View Full Version : Knowledgeable about horses?

01-31-2015, 08:31 PM
My characters, all experienced horsemen, need to get from a mountain trail down a steeply sloping wash of loose gravel and scree to a river. Would they ride down or dismount and lead their horses down. What issues do they face and what would be the best/safest way to accomplish this?


02-02-2015, 07:39 AM
Are they riding in Western saddles or English? They would be safer to get off and lead their horses down. The more slippery loose rock and trippy stuff there is on a steep slope, the safer it would be for the horses to only have to balance themselves and not a rider.

If safety wasn't their main concern, like they were on the run or something, they might just ride down. But that would not be wise. :P

How many riders and horses are there? If there is a great deal of loose shale, going single file means someone uphill might stumble and send rocks rolling down to trip the ones ahead of him, so they need to spread out (nobody walking behind anybody else), unless there is a certain route down the side of the wash that looks safest. In that case, if they go single file, they need to leave at least a couple horse lengths' worth of distance between each of them.

The riders need to keep the pace slow, and lead their horses with loose reins so that the horses can have their heads and necks free to balance.

They need to walk beside the horses, not right in front of them. Although that actually probably goes without saying. :P If anyone does stumble and fall, let the reins go and scuttle out of range.

The steeper the slope is, the more you would have to zigzag or go down at an angle, and not go straight down. The Man From Snowy River notwithstanding. :D

You may have already hashed out some of these details. If so, feel free to ignore any repetition. Basically, dismount and lead, go slow, and don't let anyone crowd each other.

Brutal Mustang
02-02-2015, 08:29 AM
I've ridden down a steep slab of rock a few times, on different horses (all barefoot, so they had good traction). It's on the trail of this particular endurance ride I like to participate in every year I can. Though, one year a girl broke her arm while descending that part of the trail. Her shod horse slipped on the rock.

Point being, horses can be quite nimble. It's amazing what they can cross. If your characters are experienced riders, a loose gravel slope shouldn't be an issue.
Edit: Getting off, and leading a horse is an option. But it's also a way to get yourself killed. If a horse loses its footing, and has to shuffle around a couple of meters while you're on it, no big deal. If this happens when you're leading the horse, even if you're off to the side, you could easily find yourself under 1000 lbs of horse trying to regain its balance.

Personally, I've seen endurance riders briskly navigate some terrifying terrain, many riding in English saddles. I've never seen the experienced riders dismount to cross anything. Usually when they do dismount, it's when going up a hill, to give their horses a breather.

02-02-2015, 08:37 AM
Depends on the horse and rider. Wild horses can go places that they share with mountain goats. My horse (Mustang) can climb a six foot tall stone wall.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

03-08-2015, 10:38 PM
This is an interesting thread!

I was just about to go on a spiel, but I basically agree with Brutal Mustang and jclarkdawe. Although I'll add to Brutal Mustang's by saying that an inexperienced rider might not want to stay on, he might not be good enough to reach to the horse's shift in balance and might cause it to lose it. If the horse isn't jclarkdawe's mustang... Ugly ending.

03-08-2015, 11:15 PM
It's been awhile since I've actually been on horseback, and I never was a particularly good rider, but something my dad always told me was that the safest place to be on a horse was directly above it.

We probably rode our horses down paths that were better off walked or avoided entirely. My brother's Tennessee Walker used to sit on his back legs and slide down sandy slopes. Scared the heck out of me, but the two of them seemed to have fun doing it.

-I seem to remember that going up-hill was harder than going down. My horse always had an urge to start running and bucking whenever he reached the crest and I'd always have a bit of a struggle with him. I'm sure this would be much harder if the ground was shifty.

-You've mentioned that the riders are experienced, but what are they like in terms of temperament and age? Perhaps you've heard the saying about old cowboys and bold cowboys? Are these a bunch of dumb redneck kids looking for new and exiting ways to injure themselves, or are they a bunch of geezers just trying to get from Point A to Point B without having any more broken bones to help predict the weather for them?

-How often, in the course of their journey, do these kinds of ascents and descents happen? Dismounting may well be the safe thing to do, but if you're doing it all the time then what's the point of bringing horses with you?

-Are there any pack animals involved? That's going to make things an order of magnitude more complicated.

-If it's a really awful stretch of land, you might consider riding mules as an alternative to horses. Better overall balance and footing than horses.

King Neptune
03-09-2015, 12:08 AM
We probably rode our horses down paths that were better off walked or avoided entirely. My brother's Tennessee Walker used to sit on his back legs and slide down sandy slopes. Scared the heck out of me, but the two of them seemed to have fun doing it.

I've seen horses do that, and I was surprised, but it makes sense.

03-09-2015, 01:50 AM
Resurrected thread, folks.