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Old 02-13-2013, 09:55 PM   #1
RobertEvert
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Need insight about horses

If any of you know anything about horses, I could use your help with a scene I'm writing.

The bad guys have brought an army northward, ill-prepared for the harsh climate. Winter comes early. Snow piles ups. Temperatures are continuously below freezing. They have to camp outside, huddled around fires.

My question is...how quickly would horses succumb to the weather?

As I said, the army is ill-prepared and they didn't bring much in the way of supplies or fodder, so the horses are basically forced to eat what they can find.

Would they die of hunger before freezing to death? Or would the horses tolerate the freezing cold? I'm not sure how hardy horses are in such regions.

Any thoughts are appreciated.
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:06 PM   #2
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I'm not a horse expert by far, but it would depend on the breed and terrain. Mongolian horses would likely do better than Arabians. How much fat stores do they have? Are the bad guys mean to their horses?

Do you want the horses to starve or be too tired to run?
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:11 PM   #3
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I'm not a horse expert by far, but it would depend on the breed and terrain. Mongolian horses would likely do better than Arabians. How much fat stores do they have? Are the bad guys mean to their horses?

Do you want the horses to starve or be too tired to run?
The bad guys are ill-informed. They think that they can just ride up north, fight the good guys and ride south...ending the engagement within a week or so. But events have delayed them and they have spent most of their supplies trying to find the good guys. Now winter is coming on full force and they've never experienced the northern lands before.

I hadn't thought about breeds of horses. I probably should look into that.

There is also the issue of armor in the cold. I wonder if mail would freeze or become brittle in the extreme cold.

Thoughts?
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:15 PM   #4
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Horses that are accustomed to being outdoors would tolerate cold temperatures very well. Acclimatized horses grow winter coats and build up fat stores in good weather so they can survive a harsh winter. See the wild horses of Sable Island, which have thrived in that difficult climate for many generations.

If your horses don't grow an adequate winter coat or don't have built-up fat stores, they would likely have difficulty foraging enough food to keep them healthy and warm in extremely low temperatures. They'd probably die from a combination of starvation and hypothermia simultaneously.

Depending on what you need to have happen, it could go either way (hardy, surviving horses; or weak, dying horses).
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:15 PM   #5
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It's pretty common to travel with a blanket, even in the sixteenth century, for a horse.

Getting wet is in some ways a greater problem than the cold alone.

Horses who are accustomed to cold can do quite well, especially if they're fed, and have a dry place to shelter (even under trees). They get a thicker coat as the weather cools, and in some breeds, they've got "features" designed to ward off cold and damp (like longer hair, or curly hair).

Shetland ponies thrive in the wild in the Shetlands.

Not having food, in the cold, and being wet will burn off calories very quickly. They'll start to shiver as their bodies attempt to convert stored energy to fuel.
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:17 PM   #6
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There is also the issue of armor in the cold. I wonder if mail would freeze or become brittle in the extreme cold.

Thoughts?
There's a reason there are special garments designed to be worn over armor and under armor, next to the skin.

Layers are your friend.
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:19 PM   #7
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Robert,

Breed can be an important factor. if you are looking for a breed that is more hearty in clod climates check
http://www.horses-and-horse-informat...ldbloods.shtml

I can't really help you if you want an animal that will not do well. I would suspect the thoroughbred would find cold a problem but it is not much of a war horse.

As to survival time, there are many variables. Horses corralled together will keep each other warm. Keep in mind that the wild mustang has survived rather harsh weather for many generations.
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:22 PM   #8
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There's a reason there are special garments designed to be worn over armor and under armor, next to the skin.

Layers are your friend.
Layers indeed! Our friends the Neanderthals taught us well!!

Thanks for the help.
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:22 PM   #9
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I wonder if mail would freeze or become brittle in the extreme cold.
I would be quite surprised. Mail shirts were worn by the ancient Norse and I don't think metal will get brittle at any temperature we can survive. I might be wrong but for example cars don't fall apart in northern Canada (do they? now someone will come on and tell me they do...).
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:25 PM   #10
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This is all a huge help. Thanks! The lack of time to build up a winter coat, being wet.... I love the idea of the men-at-arms stealing the blankets from the horses!

So what would horses eat in the winter? Bark from trees? Again, picture upper Minnesota with three feet of snow on the ground and temps below zero F.

Thanks again, you all are the best!
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:29 PM   #11
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Horses will eat bark - we left some cut logs within reach of a horse in a neighbouring field and it all got stripped. Bear in mind some bark and evergreen leaves would be poisonous to them - Yew is deadly.
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:31 PM   #12
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Horses will eat bark - we left some cut logs within reach of a horse in a neighbouring field and it all got stripped. Bear in mind some bark and evergreen leaves would be poisonous to them - Yew is deadly.
Oh!! Brilliant! That helps! You see, I need to make the horses die so that the bad guys no longer have the advantage. I never thought about having the horses get sick from the pine needles. Thanks, Maythe!
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:37 PM   #13
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You're welcome I'm not sure pine would be a problem but Yew would be. Though I'm not certain whether they'd eat Yew by choice, mistake or out of sheer starvation.
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:42 PM   #14
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You're welcome I'm not sure pine would be a problem but Yew would be. Though I'm not certain whether they'd eat Yew by choice, mistake or out of sheer starvation.
From what I just read, the bark from evergreens will make horses sick...so that gives me something to work with! I'd imagine hungry horses would eat anything they could reach.
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:51 PM   #15
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Probably - including my jacket if I walk too close!
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Old 02-13-2013, 11:02 PM   #16
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Consider that small, local horses, doing not much of anything, can get by on grass pawed from under the snow. Big southern horses, working hard will need a lot more food.
Read the story of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Sounds like your set up, and the consquences, also similar.
Once the horses die, the men are walking, with only the supplies they can carry.
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Old 02-13-2013, 11:04 PM   #17
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I'd have thought that in those circs one of the main risk factors for the horses would be becoming delicious value-range beefburgers.
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Old 02-13-2013, 11:06 PM   #18
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Consider that small, local horses, doing not much of anything, can get by on grass pawed from under the snow. Big southern horses, working hard will need a lot more food.
Read the story of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Sounds like your set up, and the consquences, also similar.
Once the horses die, the men are walking, with only the supplies they can carry.
Exactly. That's kind of what I was thinking about. The Cossacks as well. Good point! Thanks Frimble.
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Old 02-13-2013, 11:16 PM   #19
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Last winter our horses got in the windbreak and stripped almost 100 Austrian Pine saplings. Thankfully there were no ill effects.

How long are your bad guys stranded for? A healthy young horse with a good winter coat can last a long time in brutal weather.
A few years after the US stopped horse slaughter, people started abandoning their unwanted horses in the National Parks around here. It was a horrible winter, but most of the horses survived. They looked like hell, but they survived.

If the bad guys are so poorly supplied I would think they'd start eating the horses long before the horses started dying off.
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Old 02-13-2013, 11:36 PM   #20
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Last winter our horses got in the windbreak and stripped almost 100 Austrian Pine saplings. Thankfully there were no ill effects.

How long are your bad guys stranded for? A healthy young horse with a good winter coat can last a long time in brutal weather.
A few years after the US stopped horse slaughter, people started abandoning their unwanted horses in the National Parks around here. It was a horrible winter, but most of the horses survived. They looked like hell, but they survived.

If the bad guys are so poorly supplied I would think they'd start eating the horses long before the horses started dying off.

Thanks for the help, Wicked. Scary spider by the way. I can't even look at it without my skin crawling.

I think the bad guys will be exposed for a couple of weeks with dwindling supplies. They're fighting men, so they probably wouldn't eat their horses until they absolutely have to.

I think having the horses get into some yews might be a good option for the story. Yews appear to be very deadly regardless of the breed of horse.
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Old 02-13-2013, 11:53 PM   #21
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Robert, here's a Wiki article that may help. It's not just bark that can be a problem, but tempting underbrush that the horses could paw out of the snow. Some of these things are very tasty to horses, alas.
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Old 02-14-2013, 12:30 AM   #22
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Thanks for the help, Wicked. Scary spider by the way.
Scary?
She's not scary, she's beautiful. (which reminds me, it's time to change to my Valentine spider avatar. Time flies.)

Good luck with the story.
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Old 02-14-2013, 01:34 AM   #23
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The bad guys have brought an army northward, ill-prepared for the harsh climate. Winter comes early. Snow piles ups. Temperatures are continuously below freezing. They have to camp outside, huddled around fires.

My question is...how quickly would horses succumb to the weather?
Horses with heavy winter coats (fur) can tolerate quite a bit of cold.

Assuming they've already grown their winter coats, in order to stay warm they need to stay dry. They also need plenty of water (snow could be melted for them), and they need good forage. If the army has not packed hay/grain along for them, then they won't be able to withstand the cold for long. With snow on the ground, it'll be hard for them to find forage. They'll eat tree bark if necessary, but that won't sustain them for long. If it's very cold, they'll die of hypothermia before they starve.
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Old 02-14-2013, 02:51 AM   #24
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If you want to kill the horses off, a plant called ragwort is poisonous to horses. You'd have to check what kind of conditions it grows in, but I spent many many days as a teenager pulling ragwort out of our field! Try researching trees, I'm pretty sure there's another tree poisonous to horses. It might be chestnut.

There are plenty of things that could go wrong, besides the cold and lack of supplies: horses can develop colic, become lame, fall and break bones, spook and run off - there's plenty to work with.
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Old 02-14-2013, 03:07 AM   #25
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There's always the New And Unusual Predator.

If your horses are hobbled or otherwise kept from roaming free, they'd be vulnerable to...oh...say an Abominable Snowman or other 'mythical' creature that the bad guys don't believe in. Until their horses turn into small piles of bones overnight....you'd probably start getting a few deserters at that point too.
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