RPGaDay2020 Day 29: Ride – what are you riding?

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The original RPGaDay2020 prompts graphic by @WillBrooks1989

Yesterday in RPGaDay2020 I looked at Close calls and how 5e is more survivable.

Today the theme is Ride. And what more natural to ride than a horse?

Except, I really don’t know much about horses and horse riding – I left that to my sister. So when the party decided they needed their horses, I was floundering. I didn’t know how big horses should be. I didn’t know what colours. I didn’t know how much to charge. When they tried to do a check to see if Honest Horry was trying to fob off poor quality horses on them, I didn’t even know what problems the horse might have.

I still wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but I’ve done a bit of research since. So here are some useful snippets and links.

Types of horse

According to The Medieval Warhorse by R.H.C Davis [1], there were four classes of horse in the middle ages: military, hunting, riding and agricultural.

Among military horses:

  • warhorses or destriers were the best military horse, costing £50-£100 or more in the century around 1300
  • a non-knightly man-at-arms would ride a rouncy, costing in the order of £5-£10 or slightly more
  • light infantry used a hobby, which wasn’t used in the fighting and would cost in the order of £2

For the riding horses:

  • the best horse for hunting was a courser, large and swift, costing £10-£50
  • for an elegant ride, you wanted a palfrey, where the emphasis was on elegance and ease of riding rather than strength; again these cost £10-£50
  • some horses moved both left feet together then both right feet together for a smooth comfortable ride; these were known as pacing horses, amblers or trotters.
  • hackneys, which appeared from the 14th century, may have been pacers or just ordinary riding horses; they cost £3+

And then of course there are the agricultural horses, which were much cheaper.

  • a packhorse cost 7-8s (slightly less than £1/2)
  • a carthorse or a peasant workhorse would cost about 2s.6d. – £1/8

R.H.C. Davis quotes a nice description of the horse market at Smithfield written circa 1173-4:

It is a joy to see the pacing horses with glossy coats ambling, that is to say, raising and putting down the feet on each side together. From here to see the horses more suitable for squires; they give a swift but roughins ride, raising and putting down their feet on opposite sides together. From here to the young ‘noble’ colts not yet fully broken in, ‘high stepping and with elastic tread’. From here to the packhorses with strong and active limbs. From here to the expensive warhorses of elegant form and noble stature, with ears aquiver, necks upright and large buttocks.

The purchasers watch them show their paces, first at a walk and then at a gallop, with their forefeet leaving and landing on the ground together, their rear feet also. There stand also the mares suitable for ploughs, sledges and cast; the bellies of some are full with young.

Quoted in The Medieval Warhorse by R.H.C . Davis, p66


Horses are measured from the ground to the top of the withers, and are measured in hands, one hand being 4 inches (10cm). They have grown in stature over the years up to a peak in the 14th and 15th centuries, before shrinking again when firearms reduced the value of sheer bulk and increased the value of agility.

Norman horses (1066-c. 1280) were probably less than 14 hands (4’6″ to the withers). The largest horses were the “great horses” of the 14th and 15th centuries, and were about 17 or 18 hands (nearly 6′ to the withers). This was the age of heavy armour and heavy horses.

A similar story is told by the horseshoes. The earliest horseshoes excavated in London from the ninth and tenth centuries are ~3 7/8″ wide. From mid to late 11th century they expand to 4″ up to 4 3/8″ and from the later fourteenth century 4 3/8″ is average and shoes of 4 1/2-4 3/4″ are not uncommon.

Ages and genders

With thanks to Equine World UK

  • A filly is a female under 4 years old
  • A colt is an uncastrated male under 4 years old
  • A foal is less than a year old, male or female
  • A yearling is between 1 and 2 years old, male or female
  • A mare is a female 4 years or older
  • A stallion is an uncastrated male 4 years or older
  • A gelding is a castrated male of any age
  • A rig is either a poorly castrated male or a male with one or both testes undescended

Stallions and mares should be kept apart unless you really want to breed… Rigs can act like stallions and harass mares.


Equine world also has a description of different horse colours. Selected highlights – see their page for more and for photos.

  • Bay horses are brown with black mane, tail and legs – classic Arabian horse
  • Black horses have black coat, mane and tail
  • Brown horses have dark brown coat, black lower legs and tail and lighter brown muzzle
  • Chestnut horses have ginger coat, mane and tail
  • Grey horses vary from almost white to dark grey
  • Palomino horses have a golden body with white mane and tail
  • Piebald horses are black with a white pattern
  • Skewbald horses are any other colour with a white pattern
  • Roan horses have white hairs mixed into another coat colour

Come back tomorrow for Day 30, and we’ll look through the Portal and the Blood War we might find there.


[1] The Medieval Warhorse, Origin, Development and Redevelopment, R.H.C. Davis 1989, ISBN 0-500-25102-9

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