View Full Version : Novice Bareback on a Horse & Bathing in Taverns

06-15-2014, 11:20 PM
Hello! I'm a long-time reader, but I've only just registered. I'm hoping for help with two issues that have cropped up in the newest thing I'm working on, and both Google and my own trawling of the forums here haven't been much help.

The story is set in a standard fantasy pseudo-medieval world with magic as a cornerstone of society. In this particular scene, my main character has just received some terrible news and needs to get from Town A to Town B as quickly as possible. It's about two or three days over a main road that's pretty well-traveled and -maintained, but I'm having trouble figuring out how to get her there in the fastest, most believable way. She does have access to two sturdy, well-trained, well-cared-for horses that have to this point been used to pull a covered wagon, but via deus ex magic can be made fresh again for this particular journey. She also has a passing familiarity with horses and mules as beasts of burden, but hasn't ridden with any regularity for the last ten or so years and would certainly not consider herself a horsewoman.

My first question is: given that her skill with horses is novice at best, but that she is also emotionally distraught and not thinking clearly, would she even attempt to get one of the horses out of harness and ride it without a saddle for the first several hours of the journey? She's physically fit and will be able to take breaks and walk/water the horse as necessary, as there's no particular peril to this journey other than the urgency of getting to Town B. However, if the physical demands would be well outside her capabilities and/or the horse's speed would not be noticeably greater than her own on foot (or if any horsey person reading that would roll their eyes at the very idea of taking a horse who's been pulling a wagon for years and then riding it three days), is there another viable option to get her to Town B post-haste? Or should she just walk as fast as she can and hope for the best?

My second question is: once she does eventually arrive at the tavern (however she manages to get there), she's going to be tired and dirty and in desperate need of a bath before she meets her contact. It's a small but bustling town with two inns, and while what research I have managed to scrounge together seems to indicate that there's little chance of a private bathtub in such a small place, how much will it stretch the suspension of disbelief if I put a half-bath in the fancier rooms? I could make do with a common bathing area with pumped water heated via magical means, but if I'm doing that I might as well just give her a creek just outside of town to rinse off in before heading into town.

(On that note, given that it is a fantasy world, how askance would an innkeeper look at someone who came in for a room completely sweaty and travel-stained, if they had the money to pay for it?)

Thanks for any help! I really appreciate it. :)

06-15-2014, 11:44 PM
If it's a mediaeval world, she does not need a bath.

06-15-2014, 11:55 PM
If she doesn't ride regularly then she is going to hurt like hell after a day's riding. If she needs to travel two or three days worth can she do it by water? River craft were a very good way of getting around and probably offer her more distance per day than a horse if she isn't an very experienced rider.

06-16-2014, 12:07 AM
If she doesn't ride regularly then she is going to hurt like hell after a day's riding. If she needs to travel two or three days worth can she do it by water? River craft were a very good way of getting around and probably offer her more distance per day than a horse if she isn't an very experienced rider.

Unfortunately, she's well inland and there's no major river or body of water near her until she gets nearer Town B, and even then nothing notable enough to have regular transportation. At this point I'm seriously considering scrapping the horse and just having her walk or try to hitch rides with passing traders. There was a neat plot point with the owner of the horse showing up in Town B, which is why I was hoping to get the horse there, but the technicalities of actually doing it appear to be far more trouble than they're worth.

Still, thanks for the help! :)

Mr Flibble
06-16-2014, 12:14 AM
Bareback riding is NOT easy -- there's a reason for saddles and stirrups and that is to make it easier to stay on.

So, unless she's going at walking pace (in which case, why not walk) she's going to fall off, or nearly so, unless she's very lucky indeed -- most novices fall off fairly often even with a saddle!* It's also a LOT harder on the muscles required to keep you in place, doubly so when going fast than a walk.

A horse's back is a slippery place....

*My old instructor reckoned if you didn't fall off, it's because you weren't trying to do anything new. Like trot.

06-16-2014, 12:15 AM
Mkay, here's the deal with bareback riding, from a person who was never terribly good at it and usually out of practice (as I'm assuming your character is):

If the horse is kind of fat or round or otherwise thickly-built, it doesn't hurt quite as much between the legs, but it's a bit...slipperier. You know, trying to sit on a moving barrel, that kind of thing. If the horse is more fit, or more narrowly built, you may not slide around quite as much (I mean, ideally, you don't slide around at all because of your awesome horsewoman leg/butt muscles, but if you're me and don't have any, oh-hoh, you kind of slide around a bit), BUT you will feel the horse's backbone and withers (depending on how big the individual's withers are) in that place betwixt your legs. The horse's gait may induce a steady hammering at your nether bits, which hurts, particularly if the horse is trotting or cantering and you are not used to sitting to the gaits and holding yourself in place with your aforementioned horsewoman leg/butt muscles. It can get desperately uncomfortable the longer and faster you ride. If you have none of the horsewoman muscles (tm), your legs and thighs and back will probably hurt like expletives from the strain of trying to hold yourself in place, and the soreness over the next several days will be owie.

If I were going any significant distance bareback, I would keep the horse at a walk for these reasons, unless there was a serious emergency, in which case I'd choose a fat little pony and cling for dear life to the mane and look completely ridiculous and hope the pony doesn't buck me off for the bouncing. (Part of the reason for choosing a "little" pony is the distance to the ground is not so great as with a bigger horse, you know, for when I inevitably fall off.) However, I would not be able to keep that up for more than two minutes, let alone days, lol. Short bursts of pony sprints, I guess. Wheeee!

I'm not sure how much faster it would be at a walk, or if it would save me a lot of energy :D Sorta depends, I guess.

If she has something to put on the horse, like a pad, that would absorb some of the discomfort, that would probably help significantly. :D Still would have soreness in the legs and all, still would be very uncomfortable (my back, in particular, gets burningly sore after hours of trail riding when I'm out of practice, in addition to thighs and stuff), but better. However, my choice here would probably just be the power of my own feet to avoid all this stress entirely...:D or if she has access to the wagon itself that the horses are pulling, you know, just steal that. Hee.

As for the bathing, I wouldn't question it if she walked in all disgusting from travel; I assume tavern owners would be used to it? Or if she went to a communal water pump thing like we still have at beaches to wash the sand and stuff off yourself. :D Yanno, quick wash, out and done. Any way you slice it--it's your fantasy world; just make it consistent.

06-16-2014, 12:27 AM
Thank you so much for these detailed replies! They actually are a huge help; considering she has enough familiarity with horses to know what she's capable of (whereas I clearly do not), I think I'll just give her enough sense to get hold of a saddle & appropriate accessories from Town A's stables before she sets out. She'll still presumably be horribly sore at the end of the journey, right? But still functional once she gets to her contact in Town B, and even as upset as she is she ought to still have enough sense to take a little time now to avoid long-term complications later.

Thanks again, everyone! I really appreciate it.

Mr Flibble
06-16-2014, 12:39 AM
Depends what you mean by functional -- if she's not used to it, she'll be walking like John Wayne for a while, saddle or no! :D

King Neptune
06-16-2014, 12:41 AM
Te town should have at least one or two bathhouses, even in the times and places that taught that dirtiness is more Godly. If the place is so small that there is no bathhouse, then she could wash in a stream, pond, lake, or whatever.

Mark Moore
06-16-2014, 06:24 AM
This kinda-sorta might answer some of your questions (and maybe give you some ideas). There's a guy named Noah Antwiler (a.k.a. The Spoony One) that runs a popular site with reviews of various movies and games as well as just vlogs of him talking. One of the vlog series is called Counter Monkey, where he talks about tabletop roleplaying games. He did this one vlog called "Swimming in Diarrhea is Bad (http://spoonyexperiment.com/counter-monkey/counter-monkey-swimming-in-diarrhea-is-bad/)" where he talks about diseases, bathing/hygiene, and taverns/inns in a medieval fantasy setting. Well worth checking out, I think (NSFW).

06-16-2014, 06:35 AM
If she's not accustomed to riding, saddle or no, she's better off just walking - it won't take her much longer, if any, and she'll be tired but still functional when she reaches her destination.

And unless she's in a society that maintains modern standards of hygiene, a bath is strictly optional. A rubdown with a basin & cloth will get rid of road grime with less fuss. A change of underwear, and a clothes brush for the outerwear, and she's all cleaned up & ready for her next scene. (But if she insists on riding, she'll want some long warm soaking of her poor sore legs & bottom before she moves again.)

06-16-2014, 07:46 AM
If it's a mediaeval world, she does not need a bath.

This is a big ol' myth. Most medieval people bathed regularly, though their intervals could be considered long by today's standards, depending on where and when you're modeling your world on.

"Medieval" is extremely variable by time period and country.

A bath house is a good bet. She'll need money for that.

06-16-2014, 08:28 AM
If she has two horses and a covered wagon, why not have her sell a horse and wagon, and get a small, light cart that she could hitch the remaining horse to? She sits in the cart, the horse can move a little faster than a walk for short distances, so she's doing better than she would on foot, and she and her horse get to town B.

06-16-2014, 09:01 AM
Fantasy is still "faux" medieval, correct? If there is bathing in your world then there is bathing.

As for horses, I rode all the time as a youth. Bareback. Short bits, but I got used to it. You learn how to squeeze those knees in! The longest I usually rode was 20-30 minutes. Though once, I had to ride a horse for 10 miles. Just 10. With a saddle. I thought, "Yeah, I GOT THIS. I ride bareback all the time."

Holy hell. When I stepped off, my legs collapsed beneath me. I didn't walk "right" again for a few days.

06-16-2014, 09:48 AM
Magic carpet...

Shrink oneself and go via carrier pigeon...


Magic exist, so use it...

06-16-2014, 11:24 AM
It's your world so you make the rules. If getting from A to B is all you need to do, then you might want to get it over and done with in a paragraph. Your reader might not need to know all the details if the journey is not central to the plot.

If you do want to linger on this part of the journey (and you want a bit of historical realism) ...

It's about two or three days over a main road that's pretty well-traveled and -maintained

This begs a number of questions. First, how do people in this world normally make this journey? Do they walk, ride horses, fly, sail in boats, ride unicorns, use a stagecoach? Your world needs to exist without your characters, so what kind of a world is it?

In a relatively primitive world, you might have everyone walking. Throw in horses for faster/ long distance travel. In an agricultural landscape we might have farmers using ox-carts. If the world is a little more advanced there could be an economy based on coaches. Or a functioning river/ canal system. Or some sort of magical doohickey.

This next idea might sound a little odd, but there's a serious point here. However people in your world travel they will know how to do it. I sometimes read fantasy novels where characters don't know how to get from A to B, when getting from A to B ought to be a part of everyday life. Trade happens, so someone will have worked out how to get their goods to towns where people gather to buy stuff.

If everyone in your world travels on horseback, then there will be horses. And most people will know how to ride them. There will be alternatives for people who can't ride. If your character has money, perhaps she can hire someone to take her to the new town?

Alarm bells started ringing when you said that the road was well maintained. On the whole most medieval roads were not particularly well cared for. Putting to one side the Romans, in medieval Britain most roads were dirt tracks formed over time by the passage of many feet and wheels. Some roads were cared for as "turnpike roads" where travellers paid a toll which was used to keep the road in reasonable repair. But apart from that, most medieval roads were crude paths.

If you are going to have a system of well-maintained roads you probably need some form of Government to do the repairs. That in turn means a system of taxation or forced labour. Is your world that well organised? If so, it seems entirely likely that someone would have arranged a way for people to travel from A to B.

What are your towns like? Bustling places with lots of trade? Tiny villages with no shops? Castles or halls based around a lord's household? Each scenario will have its own way of travelling. At the most civilised end of the scale there could be a public transport system. In a town based on trade there might be someone making money taking fare-paying passengers from A to B. In a tiny village there could be a farmer willing to give you a seat on his cart as he takes goods to market. The lord might command his reeve to take you there.

I'd also think about your character. How does she normally get around? If everyone travels by horse it is likely that she will know how to ride a horse.

Let me give you a fr'instance. I live in a beautiful English town called Godalming in Surrey. Godalming probably means the settlement (ing) of Godhelm's people. When this town was first settled in the Saxon era, folk would have moved around mostly on foot with some horses and some ox cart travel. The roads would be unpaved dirt tracks.

Roll on a few centuries and the town became a coaching stop on the road from London to Portsmouth. This is where Nelson and his ilk would have stopped overnight on his way from the Admiralty in London to his ship in Portmsouth. Travel in that era would be by walking (for the poor) or by coach (if you could afford it). Some parts of the road were turnpike - better quality but you had to pay a toll.

Later on the local river Wey was turned into a navigation (a river deepened and widened to form a canal). Then came the railways and metalled roads.

So how do you get from my home town of Godalming to Portsmouth? Right now I could drive it in less than an hour on (reasonably!) well maintained roads. The train journey takes around the same time.

In the time of Nelson, if you had money you would pay for a seat on a horse-drawn coach. Otherwise you would walk. Or ride a horse. Or ask for a seat on a cart with a traveller heading in that direction. The roads would be a combination of well maintained and non-maintained.

In Anglo-Saxon times you would walk or ride a horse on pretty rough and unmaintained roads.

And in your novel ... ?

06-16-2014, 09:09 PM
Something else to keep in mind - if your world is at all historical, horses were EXPENSIVE. Even farm horses. A young woman traveling alone with a horse - especially if she's not a fantastic rider - would be just asking to be mugged/robbed/possibly raped. There's a reason people (from the vast majority of historical time periods) ended up hiring bodyguards when traveling long distances - highways were an easy way to get ambushed.

If she traveled on foot, she'd probably not be that much slower than she would walking on a horse, and she'd be more able to avoid danger on the way. Even if you're not planning to have anything actually happen, it's certainly something that would occur to a character in that type of a world.

06-16-2014, 10:12 PM
I used to ride a bit in my teens - an hour or two most weekends. If I hadn't done it for a little while for some reason I really knew about it in my thigh muscles the next day. And that was with a saddle and some level of development of relevant muscles (I also did a lot of dancing at the time - I was pretty fit).

06-16-2014, 10:29 PM
1) Inexperienced horsemanship might be an anomaly for someone in a time period where horseback travel is standard.

2) Sponge bath from a washbasin.


06-16-2014, 10:34 PM
I used to have horses and am an experienced rider, both with saddle and without. I don't find riding without a saddle to be much more difficult...you just have to really squeeze with your legs. A novice would be a cripple after riding bareback for a couple of hours, let alone two three days...that's if they knew what they were doing and could stay on.

Great idea to have her get her hands on a small cart to hitch to a horse. Still, a horse cannot run indefinitely; it would need to rest at periodic intervals. It would definitely be faster than your MC walking on foot, but realistically, the horse would need down time unless it's imbued with some sort of magical power. I don't read SF or fantasy so I'm out of my depths here.

06-16-2014, 11:41 PM
Something else to keep in mind - if your world is at all historical, horses were EXPENSIVE.

1) Inexperienced horsemanship might be an anomaly for someone in a time period where horseback travel is standard.

On a percentage basis, almost very few people in much of the middle ages owned even one horse. (Again, depends on where and when you're using as the basis for your story--horses were far more common across social strata in Mongolia than England, for example.)

So it would be very common amongst the lower socio-economic class to never have ridden a horse.

What class is the MC?

Also, depending on when and where you're basing your fantasy world on, many women who did ride did not ride astride. In Medieval England, frex, many upper class women rode sideways on what was basically a shelf, with a man holding the lead line.

Women in other cultures or other time periods did ride astride. There are even cultures and time periods where some women rode astride and some rode aside.

Also keep in mind that it was probably more common for wagons to be pulled by oxen or mules than horses. And if the wagon was being pulled by horses, they were big horses with broad backs and a riding saddle might not fit. Again, depending on where and when you're using as a model.

It might help narrow things down if we knew where in Europe (assuming it is Europe) and when in history you were using as a basis for your story. There really is no "standard" medieval world.

Baths, roads, methods of transport, and how a woman could best travel are all heavily dependent on when and where you're looking at.

06-17-2014, 08:50 PM
On a percentage basis, almost very few people in much of the middle ages owned even one horse.
The same low percentage rarely ever traveled further than a half day's walk too. :)


06-18-2014, 01:41 AM
A lot of the horses were pack horses. Wagons need goodish roads. Pack horses can do tracks. Just because people owned a horse doesn't mean they rode it. :)
A horse that is not that used to being ridden could be difficult about it.

Second the leg muscle thing - I can remember staggering around stiffly after 1 hour on a riding school horse and worse the day after.

06-19-2014, 03:36 AM
I don't know that you really need to make her ride unless you want to. Until relatively recently (before cars became common), ordinary non-rich people who needed to travel would walk distances that seem astonishing to us without a second thought. A fit human can easily walk the same distance at roughly the same speed as a horse being ridden at a walk, without sore legs/butt later. (For that matter, I'm about to leave the house to hike four miles for fun and exercise, and although I'm neither particularly young nor fit I don't expect to feel a bit sore tomorrow. I could do eight miles without much discomfort, twelve miles with aching feet/possible blisters and sore legs tomorrow. When I was young and active I walked 20 miles in a day for a walkathon with no soreness the next day.)

If she has any riding experience at all, she'll know how to sit a horse even bareback, and riding at a walk over level ground doesn't require the muscles that more robust riding does. Horses that pull wagons are usually also broken to ride, but may not be used to saddles (more used to a boy/groom riding the horse bareback in from a field, for instance). Also, not all saddles are going to fit all horses. If the horse in question is a draft horse instead of a smaller riding horse, a saddle that would fit might not be available except to special order--after all, who fits a saddle to a draft horse meant for pulling wagons?

As for bathing, you can have anything from a wipe-down with a wet rag in her room to a magically-heated private bathing room with handsome towel boys. :) Just make sure it makes sense with your world and the opulence or lack thereof of the tavern she visits. I can't imagine any tavern keeper being astonished at a traveler showing up dirty and sweaty--they'd probably be more astonished if she showed up tidy!