I'm currently investigating a post-apocalyptic novel and wished to know if Horses could be used to pull a modern Caravan and if so how many. Furthermore what would the potential daily range of such a setup be?

At present I'm basing my assumption of a horse equivalent to Shire Horses (with a few additions that wouldn't affect strength but would ensure Riders couldn't overburden them.


By and large my issues stem from a lack of understanding regarding horse stamina and endurance - something I'm attempting to correct. I had been hoping to find individuals with additional information to cement my figures and estimates.

The roads in question would either be decayed tarmac roads or dirt roads depending on the location.

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    $\begingroup$ By and large my issues stem from a lack of understanding regarding horse stamina and endurance - something I'm attempting to correct. I had been hoping to find individuals with additional information to cement my figures and estimates. Furthermore I suspect my google-fu is laughably insufficient regarding this subject. $\endgroup$ – TheLifeweaver Nov 10 '18 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ On which kind of roads do you want to pull the caravan? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Nov 10 '18 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ First, define what you mean by "caravan". I'm assuming you mean what would be called an RV or camping trailer in the US, but these come in sizes ranging from ones that can be towed by a motorcycle kompactkamptrailers.com/minimatecamper to 40-foot long behemoths. (The 40 ft/12.2 m is a legal limit in some if not all US states.) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 10 '18 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ I have agree with jamesqf, my first question was going to be "a caravan of what?" in the US a caravan means the same thing as convoy, it is not associated with a particular vehicle. You may want to change it to "caravan/camper trailer" even then people will ask what size you want since there is quite a wide range up to 6000kg are common $\endgroup$ – John Nov 10 '18 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ By "Caravan", do you mean a "Dodge Grand Caravan"? $\endgroup$ – Jasper Nov 10 '18 at 22:52

This would indicate that a couple of Shire Horses could tow the caravan at least as fast as a Conestoga.

On the other hand, I'd guess that faster horses could tow it at least as fast as a stagecoach, 8 mph.

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    $\begingroup$ I am not so sure how the wheels come into the figure. The smaller wheels of a caravan, as compared to a Conestoga, on a non perfectly even surface would make pulling a difficult task. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Nov 10 '18 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ L. Dutch - Draft horses were used for ploughing fields. They were pulling a blade through solid earth. Some of those ploughs didn't even have wheels attached. They would easily pull a modern caravan especially with its excellent bearings that weren't available in a wooden wagon. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Nov 10 '18 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch, on the other hand modern tires and suspensions should beat iron-rimmed wood -- until they wear out and need to be replaced, of course. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 10 '18 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ suspension designed for smooth roads does not work well on anything else. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Nov 10 '18 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Kilisi, most caravans would be designed to move on flat-but-unpaved grounds e.g. in a trailer park. That should meet the old tarmac or dirt road specification of the OP. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 11 '18 at 5:21

You haven't said how big the modern caravans are. Traditionally horses were used to draw gypsy caravans over long distances and over rough roads. I can't see any problem with a suitably adapted modern small caravan. See picture

enter image description here


Some have commented that small pneumatic wheels wouldn't work on non-tarmac surfaces. I refer them to this video. https://youtu.be/I9BwEO3_uIQ?t=7

This cart would go where most motorised vehicles would get stuck.

  • $\begingroup$ Honestly I was intended to work backwards to determine what could be safely drawn by the horses from what was discussed here. $\endgroup$ – TheLifeweaver Nov 10 '18 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ Ok... I'm going to admit that is far bigger than what I was expecting. $\endgroup$ – TheLifeweaver Nov 10 '18 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, you can see the left hand rein on the nearest horse, while it is visible against the background of the horse itself - and then it mysteriously vanishes into thin air ;) $\endgroup$ – alephzero Nov 10 '18 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ The window is slightly open at the bottom. Not much, but enough for reins. The animals look more like mules than horses - see their ears. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Nov 10 '18 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ I was also going to say mules. As for the reins, the one on the near-equinid is looping up over its back and disappearing from sight. Not into thin air, just behind the equinid's rump. As for where it's going? There is that gap in the window and the equinid's rump blocks just enough in just the right spot that I suspect that's where the reins are going. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Nov 10 '18 at 23:09

It depends how far past the apocalypse are you?

Tyres have a finite life. On rough or even slightly rough terrain larger wheels are better than small ones by a huge margin. Caravans are really only suitable on roads. Also you get caravans with 2 wheels and others with four. Most I have seen have just 2. The difference between your horses carrying some of the caravans weight as compared to it bearing it's own weight would be huge even on modest inclines.

All in all a caravan is suboptimal compared to a cart specifically made for it. Modified by extending the axles to allow for large wheels is your best option in which case there would be no difference in horsepower needed than a cart.

A carriage would be superior in all other ways. A caravans suspension, weight distribution and everything else are designed for good roads. If you've ever hit an unexpected bump or pothole with a caravan even at low speed you'll understand. Bottoming out with your unmodified low caravan would be a constant hazard.

It's a good idea though if you modify the caravan to suit. My suggestion would be to remove all the suspension and running gear and replace it with that from the back of a light truck with high clearance. The suspension then would be much more suitable since it's designed for a higher weight and the high clearance and bigger tyres would make even more difference. Not as good as a carriage suspension wise, but a solid practical solution. No specialised engineering needed for the modification. The hardest bit would be designing and fabricating the harnesses, which you have to do anyway.

Assuming your engineer has a bit of imagination you can run a generator off the differential or a wheel trickle feeding a battery bank and have all the comforts of home and lighting for night travel, spotlights for hunting or defence purposes etc. Link a trailer to the back of the caravan and you take the weight off the horses (the trailer will pull the back of the caravan down like a counterbalance), have storage room for a battery bank and other things and would probably just need an extra horse if you load it heavily. It would be much more stable like that, essentially you'd have 4 wheels with a pivot point in the middle. Your engineer would tweak all these things to work best for your situation.

I would think you could get 3 mph out of two horses on level good terrain with ease with the setup I described. Which is pretty much perfect since it's around the same for a human. Have another couple of horses for gradients and things or replacements and you should be good to go travelling. Steep gradients and rough terrain could be passed by separating the caravan and trailer and moving them separately and adding your riding horses.

  • $\begingroup$ You don't actually want any weight on the horses: they pull, not carry. So your first modification is to replace the near-centered wheels of the trailer with truck-like front and rear axles. In fact, you'd probably do better to start with an RV (for non-US, that's a self-contained unit with its own engine, steering, &c) and just remove the drive train to reduce weight. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 11 '18 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf no, I wouldn't go that route, then you'd need to actually steer it, make a mistake steering and you risk injuring the horse or worse. I like my idea with the caravan pulls trailer. Then you steer just the horses everything follows on. Plus you take the weight off the horses. I got carried away and designed the whole thing on paper and had fun with it for a couple of hours. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Nov 11 '18 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf although that would be great for downhill terrain, unhitch the horses and coast down steering and braking. My last drawing board attempt had 2 axles for stability but both centrally placed one after the other, rather than front and rear. With trailer anchoring the back down. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Nov 11 '18 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf as a side note, RVs exist outside of the USA. $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Nov 11 '18 at 7:40
  • $\begingroup$ @njzk2: I know they exist outside the US. What I don't know is exactly what they're called. See the OP's use of the British "caravan", when that word means something entirely different in American :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 11 '18 at 18:05

Image result for weight of a Conestoga wagon A typical prairie schooner weighed about 1,300 pounds (590 kg) when empty, and the general goal was to keep the weight of the added cargo to no more than 2,000 pounds (900 kg). Teams of 10 to 12 horses or mules or six yoked oxen typically were used to pull one of these wagons, with mules and oxen generally preferred.


1 find a car and trailer pair that suits your purpose, ie large SUV and trailer of weight that you can look up on the web. 2 Translate the KW rating of the towing vehicles engine into horse power.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi Noel. Horsepower did initially refer to how many horses it took to do something, but it's not an accurate unit of measurement and you just can't translate it like that. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Nov 11 '18 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ Forget this attempt for a comparison. Modern cars are hopelessly overpowered. They are motorized for running 250 km/h on the autobahn, not for being able to move a certain weight. As a matter of fact, a single human can move a metric ton without problem (provided good wheels under the load, a smooth surface, and no slope). Horse powered carriages were much closer to the human moving a ton than to a 150 horsepower engine making a car fly over the highway. $\endgroup$ – cmaster Nov 11 '18 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ @cmaster: Yes, moving at walking pace (which is pretty much the same for fit humans and horses) takes a lot less power than moving at ~65 mph/100 kph, which is rather more reasonable for a trailer-towing vehicle.. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 11 '18 at 2:13

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