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"How far is "a day's ride?"" Topic

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Thornhammer16 Apr 2008 4:25 p.m. PST

I'm setting up a region for an Old West map, and there are some towns I want to be some distance from each other.

What's considered "a day's ride" for folks on a horse with average load over average terrain (relatively flat, even)? Not necessarily flat-out, but at a pace that won't wear out the horse?

Same for a stagecoach?

Jana Wang16 Apr 2008 4:37 p.m. PST

Take a look at the size of Texas counties. They were allocated so that residents could get to the county seat (center of government) for business within a 'day's ride'. Or maybe that was a 'day's walk'. Anyway, it's a good distance to start with for casual travel.

John the OFM16 Apr 2008 4:56 p.m. PST

6 parasangs.

evilcartoonist16 Apr 2008 5:32 p.m. PST

Depends mostly on your horse. Some well-conditioned horses can cover 100 miles in 24 hours (allowing for rest.) But this is an extreme; you're gonna kill your horse doing this day in and day out.

Anywhere from 15 to 30 miles is a realistic number to work with.

If we take a random county in Texas (I chose Armstrong County: 914 sq. miles), we find that the county seat (Claude ((in the north central part of the county)) is about 15 miles to either the eastern or western border, and about 20-25 miles to the southern border. So it is indeed easily within this range for a horse to travel in a day as suggested by Jana.

Stagecoach range isn't far off because you have many horses sharing the load. BUT, you're stagecoach will be changing out horses a lot as well which will significantly shorten your rest times; I'm guessing about 40-50 miles a day is not out of the question- this is a guess, though.

I hope I got all that right :)

Thornhammer16 Apr 2008 5:59 p.m. PST

Hmm, apparently "20 to 30 miles" is a highly sustainable pace for a horse, and a fit one can do 40 to 50 miles a day for 4 or 5 days.

I'm gonna go with 35 to 40. With motivation and exercise, 20 miles in a day is pretty easy for a human.

As for Ye Olde Stagecoach, looks like between 5 and 8 mph. I'll say the coach would ride for…8 to 10 hours a day. Realistic? No?

6 parasangs (21 miles)…sounds like a parsec. Hmm, I need to make a town and call it Kessel. The circuit to Kessel will be called…I'm sure you can guess!

Oh snap…snaaaaaaaaaaaaap. Concept for county…changing. Crap. Thanks, John! :)

What's "Old Westese" for Millennium Falcon?

Jim McDaniel16 Apr 2008 6:01 p.m. PST

Locally we've got an event called the Tevis Cup Endurance Horse Race. It goes from Squaw Valley California to Auburn, CA right over the Sierra Nevada mountains by what is definitely not an improved trail. I've ridden the last few miles including "Cardiac Hill" and "Suicide Bridge" into Auburn so I can personally attest this isn't any easy "flatlander's" ride.If you complete it within 24 hours then you get to wear your Tevis Cup trophy belt buckle proving you completed the Cup within the alloted time limits. This is of course using one horse from start to finish and not a remuda or relay.

I've known people who did Tevis and they might walk kinda funny right after wards, it was doable. A lady friend of mine and her appaloosa mare won an award for completing 10 100 milers during one riding season with no ill effects. Among endurance riders such feats were rather common.

Remember though what Col Frank Thompkins remarked in his "Chasing ((Pancho) Villa" about distance riding. The hard question is how well do you manage the care of your horse(s) and what's your objective once you arrive at your destination? For instance are you just trying to get to point x and then plan on dismounting and doing your business on foot? Or are you trying not just to get there but to make mounted maneuvers then maybe have enough horse left to make a supreme effort to violently close with the enemy?

Thornhammer16 Apr 2008 6:01 p.m. PST

Evilcartoonist got his response in as I was writing my immediately prior post.

I'll adjust my range to match what he's suggesting. I don't feel too bad, I wasn't completely out in left field on my estimates!

thosmoss16 Apr 2008 7:06 p.m. PST

"What's "Old Westese" for Millennium Falcon?"

Goddam buzzards.

Bardolph16 Apr 2008 7:14 p.m. PST

Endurance riders do 100 miles in a day. Winning times average from 9 to 12 hours usually. Most of these are on very rugged trails, not flat smooth roads.
They are vetted along the way to make sure their horses are fit to continue. These are very well conditioned horses though.
30-40 miles a day for the average horse should be ok.

SeattleGamer16 Apr 2008 7:37 p.m. PST

Everything I've read indicates a good days travel on horseback is aroundf 30 miles, more or less. And that's why towns back in the old west were usually no more than that from one another.

This is NOT to say that someone, riding for dear life, couldn't cover twice that. Their horse might be done in, but they could make it from point a to point b faster if they absolutely had to.

But, the norm wasn't to take off like a bat out of hades, it was to ride along the road/trail, take the occasional break, walk the horse a bit to give him a rest, etc.

You also risk doing something very, very bad when you are riding full out. Little prarie dog and rabbit holes can trap a horse's leg, resulting in a broken leg, dead horse, and one cowboy on foot, miles from safety.

Roads had less problems with holes due to their constant travel. But trails were another matter. So it wasn't likely you would take off and ride like the wind unless (a) the posse was hot on your trail, or (b) that next town had the only doc and your family just came down with something bad, or (c) … you get the picture. Emergency, yeah, you would take off flying. Otherwise, about 30 miles in a day was considered a good day's ride.


Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Apr 2008 7:56 p.m. PST

My daughter (and wife and I) started horseback riding lessons in February. Based on how my ass feels afterward, I'd say 200 yards.

the Gorb16 Apr 2008 8:41 p.m. PST

A map of stagecoach routes in Iowa in 1855:

Stagecoach routes in Arizona:

Butterfield Mail Stage stops, OK:

Butterfield Mail Stage and route OK, TX:

Regards, the Gorb

Norscaman17 Apr 2008 2:40 a.m. PST

If they have hot feed, 20-30 miles on open ground. If they are grazingm it takes hours, and I'd say more like 10. But that is also because I would not push my horse.

moonhippie317 Apr 2008 2:41 a.m. PST

I remember reading that wagon trains only averaged 6 miles per day in the 1830's. Organizing all of those animals and equipment, and crossing rivers and really rough terrain slowed them down quite a bit.

Stronty Girl Fezian17 Apr 2008 4:49 a.m. PST

Remember that the horse has to eat as well as rest. If the rider has brought along a highly nutritious bag of oats, that takes very little time. If the horse has to forage for itself on lush spring grass it takes longer. If it is crappy winter grass it'll need longer still to get the same calories and nutrients.

jpattern217 Apr 2008 6:30 a.m. PST

Horse gaits on Wikipedia:

Note the speeds of the various gaits, and also the comments on the effect of each gait on the *rider*. As Extra Crispy notes, only partly tongue-in-cheek, riding is hard on the rider, too.

Unless you need to get somewhere in a hurry, you're going to let the horse walk most of the way, at roughly 4 miles per hour. Including breaks for food and water, plus dismounting to walk the horse and stretch the rider's legs, 20-25 miles per day is about right.

And that's for *riding*. If you're going into town for supplies, you're not going to ride, you're going to be traveling by wagon, and you're definitely *not* going to go faster than a walk. Even setting aside the potential for damage to the horses and the wagon at anything over a walk, those things are murder on the spine and posterior at faster speeds.

Don't be fooled by all the trotting and cantering and galloping that you see in the Westerns; that's done for dramatic effect. I'd wager that well over 99% of the riding done in the West was done at a walk.

Along similar lines, the distance between Medieval inns in Europe varied between 15 and 30 miles. (Probably read that in a Dragon magazine one time. Hah!)

Judge Bean17 Apr 2008 6:31 a.m. PST

I grew up in a very rural area, about 10 miles from school. I rode my horse to school two or three times. Gave myself an hour and a half, which I covered at a walk and trot. Always made it in plenty of time. Five to six hours horseback should give you 30 miles without much problem. Most horses in good shape can trot most of the day without much problem, but most riders can't take a cowpony trot that long.

Doctor Bedlam17 Apr 2008 6:34 a.m. PST

Having some experience with stagecoaches, I am here to tell you that thirty miles a day in a stagecoach feels like "to the moon and back" as far as the beating you take. Like being dice in a throwing cup, and the motherhonker never actually gets around to rolling…just shaking and shaking and shaking…

jpattern217 Apr 2008 6:34 a.m. PST

but most riders can't take a cowpony trot that long

Preach it, Judge Bean!

jpattern217 Apr 2008 6:37 a.m. PST

I am here to tell you that thirty miles a day in a stagecoach feels like "to the moon and back" as far as the beating you take.

Testify, Doc Bedlam!

aka Mikefoster17 Apr 2008 7:13 a.m. PST

With the California Missions, they were distanced "one day's long ride" apart (approximately 30 miles). Although this distance was on a trail or road (El Camino Real).

RockyRusso17 Apr 2008 9:33 a.m. PST


The phrase from the cavalry of the day was "forty miles a day on beans and hay".


Rudysnelson17 Apr 2008 10:33 a.m. PST

Stagecoach stations in the east were established every 10 miles between towns. The stage would stop long enough and change horses and then proceed.

I would use a multiple of 10 for a stage's traveling distance .

Judge Bean17 Apr 2008 11:27 a.m. PST

On the Butterfield Overland, the drivers needed to make 112 miles a day to keep their mail contracts. Travel speeds were about 8 to 9 miles an hour. Meaning about 12 to 14 hours daily of being jolted during the trip.

Information correlated from: link

Just remember that teams were changed approximately every 10 miles.

Zipang17 Apr 2008 2:08 p.m. PST

Didn't the Apache pride themselves for being able to go further on foot in a day than a man on a horse?

Bardolph17 Apr 2008 8:17 p.m. PST

10 miles is a warmup. Judge Bean is correct that you can do 10 miles in 1:30 easily.

The endurance riders do their 100 miles almost entirely at a trot and canter, in the 9-12 hours I mentioned above. Though again, their horses are in good shape. My own horse is not an endurance type, though he lives with a bunch of em, and he can do 30 miles in a day without much trying.

Bardolph17 Apr 2008 8:18 p.m. PST

In fact, I just finished packing the trailer for a riding trip this weekend, I'll get some actual times while we're out there. I'm going with a bunch of endurance riders, but I'll be doing some easier paces with some of the other, less insane riding friends we have.

vtsaogames18 Apr 2008 6:21 a.m. PST

Horatio Gates managed 180 miles in three days on one horse, though he garnered no honors for this feat. Perhaps the dispersal of his army just before colored matters.

Personal logo mmitchell Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Apr 2008 6:49 a.m. PST

You're definitely on the right track. Keep in mind, though, that the "day's ride" didn't necessarily refer to a cowpoke on his pony, but to wagons hauling freight and people. Buckboards move a mite slower'n a single horse.

Also, the "day's ride" differs by landscape, so that you'll find the towns are closer together (15-20 miles) in the Piney Woods of East Texas and 50+ apart in the desert of West Texas and the flatlands of the panhandle.

I would suggest the following averages:
20 miles in wooded or mountainous areas
30 in grasslands, scrub & low hills)
40 in flatlands (panhandle, the coast)
50ish in West Texas or up north in Wyoming or Montana (with small villages and random cantinas occassionally thrown in around the 25-mile mark in Texas)


Stagecoaches are a completely different matter. For one thing, it's their job to cart people and supplies and do it quickly, so they should be considered as being at a "hard ride," rather than at a leisurely pace. Also, some even rode into the evenings (or even at night!) to keep on schedule.

Check out this info:

I've got more info on this in my library at home. If I can find anything that'll be of use to yuh, I'll pass it on.

Keep in mind, that when you had HUGE ranches in the Southwest, often there might not be a town within 2-3 days ride and that the ranch house would take on the functions of a small town.

mandt218 Apr 2008 6:51 a.m. PST

A good rider on a good horse can do fifty miles in a day. But for the sake of a game map, I'd say that "a day's ride" for the general public would be a good deal less, perhaps half that--25 miles maybe?

Hexxenhammer18 Apr 2008 7:32 a.m. PST

If this is for a RPG, you could give bonuses or penalties to distances covered based on a riding skill check.

Of course, I stick to the tried and true, "Ok after a couple of days, you arrive," school of GMing.

RockyRusso18 Apr 2008 9:08 a.m. PST


And mongols, with multiple remounts along would do 90.

there is a famous instance where Genghis summoned Subadai Bahadur for a confrence, Sub was in europe, and Genghis was in the middle east. Subadai wrapped his body in "bandages" and road hard with 20 remounts and did 128 miles a day!


Personal logo mmitchell Sponsoring Member of TMP22 Apr 2008 6:24 a.m. PST

There is a big difference between endurance riding and "a day's ride" for the purpose of placing towns on a map.

Still… there are some amazing feats of endurance riding out there.

Cher Ami24 Apr 2008 11:44 a.m. PST

Weren't the California missions set a day's ride apart?

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