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TwoTrees
04-02-2015, 05:44 PM
I'm working on a fantasy novel and have a mounted ranger force of about 45 men returning to their border fort over stark, rugged country (like some parts of Afghanistan.) They have only what they can carry on their own mounts and pack horses, and there is nowhere to graze. The commander knows they will need to reduce rations.

My Question: Given that the horses will be led part of the time and ridden where the terrain allows, how long can a horse manage on reduced feed? Half measure? One-third measure? I'm just trying to get a realistic sense of the logistics in such circumstances, where they will have to make do with what they have for 4-5 days.

Thanks!

oceansoul
04-02-2015, 06:08 PM
A lot of factors will influence this.

#1 - Pace - How many hours a day are the horses travelling? How fast when they're not being led?
#2 - Water - Horses can go without food for a while if they were fit to start, but not without water.
#3 - Horse type / breed - native breeds (think UK native) are fat little buggers who can survive on low rations for a long time.
#4 - Condition at the start.

benbenberi
04-02-2015, 06:22 PM
Don't know the answer myself, but here's a book you may find useful for that and all sorts of related issues:

Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (http://smile.amazon.com/Alexander-Great-Logistics-Macedonian-Army/dp/0520042727/) by Donald W. Engels

TwoTrees
04-03-2015, 04:47 PM
#1 - Pace - How many hours a day are the horses travelling? How fast when they're not being led?
#2 - Water - Horses can go without food for a while if they were fit to start, but not without water.
#3 - Horse type / breed - native breeds (think UK native) are fat little buggers who can survive on low rations for a long time.
#4 - Condition at the start.

Thank you, oceansoul. The horses will be traveling at a walk, whether being ridden or led, for around six hours a day. They were in reasonably good condition before traveling over the mountains and are supposed to be a mix of Arab-type and rugged steppes horses, so thrifty and sturdy. They are packing plenty of water in waterskins and will encounter springs along their route.

And benbenberi, I'll go looking for the book you suggested.

Thank you both

CheddarBug
04-06-2015, 06:02 PM
Okay, I'm going to try my best to help out here since I've been working with horses the better part of my life.

Horses have incredible stamina and endurance, especially when they've been trained for long distances. You can't just hop on any ole horse and take them on a 50 mile trail ride. Much like you they would get tired. Another big concern would be there feet. Are they wearing shoes? Barefoot? The hoof is the most essential part of a horse. Bad hoof management can take things downhill drastically.

Water is the most vital thing a horse needs. Without access to plenty of water horses can suffer from impaction colic; which in the setting you're describing would be a certain death. Food-wise, as long as they can get any sort of non-poisonous forage they should be sustainable, though it wouldn't be ideal. Starving horses have been known to eat bark from available trees. They can also be fed short term diets consisting of bread, though not too much. A horse's digestive tract is sensitive. Fruits, vegetables, and plants will be fine. Definitely stay away from anything with mold as this can also lead to stomach upset and colic. Horses cannot throw-up.

In my years around horses I've seen them consume a handful of grain to cups worth depending on age, level of work, etc. What's most important is free forage. Horses get by just fine without grain as long as they have access to hay, grass, etc. On a side note, I've also seen them enjoy the occasional soda and sweet candies. Again, not recommended, but like humans as long as it's in moderation and they have no underlying health issues it won't kill them.

Any breed is going to be suitable as long as they've had proper training. That being said, if they're traveling in places like Afghanistan you'll want to stick with desert-bred breeds such as the Arabian, the Barb, and the Akhal-Teke. I'm going to strike the Teke from this list, however, for the fine frame. They may not make the best pack horse depending on what you're carrying. Definitely stay away from draft horses. Contrary to popular belief these labor beasts were meant for pulling, not carrying. The Mongolian Horse may actually be exactly what you're looking for, however.

I hope this has helped you some. :)

L.C. Blackwell
04-09-2015, 02:46 AM
You might try looking up what you can find on Bedouin horse management on the desert. We're talking low-water, low-forage situations, and I seem to remember that their horses were fed meat, and even camel's milk--a diet that a horse would have to become accustomed to, not just handed all at a sudden.

krjwrites
04-10-2015, 10:56 PM
You might try looking up what you can find on Bedouin horse management on the desert. We're talking low-water, low-forage situations, and I seem to remember that their horses were fed meat, and even camel's milk--a diet that a horse would have to become accustomed to, not just handed all at a sudden.

I'm in the early stages of researching horses in desert climates as well, and I've definitely read that horses on long treks were given both camel milk and water, to reduce the amount of water you'd need to carry for the horses. There's a small amount of moisture present in the grasses, leaves, etc, a horse might graze on, but I don't think it's enough moisture to sustain a horse on. Fun fact I just learned yesterday - wild mustangs in America have been known to eat small amounts of dirt to ingest minerals they lack in their diet, although I'm not sure how they know which dirt is helpful and which to avoid.

benbenberi
04-11-2015, 01:54 AM
Many animals eat dirt for the mineral content. I imagine they think they're doing it because they just found a patch of really, really yummy dirt.

snafu1056
04-11-2015, 02:09 PM
Make sure to cover all your bases to explain how these people got caught in such a terrible spot. In real life armies (or just wandering bands of people and animals) used scouts and guides to avoid these situations. Or they traveled along well-established routes that provided adequate green spots and water holes. When you're traveling with animals, advanced planning is crucial. Why didn't these guys plan better? That's a question readers might ask.

Religion0
04-12-2015, 03:52 PM
I'm in the early stages of researching horses in desert climates as well, and I've definitely read that horses on long treks were given both camel milk and water, to reduce the amount of water you'd need to carry for the horses. There's a small amount of moisture present in the grasses, leaves, etc, a horse might graze on, but I don't think it's enough moisture to sustain a horse on. Fun fact I just learned yesterday - wild mustangs in America have been known to eat small amounts of dirt to ingest minerals they lack in their diet, although I'm not sure how they know which dirt is helpful and which to avoid.

I would love to know what sources you've found so far! Would you mind sharing? :)
Horses have a really great sense of smell. There's evidence pointing to horses snuffling for a particular bacteria where they take a roll. It's not a stinky bacteria, either, you wouldn't mind having it sprayed all over you.