There is a walled town, situated at a river ford, which maintains a militia of ~350 for a regional population of ~1000 farmers, rivermen, minor estates, townsfolk etc.

I feel that I'm getting the hang of some of the logistics, but when it comes to horses I'm stumped.

Basically I'm wondering how many horses it would be fairly efficient/flexible to have on hand for this militia.

VERBOSITY ALERT: for the rough-estimate-breakdown, please just skip over all the excuse-making to the last bullet, "So at a guess, . . ."

So far:

  • this is allodial land; no local resource or other duty is owed outside the region.

  • the 350 out of 1000 is based on a rough estimate of population distribution in which the total of able-bodied females and males, eligible from ages 15 through 35, hovers around 400 ... minus ~44 pregnancies and parents exempted while caring for children under 5 (~90 of those), minus another ~6 citizens wealthy + preoccupied enough to pay to not-'play'. (these last are each taxed the equivalent of the council's expenses for a member.) Only about 300 of the 1000 live within the town walls.

  • on average, in peacetime, about a tenth of the militia is on duty each day; each member owes 3 days of guarding (street patrols and/or wall watch) and at least 1 of training per month. Presumably, horses are not particularly useful to whomever is on wall duty. I started thinking about 15 on the wall, 15 in the streets, and the least experienced doing go-fer/messenger stuff, but then thinking about trade escorts, scouts, and outlying territory, that's when I got stuck on the horse thing.

  • irregular duties include light escort of trade caravans passing through the region. Activity of bandits, monsters or other hostiles isn't frequent but isn't predictable either, so most caravans will already have hired some of their own muscle.

  • forest has been cleared for several hundred miles in every direction, but the land under militia protection can be assumed self-sustaining in matters of wood as well as food/feed. ~20 small estates spread out past the opposite banks of the river and further 'down-road'. The largest city on the continent, pop. over 100,000, is ~3 days' ride from town, directly away from the rest of the lands under militia protection. OTOH it would take ~5 days to ride the other way down the highway and out of militia 'jurisdiction'.

  • magic is close to standard AD&D - main subtypes arcane/divine, etc. but arcane is a rarefied pursuit and if the odd militia member is 'wizardy' their primary functions would be artillery and/or fortification.

  • local religion isn't preoccupied with horses beyond their agricultural utility; low-level cleric-types may be peripherally involved in the stables, but the council doesn't ensure divinely-fueled equine care. If a member is slain in the line of duty (s)he will be brought back from death by a high priest (only one locally available) at council expense if possible, but a member who loses a horse is responsible for replacing it.

  • historically there has not yet been a reason to field the entire militia simultaneously, outside the walls + mounted. Invasions and raids do happen, though not like clockwork, and each hamlet and estate in the region has a small fortified townhouse and its own stable(s), but the general idea with any large-scale threat is for all 1000 citizens to take refuge within the town walls. (Might have to enlarge the town itself to account for emergency stabling ...)

  • So at a guess, on any given day (at least in an 'averaged out' sense) there are ~20 horses in militia use in/around town, plus a few more at each outlying manor, a few running messages or other militia business between 'stations', maybe a few escorting a caravan, a few being used to train new recruits ... So if this means close to 100 horses in day-to-day circulation, how many more might be on hand to accommodate occasions like emergency evacuations, or keeping a 'fresh' reserve for rapid communication or surveillance?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You'll get more answers if you shorten your question (it's a very long read). Consider removing anything that doesn't directly affect the number of horses. $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2017 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks - would it be better to shove most of that stuff into a Comment, maybe? Just for the benefit of the outlying detail-obsessive like myself ... (I should bathe in the waters of Meta and the Help Center for a while longer...) $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Nov 24, 2017 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ I see now that it would fill far more than one Comment ... $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Nov 24, 2017 at 10:00

4 Answers 4


350 militiamen out of 1000 people seems to be a bit too much. I checked some data for Cossacks, semi-militarised groups that used to live on the borders of the Russian Empire, and despite mandatory military service (20 years: 3 years training; 4 — active duty; 8 — special duty (can go home more often, lighter duty); 5 — active reserve), only 1 in 10 was considered fit for duty.

You can actually use Cossacks as a guide for your own world. They comprised the bulk of Russian light cavalry for centuries. They also started as local 'militias'.

Each Cossack was expected to bring their own gear, clothing, and a horse(s) when summoned. The government only provided ammunition and later some salary. In addition to salary and war spoils, Cossacks were granted tax breaks, trade privileges, and a special social status similar to minor gentry.

According to the 1869 law, each Cossack (every person, not just military) was given 30 hectares of land. However, it was never realised in practice. In 1916, 4.4 mln Cossacks had about 62 mln ha of land they could work (ownership of land in the Russian Empire was a very complex topic beyond the scope of this question).

About 80% of this land is very fertile and was used in agriculture and animal husbandry. The staple crop was wheat, as it is relatively easy to grow and does not disrupt military training that all Cossacks were obliged to participate in. Hunting, fishing, and trade were also highly popular occupations (and the only ones allowed prior to the beginning of the 18th century).

Since many able-bodied males were busy, agriculture, crafts, and industries were not very well developed. Many towns and villages depended on food bought elsewhere using money earned through trade (that's where those tax breaks came in handy) or war spoils (including ransom money). There are a lot of historic documents mentioning poor state of homesteads and difficulties associated with the absence of men. Women, being busy with children, gardens, small animals (pigs, sheep, etc.) and chickens, often had no time to work the land. If a family could not hire at least some seasonal help they could starve.

Going back to your story...

You will need at least 700 war horses (ready for battle; the herd will be much bigger). You will also need draught horses for agriculture, transportation, logging, mining, etc. The number of draught animals (horses, mules, oxen) per farm depends on your period and agricultural practices. To give you some reference point, in the 17th century rich farmers in England had about 7-8 working animals, which were used by tenants to do all necessary works.

Horses eat about 1.5% of their body weight a day. About 1 ha of pasture is sufficient to sustain one horse for a year. Herds may require a bit less land with proper management and some migrations to avoid overgrazing. You might also want to dedicate some land to grow hay and grain for winter and war.

I will let you do the maths, but it looks like your people will be very busy just providing for animals. I would suggest to increase the overall population or to reduce the number of horsemen in your militia.

A small bonus :) : an interesting link detailing a number of hours required in 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries to produce a certain amount of corn and wheat.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! This particular world does have supernatural elements which I will occasionally invoke to tweak/handwave things like Minimum Toil, cost, etc. The land requirements to feed a horse was an excellent bonus, though. $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Nov 24, 2017 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ I did notice that the total militia-eligible population was larger than the permanent population of the town - but again, it is unprecedented for the entire militia to be on duty simultaneously. The point is less 'military unit' and more about distributing skills and minimal resources for individuals and small bands to travel rapidly. Mandatory ~weekly service for 20 years is the standard per member, so the older ones become trainers to the younger trainees, etc. $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Nov 24, 2017 at 22:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @N.Presley, I mentioned Cossacks, because your described society looks somewhat similar to theirs in the 18-19th centuries. Most of their training started early and was done not far from their towns and villages. But military training requires time, a lot of it. It does not matter whether your entire militia is on duty or not. Every militiaman has to be trained and has to maintain their skills to be effective. And while they do it, they cannot grow food. Depending on a technological level, you might need a lot of magic and handwaving to provide foodstuffs for the population and horses. $\endgroup$
    – Olga
    Nov 25, 2017 at 15:38

Horses are expensive

and most people don't have the space or income to support one. Alongside that, a militia as opposed to a standing professional army, have to supply their own kit.

  • Farmers will have a couple of (heavy) horses to plough the land and pull the cart to market. A group of poor farmers might have a pair of heavy horses between them.

  • A gentleman would have a (light) horse, as would his lady.

  • A man who considered himself to be a gentleman but didn't have the income for it might have a horse or he might rent one as needed.

Townsfolk, carpenters, tailors etc. would not have horses. Nor would labourers, domestic servants or otherwise.

There aren't in practice a lot of horses around. The militia would fight on foot.

  • $\begingroup$ The point is that I'm looking to keep this many people trained and ready to travel and keep the local peace, some of them at any given time on horseback. The nutshell explicitly states "for a militia". Again, the town council (guild heads and the senior noble's master at arms) are who provide upkeep for the horses, not the active militia members. If the town council needs extra sources of revenue because of that fact, that's a discrete issue. "In practice" there are as many horses around as are needed for this purpose. The answer I'm looking for is that number of horses. $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Nov 24, 2017 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ @N.Presley, make them a horse tribe like the Mongols. No cows, just horses, horse milk, horse cheese, horse meat. Otherwise the cost of that many horses is prohibitive, a town is only as rich as its population and you haven't described a wealthy town. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Nov 24, 2017 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ I do still have to come up with excuses for people using road transport to trade [via my town] with a huge port city two days' ride away. Maybe the ocean is outrageously dangerous. $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Nov 24, 2017 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ @N.Presley, it's the town on the bridge. The first crossing of the river inland from the sea. 2 days travel is reasonable for the distance between towns, people don't travel far. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Nov 24, 2017 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ I meant slow land trade as opposed to fast ocean trade. (I feel that I've thrown down enough hostile mountain ranges already.) But a good point, thanks. This territory turns a reasonably good profit from services, for a start. $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Nov 24, 2017 at 9:45

That was a really long (really long) question. Let me narrow this down:

If your society has the wealth to support it...

  • 350 horses such that all 350 men can be called upon if needed.

  • 350 remounts such that wounded/killed horses can be quickly replaced during battle.

  • At a guess... 30 horses for transporting equipment and supplies when the troop needs to travel.

That's 730 horses (exluding the horses needed for "normal upkeep," like importing food into the troop, but those are usually owned by the farmers, etc. bringing the food).

Many ancient societies couldn't afford that kind of luxury. Even the early Roman cavalry had just one horse per man. Battlefield medical for the horses was important.

You never want less than one horse per man. Horses often die faster than riders because it's too easy to hit the horse. Which is why medieval heavy calvary sometimes had the (poor) horse wearing ear-to-ankle armor (the armor being cheaper to maintain than one or more additional horses).

  • $\begingroup$ [sorry, took too long to edit that into something nontrivial.] I did anticipate that it would probably be a matter of how robust the local economy is - I hadn't planned for it to be a major exporter of anything - just service for river/road trade and maybe a little 'bread basket' action. At least a couple of outlying properties need to be dedicated to ranch-type operations ... so breeding could be a local claim to fame, especially with interest from a chivalric upper class ... $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Nov 24, 2017 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ ... which is also why I qualified "efficient/flexible" in regards to the quantity of horse available. Again, there hasn't yet been a reason for all 350 to be 'in the field' at once. This is a cut below regional army units (or there would be better armor, barding, weapon options etc.), it's more like a combination of peace officers and skirmishers. $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Nov 24, 2017 at 9:15

There will likely be a small core of permanent military staff, to lead in battle, to work out duty roster, to write up and apply for a budget, etc. This core could include a small staff to maintain the horses permanently assigned to the militia for various tasks.

Each horse will require a certain amount of space for stabling and/ or grazing, along with storage for feed and people to take care of them.

Since the majority of the town's people live outside the town, their occupations are likely to be largely focused on agriculture, logging or mining and so on - all occupations where horses would be useful, if not entirely necessary.

Have your town subsidize such horses and their upkeep, which will serve the purpose of increasing productivity - necessary when each worker loses at least four working days every month. If you are using a six working days and one day off, seven day week, thirty day month, each militia member loses 15% of their productive time to this service.

Furthermore, the militia are then mounted and are able to mobilize more easily should it be needed. Mounted militia also serve as passive scouts - likely the first to be aware of trouble brewing around their locale, and able to then quickly bring word of possible battle to the town as soon as possible.

Now I know that draft horses and riding horses are not neccesarily the same, but I'm guessing draft horses can be ridden in a pinch. Also, dispersed horses will aid in getting the scattered townsfolk to safety as quickly as possible.

Using this method, it should be fairly easy to support one or more horses per militia person.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it's based on a rotation of "Saturdays" off from the average citizen's "civilian" workload. The dominant local priesthood for centuries has been of an agricultural deity - so farm-based citizens in particular can traditionally afford to dedicate a day a week to the militia, as overall devotion is reflected in robust and bountiful crops. I may have overstated sustainability - logging is (a) far-flung, (b) at 'subsistence' level; the nearest quarry is haunted since several generations prior to local living memory. I've been similarly avoiding having a local functioning mine ... $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Nov 24, 2017 at 9:59

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