a hundred meters of each other.

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    $\begingroup$ It can if you want it to. Really. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Nov 7 '18 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ a wolf with hooves? $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Nov 7 '18 at 1:21
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    $\begingroup$ over what distance? Humans (fit ones) can outrun a horse over a long enough distance. We hunted horses and other animals like antelope like this (still do in some places), just ran them into the ground and then speared them when they stop from heat exhaustion. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Nov 7 '18 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ How did your riders deal with the fact wolves don't run with a straight spine as horses do? $\endgroup$ – Alberto Yagos Nov 7 '18 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ @AlbertoYagos: One would assume that you only ride the animal if you're capable of riding it. Warg/wolf riders are not a new thing - both LOTR and Warcraft spring to mind here. $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 7 '18 at 12:46
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Realistically? No. Horses have skinny limbs for a reason... so there's less weight to move as their legs go back and forth, and really hefty muscles at the base of each. A horse will outrun the wolf, but their weaker limbs (limbs themselves, not the base) will make it hard to struggle if wolves surround them (as wolves generally try to do.)

Unless, of course, the horse is weak for some reason. (Already exerted, tired, old, young, etc.)

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    $\begingroup$ Dogs are also much smaller they have less mass to move. So I don't doubt your dog could outrun a horse, same with a sled dog. Scaling them up would actually reduce their speed. Its the same situation with why you can't have giant ants. Sure at their size they can carry 10x their weight, but at large size, they wouldn't be able to carry their own weight. $\endgroup$ – liljoshu Nov 7 '18 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ This answer confuses me. Wolves already run faster than a horses, on average. Are you suggesting that a larger wolf would run slower? I think arguments could be made on both sides potentially, however, since it's the OP's story, this is now solely a matter of opinion. $\endgroup$ – ColonelPanic Nov 7 '18 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ @ColonelPanic: Scaling an animal does not scale its performance, as defined by the square-cube law: "If an animal were isometrically scaled up by a considerable amount, its relative muscular strength would be severely reduced, since the cross section of its muscles would increase by the square of the scaling factor while its mass would increase by the cube of the scaling factor." Additionally, when you scale an animal up, its mass (= volume = m³) scales up faster than e.g. oxygen intake (= lung surface area = m²) for the same reason. $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 7 '18 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ While I do agree with the answer, "Horses have skinny limbs for a reason." is not a valid reason to suggest that muscular animals wouldn't be able to run fast. Just because one animal species has solved a particular problem one way does not mean that other solutions are not available. For example: birds have evolved feathers for flight, but bats use a wing made of skin. Two different solutions to the same problem. The existence of one does not disprove the other. $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 7 '18 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ @ColonelPanic The same for "wolf-like" vs. wolf. If you're playing that card then the question is effectively unanswerable without knowing the precise biological makeup of this wolf-like animal. The assumption is that they are physical equivalents, regardless of their genetic ancestry and whether or not they are related to wolves. $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 7 '18 at 13:21
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The wolf would lose in a sprint, but could chase it down over a marathon.

Horses have skinny legs and bodies designed for fast bursts. They need a lot of energy to keep going, and they get exhausted quickly.

By contrast, wolves are designed for stamina. They hunt down their prey in packs over long distance. As soon the prey gets tired, the wolves close the distance.

The horsemen would leave the wolf cavalry behind at first. But then the horses tire (especially when carrying a rider) while the wolves keep going for a lot longer.

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You'll probably find that at the same size they're about the same speed.

The smaller animals have more acceleration, the larger ones more endurance. The good old square cube rules come into play again, being taller gives you more stride length, but also more mass, that makes you slower to accelerate.

The bigger problem is feeding them. Larger predators need larger prey, a pack of wolves the size of horses will need to bring down a couple of elephants a week to survive. The largest wolves currently are the Canadian timber wolves and they mostly hunt bison, they need to be larger as a result of the size of their prey but there are still limiting factors.

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  • $\begingroup$ This basic analysis seems OK, but you omitted what was discussed above - horses are build to run fast, wolves are built to run long time. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Nov 7 '18 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot, a lot of that is part of the compensation for scale, the build of wolves and horses is remarkably similar, very skinny lower and fore limbs relative to a heavily muscled rump to drive forwards. Apart from the hooves/paws the builds are remarkably similar. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 7 '18 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ "they mostly hunt bison". Well, no. About the only place they CAN hunt bison is in Yellowstone, as most herds are in areas without a wolf population. Even in Yellowstone, wolves prefer elk, and when they do attack bison they generally are attempting to cut out younger animals. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Nov 7 '18 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast, youtube.com/watch?v=8wl8ZxAaB2E $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 7 '18 at 13:43
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Lets see:
A horse runs about 70km/h when super speed and 50km/h when 'normal' gallop
The wolf can run about 50-60 km/h according to google.
A wolf is about 1m high, that means it grow about 50-100% due to this question.
With simple math the wolf could run 75km/h to 120km/h. (unrealistic)
To calculate realistic the legs of the wolf need to get stronger, with that the legs are getting heavier as well as the whole body. The acceleration drops hard and the top speed too. I would estimate the wolf be faster as the horse, but definitely not above 100km/h
I hope this helps

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Depends on the type of horse and the exact details of the wolf. Considering the average horse (according to a lightning search on Google) goes about 48km/h while certain rhino's can reach more than 55km/h I see no reason why a giant wolf couldnt do it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why are you using a rhino as a metric for a wolf? How does the speed of a rhino somehow prove the speed of a wolf of roughly equal scale? $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 7 '18 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Flater a rhino is larger and heavier than a deer and still capable of reaching speeds higher than horses. It also has stubbier legs. These are both counterarguments against the "ah but horses have skinny legs for a reason so a large/deer size wolf wouldnt be able to keep up" reasoning and also show that it all depends on the exact internal build what speeds it could achieve. In this case the OP could just pick a (resonable) speed for the wolves that keeps up/outpaces the horses. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 7 '18 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ OP isn't asking if he's able to pick a speed that suits him, but rather if it would be a realistic expectation for wolves to be able to outrun a horse. $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 7 '18 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Flater and the answer is: it depends on how the wolf is build, so he can pick a speed at will within the reasonable bounds of similar size creatures. The Dire Wolf which would have about the right size is theorized to be slower because of its short legs. Since the legs are simply scaled up of this particular wolf it would remain speedy and depend on the exact measurements chosen. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 7 '18 at 14:17
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Ligers have a carnivore body plan and at 10 feet long and 750lbs will stand in for your horse sized wolf. According to this liger enthusiast site, ligers can run 60 mph - twice as fast as a horse.

http://www.ligerworld.com/speed-of-ligers.html

A liger is capable of gaining a speed momentum of around 50 to 60 miles per hour. This 50 to 60 miles per hour speed for a a liger, allows it to be faster than lions and equally faster to the tigers. Furthermore; ligers with this speed are only at the second spot just behind the Cheetahs which are capable of speeding around 70 miles per hour. Dr. Bhagavan Antle is measuring the speed of ligers for many decades at its Animal Preserve (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species T.I.G.E.R.S.). He has witnessed the speed of 60 miles per hour from a liger named as Sudan the liger and also an average of 50 miles per hour speed from his other ligers as well.

liger

But somehow I don't see big boy here keeping that kind of speed up for very long.

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Wolves can run down a horse

Wolves hunt and kill caribou regularly. In that video, a single wolf chases down (and kills a caribou). A caribou's top speed is 60-80 km/h according to Ultimate Ungulate, a source I am partial to. Guinness says the highest speed ever achieved by a racehorse is 70 km/h.

Therefore, if wolves are designed to chase down caribou, and caribou are roughly as fast as horses, it is reasonable for a wolf to chase down a horse.

If the wolf is 4 times larger, then that is even more reason for the wolf to win a footrace.

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    $\begingroup$ speed rarely scales well. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 7 '18 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ @John ... but a horse is faster than a rabbit... $\endgroup$ – kingledion Nov 7 '18 at 6:12
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion: not over the rabbit's preferred racing distance of about 8 feet $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 7 '18 at 8:23
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    $\begingroup$ Wolves can run after caribou long enough for it to drop dead from exhaustion, but they cannot run as fast as caribou on short distance.Speed of wolf is only 50 – 60 km/h. Plus, smaller coyotes are faster. Big heavy horses are slower. Fastest dogs are skinny, rather small ones like harts. So scaling wolf up might not allow to even keep its speed. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Nov 7 '18 at 8:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot, the jackrabbit isn't a rabbit, it's a hare ;) $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 7 '18 at 9:28
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If you change the wolf's body a bit more then just his size ( with what I mean on his weight ) they could go faster over long distances but not necessarily in a short sprint. It's your world so you can give them more stamina ( and lighter body weight, because as I understand no one said that you must make them muscular and ), increase time that they can run before they get hungry and make them more "puffy" then mad stone muscle. Something like if you tried to make a werewolf.

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