View Full Version : Horse abuse/neglect fact-checking (warning: totally le sad)

05-08-2011, 12:48 PM
In my fantasy/western, there's a part where a monster forces one of the main characters to drive a stagecoach for a week. Neither the monster nor the character have any experience with horses, and I need suggestions on how to make this realistic, heart-breaking (we are supposed to haaaaate the monster), and still allow the horses to live at least seven or eight days. I want them to be in a state where they could recover once they are rescued. The MC & monster do know how to feed/water them properly because the monster made a casual study of how that was done before it killed the prior driver. (It cares more about keeping the horses alive than comfortable.)

It's a six-horse stage, so that's a lot of tack and horse juggling for someone who doesn't know how any of it works. Currently, I have the monster force the MC to leave them in the harness during the whole journey. I assumed it would begin to rub too much and the horses would get blisters and raw, exposed wounds, which causes them to be irritable, reluctant, and depressed. It is hot out, and I have them being slow, but still moving forward.

If some horse people could weigh in on how close/far I am to how this would reasonably work, and if I've failed, what I could do to adjust it to more believability, that would be awesome. <3

(And sorry for such a downer post. :( Remember, they do get rescued!)

05-08-2011, 02:46 PM
Okay, it really depends on several factors.

Firstly, are they moving constantly for a week straight, ie@ no rest/sleep etc, because they will die within 2-3 days.

Also, depending on the distances travelled, and the heat, they can drop dead of dehydration or heart failure.

A well fitting harness shouldn't rub, but if they are wearing it for that length of time then the hair underneath will fall out and they can get sores.

If they are still in the shafts then they won't be able to lie down, and they may refuse to pee - horses can't pee and move at the same time, and male horses don't like to pee on a hard surface because it splashes back.

A horse will drink around 8-12 gallons of water a day, in warmer weather this increases so too if they are working.

Not only do horses loose water, they loose electrolytes through sweat too. If these are not replenished then they will start to loose performance. They can develop 'thump' which is a sort of muscle twitch, or azoturia, which is also called 'tying up' and is basically where the horse's muscles seize and the horse can't move. This has further problems because the horse's body can then start to break down the muscle. It's very painful for a horse.

Also, what are the horses eating? How are they eating? Has food been brought along? Are there planned stops? If the horses are in harness then they will have trouble eating with a bit in, and there is the risk of choking. A horse needs to eat around 2.5% of it's body weight each day. More if it's working hard

05-08-2011, 05:30 PM
Shaldna is bang on with all the points. Frankly, I couldn't see driving horses 'hard' in harness for more than two days if you want them to recover.

05-08-2011, 05:48 PM
Just wanted to chime in my agreement- one week straight will give you dead or next to it horses. You will need hours of down time between each hard push. The horses need to recover, eat hydrate and just chill. If you want the baddy to kill the animals them yup that would do it an d we would still hate him.

05-09-2011, 01:46 AM
Oops, I should have been more clear. They're moving along a regular stage line, so there are scheduled stops with shelter, food, and water. The monster needs the human alive, and it's in a hurry to get where it's going, so it will do the bare minimum of keeping alive both the human prize as well as the equine transportation. So the question isn't really "how long can horses survive when pushed," but just "is it possible to keep them harnessed for a week, with a normal work load plus food and water, and what would be the consequences?"

My goal is to keep the horses alive by the end of the week, though they can be weak, injured, etc., and just accurately portray how shitty of a journey it was for them. I don't want them to show up just a little skinny and sore if it turns out they would be losing hair (thanks for that detail, shaldna!) and now I'm curious what happens if they can't pee when they like (though I assume they eventually would just do it, even if it made them uncomfortable). Do horses get bladder infections from holding urine too long, the way humans can?

Thank you SO much for your responses. I know very little about horses, and I also realize that I'm asking a question that people who do know about horses try very much not to think about. No one likes to imagine them being hurt :(

05-09-2011, 02:06 AM
You're confusing conditions. A stage line with "Scheduled stops" means changing horses, and conceivably drivers as well. So if the monster takes over, and pushes the horses HARD to the next stop. The stage master, innkeeper, post master - whatever - will see the horses, and change them out.

Thats the way stages cross the country.

In. Stages.




05-09-2011, 02:47 AM
Hahaha! I'm familiar with the fact that they moved. In. Stages. This isn't the real old west though--it's a world where most of the people doing jobs out here in the wilds have been devoured by monsters.

Trust me, the MC and Mr. Monster only get this one nine-passenger stage, and these six horses, and vacant stops with food/water/shelter but no knowledgeable horse care.

...Unless it's a lot easier to hitch and unhitch six horses than I estimated? That didn't occur to me at first, especially since I couldn't find any info on how complex of a task that is in any of the various resources I used (one of which was going and looking at actual antique stagecoaches in Wyoming). My cityboy MC would have to figure it out just by looking at it and remembering all the parts, where they went, etc., and that seems unlikely.

Mr. Monster is scary whether or not the horses end up in sorry shape, so it's not like I need them to go through this. I just figured it was inevitable given the situation--they can't risk taking the harness off if they can't get it back on, because they can't ride--the horses won't let Mr. Monster sit on them. Even hauling a vehicle with him in it makes them nervous.


05-09-2011, 07:31 AM
Yeah, you keep dribbling out bits of information to argue against points we bring up. IT would be helpful if you could be more forthcoming.

First of all - you can't drive horses non stop for a week. Hell, you can't drive them non-stop for a day. You have to stop. You have to feed and water and rest them or they will die.

That's it.

There's nothing else to it.

Now then - you say they get to stop, and get food and water - because it's a 'regular' stage line.

Then you say... what? It's deserted? No one is taking care of these stops? What happened to the horses and people at these locations? No one there to change out horses?

The driver has NO knowledge of handling a six horse stage? You realize, that's like asking someone to drive and 18 wheeler, who doesn't know how to drive? Handling a six horse team, driving and braking a stage coach - is an incredibly difficult task. WHERE did he get the skills to handle a six horse team? Do you know how many REINS he has in his hands, and how he manipulates them?

It's not going to be believable. He needs to rest and water and feed the horses. Yes... he could do this while they're in harness. A few times. But they are going to need sleep - and they need to be unhitched and re-hitched.

Not a very realistic scenario - with or without monsters. Driving a six horse team is not something a city slicker is going to do.

05-09-2011, 08:45 AM
Plunderpuss, my dear friend, we need to schedule a trip up to the field where my horses live. What's your work schedule look like this week?

I can walk you through a lot of this.

05-09-2011, 09:53 AM
Also, read Mark Twain's Roughing It (http://www.mtwain.com/Roughing_It/index.html) - it's got quite a lot of pretty accurate information about stage travel. <g>

Our coach was a great swinging and swaying stage, of the most sumptuous
description--an imposing cradle on wheels. It was drawn by six handsome
horses, and by the side of the driver sat the "conductor," the legitimate
captain of the craft; for it was his business to take charge and care of
the mails, baggage, express matter, and passengers. We three were the
only passengers, this trip. We sat on the back seat, inside. About all
the rest of the coach was full of mail bags--for we had three days'
delayed mails with us. Almost touching our knees, a perpendicular wall
of mail matter rose up to the roof. There was a great pile of it
strapped on top of the stage, and both the fore and hind boots were full.
We had twenty-seven hundred pounds of it aboard, the driver said--"a
little for Brigham, and Carson, and 'Frisco, but the heft of it for the
Injuns, which is powerful troublesome 'thout they get plenty of truck to
read." But as he just then got up a fearful convulsion of his countenance
which was suggestive of a wink being swallowed by an earthquake, we
guessed that his remark was intended to be facetious, and to mean that we
would unload the most of our mail matter somewhere on the Plains and
leave it to the Indians, or whosoever wanted it.

We changed horses every ten miles, all day long, and fairly flew over the
hard, level road. We jumped out and stretched our legs every time the
coach stopped, and so the night found us still vivacious and unfatigued.

05-09-2011, 10:41 AM
Yeah, you keep dribbling out bits of information to argue against points we bring up. IT would be helpful if you could be more forthcoming.

Hmm. Honestly, I tried, but it seems I'm still doing something wrong. For example, I don't know how much more forthcoming I could be than saying: "The MC & monster do know how to feed/water them properly," and then, "so there are scheduled stops with shelter, food, and water," and after that, "vacant stops with food/water/shelter." Yet you've just told me in this last post that "You have to stop. You have to feed and water and rest them or they will die," as if I'd never written any of the prior sentences. So I either need to question my communication skills or yours, and I figure it's just easier to take Mac up on her offer to go see her horses, because it'll be a faster dialogue out loud, and then I can pretend I'm researching while I'm really just petting and giving treats (and possibly getting stepped on, since I am small and noisy, and easily mistaken for a coyote).

Thanks for trying, though, and giving me some things to think about. (For example, everything I've read suggested that stage drivers were selected not just for skill, but mainly because most people didn't want a dangerous, uncomfortable job. So thanks to you, I'll be sure to look into what it takes to drive six horses--including the number of reins and how the MC can learn to manipulate them. Awesome!) I'm not opposed to changing the character's level of experience if it will help, or even Hollywood-style handwaving it a bit, but I'll need answers instead of rhetorical questions.

I appreciate all your efforts, even though it appears I need a more complex education than is viable through a forum. :)

(I wish I was more of an "expert" in something so I could give back, but it seems no one ever has any questions here about sex toy manufacturers or the various ingredients in personal lubricants. hehe)

05-09-2011, 10:42 AM
Also, read Mark Twain's Roughing It (http://www.mtwain.com/Roughing_It/index.html) - it's got quite a lot of pretty accurate information about stage travel. <g>

Excellent! Thank you.

05-09-2011, 10:56 AM
ALSO (as if I haven't babbled enough for the day) Medievalist passed on a link that describes the reins, so if anyone else happens to look at this thread because they were searching for something to do with a six-horse team instead of the physical state of horses after a crappy journey--we have an answer for them! Take with a grain of salt, since it's Internet info and all, but it appears reasonable enough:


Thanks again, everyone!

05-09-2011, 11:49 AM
When taking off and putting on harnesses, especially for a six horse team, under pressure from a monster, it is easy to mismatch harnesses with horses (now you have ill fitting tack which will rub and later scar), or to adjust pieces improperly.

When they do break, it can be for a minimal time, not allowing horses enough food and rest. If there's no good food to be had, especially grain, the horses will be the worst for it.

You can also have a horse or two go lame. Stone bruise, white line from too much damp ground and stalls, whatever. Then they keep getting driven on, getting lamer and lamer.

You can also do emotional damage- whipping them on, yelling, whatever. With the monster making them nervous, they won't be too cooperative about getting harnessed and then hitched. The person getting them ready may have 'no choice' but to get heavy handed with them. By the end of the trip they don't want to stand still for harnessing (a critical aspect of their training), let alone line up to get hitched. They might prance about, step on their handlers' toes, throw their heads, kick, whatever. Anything to resist the unpleasant experience.

At the end of the trip you have neglected horses, some lame, all with ruined training that can't be hitched. If the monster really pushes on the last day of the trip you can have them tying up, colicing, whatever. He doesn't care- he just has to reach X, right? If the horses drop dead five feet from the end, it's no skin off his back.

I can't find the news story about the person who left horses to die after riding them to death in the midwest. Instead, here's another abandonment story: Horses abandoned in snow (http://www.tumblerridgenews.com/archives/91-archives/7029). (Link won't work at work. Google indicates this article is good.) If not, here (http://fuglyblog.com/?p=716) in ranting blog form.

Might give you some ideas... The Fugly blog is certainly full of neglect cases, but most are standing in a pasture.

05-09-2011, 12:51 PM
Thank you, Fenika! The part about mismatched harnessing is especially useful. It was something I had considered, but I wasn't sure if any of that equipment would even work if it was put on wrong, so I had steered away.

Now that you've said it, it makes perfect sense that it could still pull the stage's weight--but it might rub wrong on the horses faster than if they were hitched properly, and because of it being incorrect, the equipment would begin to break apart. (Learning more ways to make things break is writer candy.)

05-09-2011, 01:38 PM
From what you've said, although there will be food and water, the horses won't be unharnessed? at all?

Okay, so how will they eat> Horses need to put their heads down to eat and drink, if it's a six horse team then the horses in the back won't be able to get at water or food unless they are unhitched.

05-09-2011, 02:26 PM
I owned a draft that clearly wore an ill fitting collar harness (don't know the proper term, but collar isn't wrong). He had scars on his neck where it rested, lower down, and also on his shoulder from other harness straps. His nose had a huge bald spot (well, his muzzle just above the nose) either from a bridle or an ill fitting halter. He had presumed whip marks on his rump, and a scar above his left hind hoof that caused a permanent scar on his hoof wall. You could walk behind him no problem, but if you stopped he'd get wary- if you tried to do anything he'd freak and act like you were about to whip him on.

As for breaking equipment- not just from a poor fit. That's tough stuff. If you cross stuff that shouldnt cross or the horse smashes the wood carriage or pieces, then yes- breakage.

As for the hitching, not hitching issue- You can leave them hitched for short rest breaks, but as has been pointed out they can't eat (except grain bags- but if not cooled off, that;s bad.). You can leave them partially harnessed, but you risk them rubbing or wearing or destroying the harness. Horses can eat with the bit in, especially tender grass.

The reason some of these threads appear to go astray, is we need to know the end result. You've gotten a lot of info on driving and staged stops, because that's an important plot point. You've told us SOME of what the end result must be (abused horses at the end of the unpleasant trip) but details always help. I gave you some possibilities (lame, tied up horses) but more info helps us help you.

If you want to run a scenario by us based on the info you've gathered, we can give feedback and check for issues on that...

05-09-2011, 02:34 PM
PS- go to youtube and search for horse wagon/carriage/draft accident. There's some crazy stuff. Horses crashing through a parade. Horses going crazy at a show in a large venue.


Also, also- I should say you CAN have random breakage of the harness/carriage if it is ill maintained, but don't force it. A week of minor abuse is not that big a deal. If you need that plot point, then fine. If not, leave it be. Like I said, an upset horse can certainly kick/stomp a wood piece if needed. Or kick another horse like happened between Ginger and Black Beauty in the movie iirc. Or kick a person if you want them to suffer a bit. Draft horses scraping your ankles or stomping your feet is NOT nice. Trust me on that one.

05-09-2011, 07:01 PM
What is the most important element here - time expended or distance traveled. Why must the journey take a week. You never tell us how far you have to travel. You never give us an idea of how far apart the 'stage stops' are located.

You keep saying 'a week'. What's the DISTANCE you need to go? Why is it important that this particular team of horses arrive at this destination. Why can't the horses be changed? Because the monster and driver don't know how? Then he doesn't know how to drive a six horse team. IF he knows how to drive a six horse team - he knows how to hitch/unhitch and harness the team.

You are setting out mutually exclusive conditions - this is the difficulty of the scenario.

Driving a single hack - is different, much different than driving a six horse team. I get that the monster doesn't understand the requirements, and is compelling the driver to continue - but he has to have the skills to manage a team and keep them ALIVE and in condition to pull a stage coach for a week - if he's not an expert, if there aren't replacement teams - it's not going to work. Something has to change.

His skill level seems to be the easiest thing.

Make him an expert. Make him struggle against the monster's demands - to try and keep the team working and alive by the end of the journey.

A novice simply can't do it without the right skills.

Your question: "is it possible to keep them harnessed for a week, with a normal work load plus food and water, and what would be the consequences?" - is answered -
"No" - You can't keep them harnessed for a week. It's not a normal work load.

A six horse coach - can cover much more ground, much more quickly with change of horse - than a six horse coach with NO change of horses. The 'resting' time gets increasingly longer and longer. The time to recover becomes greater and greater.

What is the compelling need. Distance covered? Time spent en route? This particular team of horses needing to arrive at a particular place? "Good, Cheap, Fast" - you can have two but not three - is the old standard.

You can have this team arrive, but in a longer time, with more numerous stops. You can have the coach and passengers arrive on schedule, but with a change of horses. You can have the driver be a novice/incompetent - but you won't get far.

05-11-2011, 11:34 AM
Sorry, I got busy, and there's a lot to respond to now. Thanks for all the extra information, and the questions! I printed this page out and I'm going over how they'll fit into the story.

You guys rule.

05-11-2011, 01:52 PM
No probs. Just let us know how it works out, and if you need more info we're about.

05-11-2011, 02:07 PM
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