Searched: horse and travel tags here and the linked resources, "alternating horses" (some good hits), "distance riding" (mostly tour advertisements), "extreme riding" (which found me The Long Riders' Guild, good stuff!), "marathon riding" (very few horse results), "trail riding" (which got me Equisearch), "riding by/at night" (extraordinarily useless results), "riding in the dark" (ditto), all the above with "horse riding" and "horseback riding"
Hello everyone! Guess who got roped into writing one of those travel-around-a-lot fantasy stories ^^"
Cuts for length.
My MC has two horses, a fair-sized pile of gear, and a distance of about 260 miles to cover. He needs to make reasonably good speed, but expects to also make the same journey back within three days of getting there, so not tiring himself or the horses out too much would be nice.
One of the horses is his own and used to travelling, the other an unremarkable but good enough new acquisition. MC himself is an experienced horseman and traveller, and has fine-tuned the equipment he carries to be a good weight for his saddle horse (I'm thinking about 80kg of man and 30kg of tack&gear.) He'll be using the main travel routes: well-worn dirt roads on mostly even terrain, with an 80-mile stretch of smaller roads in hilly woodland in between.
My first question is, would it be smarter for him to ride one horse and have the other carry his gear, and trade at intervals, or pack the rider and gear on the same horse and let the other go completely without load? How often would it be best to trade, alternating days or several times a day? How much easier would it be on the horses, compared to carrying a full load every day?
And further, how fast could he make the journey with this method? I tentatively have him getting there in about six and a half days, counting 40 miles per day as the average travel speed. Is this any kind of realistic? Faster or slower? Google-fu dug up stories of Mongols and Native Americans covering crazy distances by switching horses every day, but there are no details and I don't think my MC has need for extremes.
On the return journey, he'll be travelling with a companion (experienced rider on a quality horse), and using the extra as a pack horse. I'm assuming this'll make the journey slower, but how much?
This was a surprisingly difficult thing to google, since what information there is boils down to advice about irrelevant-to-my-purposes modern conditions coupled with a general sentiment of "don't do it, and for god's sake at least stick to walk if you do." However, a bit later in the story the two guys from before, without the pack horse and their gear stripped down to the barest necessities, absolutely need to be somewhere by dawn.
The distance they need to cross between roughly midnight and 6am is forty miles, along a main road. I have no doubt this could be done in daylight, but at night? In addition, this happens almost directly after they make it home from the detour-riddled return journey from the first scenario, but after this final stretch they can let the horses rest.
Now, the situation is desperate enough (on a level of "get there ASAP or let the kingdom be invaded"), that they will attempt it and I'll let them succeed with the aid of plot armour, but how high are the risks? Or in other words, exactly how crazy are my guys for even trying? I know horses have good night vision, but can they be sweet-talked into running in the dark in the first place?
Sooooo, a week on horseback. What's going to be aching worst, and for how long? :)
ETA: Thanks for all the input, guys! Most of scenario 1 (and with it much of my plot and worldbuilding starting from the damn timeline) flew out the window when I realised the trip needs to be far longer for all the action I've planned for the return journey to take place naturally, but I should be able to use the info you've provided me to puzzle together something that works. Thank you again!
/glares at three week riding trip and throws rest days at it