If we, as a country, were to lose our easy access to new automobiles for long distance transportation, (for example, in the event of an apocalyptic situation) how plausible would it be for horses to take up this burden instead?

To make the situation more specific, let's assume a large-scale extinction event has affected humanity and our population but not our infrastructure or other impacts on the planet and how to traverse it. I would judge plausibility on:

  1. The ability and feasibility of large-scale reproduction of the horses
  2. The capability of the horses to easily travel through urban infrastructure
  3. The short-term advantages of horses as transportation in comparison to scavenging automobiles and other inorganic modes of transportation

Right now, I have this picture in my head of a clan of survivors zooming down a highway on a herd of horses looking like total BAMFs, but I want to know if that would actually be a plausible way to do things. Any input from you guys would be helpful :)

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    Welcome to Worldbuilding Terri! – fi12 Jun 14 '16 at 0:53
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    Since horses were domesticated and ridden in at least some parts of the world from approx. 3500 BCE to approx. 1900 CE -- that is, for about 5,400 years -- I'd have to say there is ample precedent for believing that horses are a viable means of primary long-distance transportation. In fact it's difficult to imagine a post-apocalyptic world without lots of horses. – A. I. Breveleri Jun 14 '16 at 0:54
  • Would our communication infrastructure still work? As in telegraphy to cell phones? This affects my answer. – Mikey Jun 14 '16 at 7:59
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    The automobile is what made horses obsolete in every way. Before that, they had been used for transportation for age. So you need the absence of automobiles essentially. You could try going back in time to kill Ford, then complete your journey by killing Hitler because why not. – AmiralPatate Jun 14 '16 at 10:48
  • @Mikey Communication infrastructure still works because this is a short-term scenario. – Terri Davis Jun 14 '16 at 11:37
up vote 7 down vote accepted

It's entirely plausible. In fact, that's how we used to do it. Consider that the Huns built an empire that threatened Rome, Italy, and it was largely dependent on horses for military purposes. Traders making the land journey from Europe to Asia and back relied on horses or camels for transport.

The ability and feasibility of large-scale reproduction of the horses

Speaking from personal experience, horse farms aren't hard to maintain, but they do require lots of land area. A dozen people could manage a sizable estate without much difficulty. Horses used to be much more central to human society than they are today. Since there are still plenty of breeding facilities, building up a new horse-based culture would be pretty easy.

The capability of the horses to easily travel through urban infrastructure

Horses already travel through urban infrastructure. They kind of have to, considering they're currently used to assist police officers and provide a means of transportation. We had a horse fall into a pool and climb out on its own; it's just terrain to them.

The short-term advantages of horses as transportation in comparison to scavenging automobiles and other inorganic modes of transportation

In a post-apocalyptic world lacking any meaningful infrastructure, scavenging an automobile would be the short-term game with no/minimal long-term benefit. A horse is easy to maintain: give it a plot of grass and a stream and its happy (unless there's a fence...) If you have to scrape the landscape for fuel every day, you're going to have trouble making decent progress. Horses were once the ... er ... workhorses of human society; no reason they wouldn't become such again.

  • Good point, I hadn't thought about the fact we already have horses in urban environments. All-in-all, a well thought out and comprehensive answer; thanks for the input! – Terri Davis Jun 14 '16 at 14:03
  • @TerriDavis Happy to help! – Frostfyre Jun 14 '16 at 14:14

It very much depend on some important features of the urban infrastructure.

I gather that we are considering an apocalyptic situation and that much of what makes society work has broken down. This will pose some problems when it comes to making a living in the broken cities, most importantly in this regard when it comes to food production and waste management.

  1. To have a feasibly large-scale production of horses you don't just need land, you need farmland to produce the feed required. And considering what I assume will be an equal absence of industrial farm equipment like harvesters and tractors the land will have to be worked by more primitive tools and those tools would need to be produced somehow. It is entirely unlikely for people to just come across plows that can be pulled by horses. So they would need to not only make them, but also know how to build them in the first place. This might take some time, depending on how lucky people are and what kind of information they have access to.

In early days it could be possible to bring up quite a few horses by feeding them off the land, but this isn't feasible for large scale production.

  1. Horses also need to eat while traveling and they need to eat quite a lot when working heavy loads. You are facing a problem of logistics when you bring the horses into urban areas if these urban areas aren't now teeming with newly sprung vegetation. You might need to bring energy rich foods like oats and these need to be produced at reliable quantities.

Another challenge for horses in a decaying urban environment would be the ground they walk on. If buildings are falling down and there is concrete blocks, glass and metal rods sticking out of things in the street it might be unsafe or impossible for horses to move forwards. Horses can move in terrain, but they are best suited for plains and grasslands. They are at risk for breaking their legs or tripping and falling if the ground is too messy with debris.

  1. The advantages of horses over scavenging motor vehicles might be many and varied, but they are unlikely to dawn on most people before the vehicles they have been used to for all their life isn't working anymore. Taking care of horses can be hard work and it requires time to learn how to do it in this new apocalyptic situation. Taking care of a motorcycle might seem a lot less daunting in the short-term. However if you did have access to a lot of horses in the first place with a large storage of feed so that you could keep them alive while figuring out how to make more feed for them.

It is worth considdering that horses are more than a mode of transportation, they are company, warmth and protection, and many people empathise with them easily. People admire horses, they have a lot of symbolic value. If somebody came across a horse in a apocalyptic situation they might bring it along simply because they didn't want it to die, and not because they thought it would be more practical as transportation.

I hope you find ways of making this work for the survivors of your story. But keep in mind that it might be better for the horses hooves to run down along side the highway and not on it.

  • "1.To have a feasibly large-scale production of horses you don't just need land, you need farmland to produce the feed required." Not necessarily true. In Iceland they let their horses roam wild in the hills for half the year (and they have lots of horses). Presumably in a post apocalyptic context there'd be lots of land for the horses to roam outside of the cities. When you have bugger all labour and tractors because of the apocalypse, it's very expensive to farm land specifically to feed horses, which could roam and feed themselves. – inappropriateCode Jun 14 '16 at 10:15
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    @inappropriateCode Yes, but in iceland they have hardy icelandic ponys that require less feed and can stand harsher climate than other horses do. And they also have vast areas of land with good vegetation that can stand up to grazing horses. Grasslands take time to build up, and can be vulnerable in their early stages. The survivors could find themselves close to already exsisting grasslands of course, maybe a national park. – Martine Votvik Jun 14 '16 at 10:37

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