The Horses of Paksworld

Posted: November 14th, 2010 under Background.
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Having opened this stable door, it’s time to go in and see what we’ve got–I expect it’s going to take more than one post to cover both horses and horsemanship, so I’m starting with the easy one.

In our world, horse breeding had already produced multiple breeds and types of horse by the end of the 15th century: horses bred for work in harness, for packing loads, for riding in various types of terrain, suitable to different climates, etc.   So to populate Paksworld with horses, I looked at these sorts of horses and what I’ve observed (and read) about the size, shape, and capabilities of horses when horses were the main means of getting from here to there and waging war, and what resources were needed to produce them (abundant grazing, for instance, which means land not used for other purposes.)

Some types were clearly not suitable for Paksworld: Arabians, for instance.  Arabians are easily recognizable by appearance and associated in most minds with a mythology of the breed and its origins…and these pre-existing ideas about the breed would clash with the mythology of Paksworld.   So any tough, distance-covering breed couldn’t look like Arabians (and I like Arabians and have owned a few, so it’s not dislike of the breed.)    Nonetheless, I stole some of their characteristics (not the most recognizable to most readers) for other “breeds”.    There are no pure racehorses in Paksworld (though there’s never been a horse-using culture in which people didn’t race them) so no racing breeds.    There are no extremely tall, extremely heavy horses, since these characteristics were bred into horses late and at considerable cost to hardiness and ease of care.   But aside from that there’s a variety of sizes, colors, and types.

There are ponies as small as 12 hands (48 inches at the withers) and horses as tall as 16 hands (60 inches).    The weight-carrying capacity of horses (for riders or pack weight) depends on both the “bone” (thickness of bone in the legs) and the conformation of the back,  and not on height.   The draft (pulling) capacity of horses does depend in part on height (the mechanics of starting and pulling a load being very different from carrying one.)     So a horse to carry a knight in armor (for instance)  need not be overly tall, but does need to be heavy-boned, with a broad shortish back and a perfect loin coupling….while a pack horse (carrying a non-living load) does better with a longer back, the load being spread along it rather than concentrated in one area.

For general draft use (pulling  wagons, carts, coaches)  good roads and axle material are more important than the horses:  mediocre ponies and  horses can pull a wagon as long as they have good footing (no mud-pits) and as long as the vehicle doesn’t create more friction than necessary.    (Increasing the load in a wheeled vehicle requires stronger axles–which in wood means thicker axles–and increases friction as the axles turn.   The shift to iron axles allowed an increase in load without an increase in horse strength.    But iron axles require an iron industry sufficient to produce iron for other uses than weaponry.)

Heat stress is a consideration with horses used fast or in hot climates.    A working horse overheats easily and big chunky-built breeds overheat faster than lean, smaller breeds.   So for military use, a horse must not only be able to carry the weight or pull the load, but shed heat (thus thinner-coated, lighter-built for more surface area per muscle mass)  through repeated long days of work.   The ideal cavalry horse for moving your troops will cover 45 miles/day, repeatedly,  in the climate you have, without overheating.  (Depending on road conditions, weather, load, and all those other factors.)

Most of Paksworld does not have improved (all-weather, relatively smooth) roads, and agriculture north of the Dwarfmounts doesn’t rely on big draft horses for plowing.  Thus most dray horses are smaller than we now think of draft horses (under 16 hands, mostly 14-15 hands) as these are less costly to maintain and easier to hitch and drive.    They’re used mostly in and near cities (with improved roads)  and most carry goods to market on a ridden or led horse…which can go around mudholes far more easily than a cart.  These are easy-gaited (ambling), and amply-boned animals that can carry good weight but aren’t particularly fast.   Many are also trained to harness, and might be in harness on the one nearby good road twice a month, and the rest of the time under saddle.   They might do a little light agricultural work (Paks’s father had a large pony for plowing the one more-fertile patch)  as well.

I modeled the farm animals in the north after the pony/horse working breeds in northern Europe, including several pony breeds from the UK (Exmoor, the oldest, also Highland, Fell, and Dales),  the Norwegian Fjord (horse/pony), etc.   with crosses to “lateral-gaited” types to produce amblers, pads, etc. of 13-15 hands.   Sizes range from under 12 hands up, and grade into “horse size”  (capable of carrying full-size adult over distance.) These are hardy, tough animals that can live out year-round and need no coddling…similar to the animals reported to have been used centuries ago.   Horses used regularly for draft (city cart and wagon horses, traders’ horses) work year-round and are more likely to be kept stabled, and thus don’t need the same level of hardihood as a farm chunk turned out for the winter; they’re mostly 14-15.2  hands high.

The Paksworld horse nomads of the steppes have horses much like the original Mongolian horse (as they did and still do in places)–small, chunky, large-headed, straight-necked, extremely tough and enduring.   Few of these horses have white markings (considered unlucky if more than a small mark)  and many have the “primitive” black points of duns even if not truly duns.  A dun mare is considered the most lucky of colors; a white-splashed red chestnut the least lucky.    Most are very round in the barrel, with enough muscling on the back to be comfortable rides bareback (unlike some Mongolian horses I’ve seen in pictures, who are “ridge-backed”, something that explains the high-arched Mongolian saddle.)

The Pargunese breed larger, taller horses (possibly originally for moving timber for their ship-building) and strongly prefer blacks and dark bays (for reasons of their own)…the “Pargunese Black” is taller than a Friesian (but built much the same,  at 15.2 – 16.2 hand)  and shorter and lighter than a Shire, though sharing with the black Shires a tendency to white markings.     Paks’s “Socks” was probably a Pargunese Black.

The  heavy mounts of the Tsaian Royal Guard are a cross between Pargunese Blacks and Marrakai-bred grays.    Gray has been a favored color in both Fintha and Tsaia since Gird’s day, thanks to Gird’s horse (the “old gray nag” he rode.)    Marrakai breeds the best quality riding horses in Tsaia, a balanced blend of  hardiness, trainable disposition, weight-carrying, endurance,  and speed.   They have the broad “double-muscled” back that makes riding bareback more comfortable and also (often) ensures a solid loin coupling,  high-set necks with a natural arch, impeccable leg conformation, and most have a natural overstride in walk.  They’re highly prized by military commanders both north and south of the mountains.  (And they cost the earth.)    Their good qualities carry in most first-generation crosses, so half-Marrakai is often almost as good and most Tsaian studs (Verrakai and Konhalt being exceptions) have included Marrakai influence.

Other Tsaian studs of note include the royal stud (Mahieran–the riding horses are longer-headed with a slightly different profile, as well as other differences),  the Verrakai (completely different appearance–longer-backed, taller, like a fined-down Pargunese black), and the Tivarrn (he’s a count now on the Royal Council) who imported a southern stallion to cross onto native large-pony mares, hoping for the “metallic” color.  He’s producing very fast, agile horses that are gaining popularity with the nobles for sport horses.  But he’s still considered a hobby breeder.)

In Aarenis, the horse breeds are different (climate-related)–lighter in bone, more adapted to heat and humidity but not extreme in that.    The riding horses mostly  have longer heads than the Marrakai, a straight or Roman-nosed profile,  a straighter neck,  and can be lanky and long-backed.     The quality of the Guild League roads mean more heavy wheeled vehicles using larger teams (four and six,  rather than just pairs, as is more common in the north.)   Mules are also in more use (though the Duke used mules for his wagons, since they were usually working in the south.)   Southern horses rarely show the “pony” characteristics of many northern horses (upstanding neck, small muzzle, heavy mane, tail, and leg feathering.)

Cavalry commanders may try to obtain uniform color for their troops–all bays, all chestnuts, all grays, etc.–but quality comes before color.   For light cavalry, speed is essential (and weight & size of troopers is strictly controlled); for heavier cavalry units, a slightly heavier horse will be used.   In cavalry units, each trooper has an assigned horse (sometimes two.)  Infantry commanders like the option of having mounted infantry (for speed of movement) but don’t need as much speed as the light cavalry–their horses will be mid-weight, but not too tall (for quick mounting/dismounting in preparation for battle.)   Mounted infantry do not have assigned mounts–both horses and riders are expected to adjust to changes.   These horses, though trained to come near a battle without freaking, are not fighting platforms and thus not trained to the same level as officers’ mounts or regular cavalry mounts.   They are transportation only.

Officers’ mounts are likely to be a little taller, and sometimes (not always) distinctive in color.  Aesil M’dierra has had a series of  golden chestnuts (bred in western Aarenis with “metallic” quality to the coat colors similar to the Akhel-Teke)  as her favorites, but also rides other colors at need.  Kieri always favored Marrakai-bred horses, often but not always dapple grays (his first was a gray.)   Quality is paramount–the commander may be wearing heavier armor, and also needs a perfectly sound, perfectly schooled, fast and enduring mount.   All officers’ mounts are trained as combat mounts.

Most command staff have some extremely fast and agile cross-country horses for couriers to ride.    These horses need the skills of a modern cross-country/eventing horse, though their riders can pick the easiest available obstacles, rather than facing the monsters.

Paladins’ horses have an obscure origin (IOW, nobody’s seen where they come from) and are all strikingly handsome animals of just about 16 hands,  1200 pounds,  built more like a good hunter than a racehorse.   They’re said to be the Windsteed’s foals and may be any color.    They arrive mature and present the appearance of being fully-trained (for their paladin.  Not for anyone else.)   They have the peculiarity that (like paladins’ arms and armor) they are self-grooming (unless injured or totally exhausted) and never need hoof care.    At times they may show up already saddled and bridled.   Like some lesser horses they’re escape artists who cannot be confined in stall, stable, or paddock if they need to get to their paladin.  When a paladin is killed, the horse disappears.   Nobody knows if the horses are “re-issued.”

Tack:   Saddles range from the simplest (a sheepskin) without stirrups to close-fitting “war saddles” of the type used in the 13th-14th centuries to stabilize a mounted fighter.   Stuffed leather pads held on with a single wide strap and stabilized with a breastband and (sometimes) crupper or relatively simple “cavalry-type” saddles are the most common.

There are no sidesaddles in the modern sense,  but in some cultures most women ride sitting sideways, usually on a stuffed pad, sometimes with a simple foot-rest.  (Common for farm-women going to market–someone will lead the horse and the woman can nurse a baby or continue knitting or crocheting as they amble along.)   In other cultures most women ride astride.   All women riding fast, or for battle,  ride astride.

Bridles:  from the simplest, of twisted grass “rope”, to elaborate leather, tooled and jeweled.   Bits include both snaffle-type and curb-type.

Harness:  harness systems vary by region and task, as they do in our world.   There are none of the many-horses hitches used on big American farms as that amount of horsepower isn’t needed.    The weight of the harness and hitching equipment (chains, tugs, hooks, etc.) and the distance from teamster to the lead team in the hitch makes it impractical.

There is no tradition of fine carriage/cart driving in Paksworld (not that I don’t admire the heck out of it!   There is nothing as heart-stopping as a fine pair or four of hackney horses (not ponies) in full dress pulling an open carriage at a spanking trot in perfect time…unless it’s an eight-up hitch of the big guys to a show wagon handled by a master teamster making the ground shake.)   But you need plenty of dressed roads (not paved, but maintained as good footing) for that to become a fashion.

And I’m sure this is WAY more than anyone wanted to know about the horses of Paksworld (and there’s more….)


  • Comment by Vikki W — November 14, 2010 @ 2:48 pm


    Absolutely fascinating to those of us who are horse lovers. Now my mental picture while reading will be sharper & more accurate. Thanks.

  • Comment by Ulrika — November 14, 2010 @ 3:47 pm


    Hey, this article ended too soon! I’m definitely not bored; managed to pick up some ‘this-world’ horse-related knowledge I didn’t know as well. (As a horse lover/rider since childhood, this does not happen often.) Please put this on the Paksworld site (under places or people or a new category?) so it is easy to find later.

  • Comment by Celina — November 14, 2010 @ 4:57 pm


    Oh! This is so intresting! Please, do not stop writing about it! It is way more information than I hoped for. (Is very delighted that the Pargunese almost have Friesian horses.)

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 14, 2010 @ 6:06 pm


    Good idea! I hadn’t thought of putting it over on the site. Can’t do it right now, but will later when I think of best way.

  • Comment by Eowyn — November 15, 2010 @ 10:30 am


    I love seeing some of the background information and loved the details and logic of the horses. Granted, I love horses (the old rec.eq is where I first ‘met’ you) and that catches my eye. But the information on swords, geography, etc. is also fascinating to me. Thank you for sharing all of it.

    Watching the big boys do their thing is aweinspiring. I remember seeing the Budweiser hitch once. I also saw the Prefert hitch this summer, 6 horse with no harness just the bridles and the handler roman riding the last 2. It was an interesting trick to see.

  • Comment by Eir de Scania — November 15, 2010 @ 3:30 pm


    And I’m sure this is WAY more than anyone wanted to know about the horses of Paksworld (and there’s more….)

    You’re kidding, aren’t you? Since when does horse-minded people want to stop listening/reading about their favourite animals? Bring it on!

    What about dogs? No sheepdogs where Paks grew up, I gather… as she had to run after the sheep.

  • Comment by Jenn — November 16, 2010 @ 8:29 am


    As a non horse person I found this very enlightening. Thank you for the links so that I could have visual of what you imagine the horses of paksworld to be.

    I was also wondering about height. Paks is considered tall and the elves are taller! What is your idea of her height?

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 16, 2010 @ 9:01 am


    Oh, good–I hoped the links would work that way, since some of the breeds are geographically constricted. (And I couldn’t find clear, useful pictures of some I wanted to include.) Keep in mind that none of the breeds in Paksworld are exactly what you see in the pictures–I started making up horse breeds to suit me back in elementary school. The body types, though, are: from small/chunky/hairy (Thelwell-type ponies) to “greyhound” types with very fine hair coats. Some of the sites I found images on had lots of breeds listed (though some “all breeds” sites didn’t have images of all of them, and some had images that weren’t as useful, I thought.)

    About character height–the relative height of characters, and how height affects a character’s perception of himself/herself, and others’ perception of him/her, is more important than exact measurement. That’s one reason I don’t go into details–another is the change in what is perceived as tall or short with time and with different genetic background. When I was a kid, six feet was considered taller than average for men and I was considered very, very tall for a girl…but by the time I had finished high school, “tall” for women was already several inches beyond me, and by the time I’d finished college six foot tall women models were shown in fashion magazines. Yet my early experience of being the tallest kid in my class–of having dancing class with boys who came up to my chin–of being teased for being “too tall” etc–continued to influence my self-image long after I was grown.

  • Comment by Adam Baker — November 16, 2010 @ 11:41 am


    Very interesting information. Ive never had a chance to ride a horse, so have very little knowledge of horses in general, and no working experience at all. So knowing some of the various info helps to understand some of the decisions made by the various characters.

    And I have to say that the 46 horse team you linked to is just crazy. I can only imagine what all went into that particular setup.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 16, 2010 @ 12:28 pm


    I tried to find photos and video of the more typical teams used on large American farms, but couldn’t–I have books with those photos, but didn’t find them reproduced online (then again, I didn’t spend more than an hour searching.) I have a book by Telleen, called Draft Horse Primer, that details the equipment needed, the management of the horses to train them and then keep them in working condition, and even how to lead out and harness teams of eight and twelve for farm work. The heavy prairie soils and big fields needed more powerful teams and bigger equipment. Fascinating stuff. I also have a book on draft horses from the UK.

    There are many, many videos now available (both online and in other media) that can help non-riders begin to understand. I own (but now have no useful player for) a number of videos of eventing and dressage, including training for these, as well as the shelves of books and the years of experience with the critters themselves–though I’m not an expert, really. It takes more years with more horses for more hours/day.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — November 19, 2010 @ 3:15 pm


    Elizabeth, wouldn’t character height be somewhat informed by your horse height. If, indeed, the horses have been bred over the years to be effective riding beasts for the people who use them I would think that those bred by Marrakai would be indicative of peoples height if they are the most sought after.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 19, 2010 @ 4:43 pm


    Daniel, that’s a common misconception…in fact, rider height and horse height are not easily related. Horses in history are shorter than many people think…take a look at the Bayeux Tapestry’s Battle of Hastings. Notice how far below the horses’s bellies the riders’ feet are. Once thought to be the result of a naive artist, later archaeological evidence is that in fact the riders’ legs did hang down that far…the horses were (for our day) pony-sized. Also take a look at the horses and riders from the Parthenon frieze. Here again, accurate representations of historic horses which might now be considered “too small” for their riders. Xenophon discusses horse height in reference to the need for cavalry troopers to vault onto their horses (no saddles, no stirrups), which means that a tall horse would be a hardship. (The men were also wearing armor of the day–bronze breastplates, helmets, at least leather greaves and so on. And carrying two throwing spears or javelins. And a sword.)

    Current fashion favors very tall horses, and considers that a rider’s leg should not hang below the horse’s underline, but this is a modern affectation…and one violated successfully by the famous eventing pair of Mark Todd (6’6″ if I recall correctly) and Charisma (15.3 hands.) The videos of them in dressage show Todd’s legs are “too long” and substantially longer in proportion than, say, Ginny Leng’s on her horses Priceless and Master Craftsman…but Charisma and Todd won two Olympic gold medals and put New Zealand on the map for international eventing. This image of Charisma and Todd shows him in a jumping saddle, with stirrups shortened–but you can still see the horse looks smallish. I’ve personally ridden horses from 13 hands to 17 hands–and the best have been from 14.1 to 16 hands, combining soundness, agility, endurance, etc.

    The Marrakai horses are mostly 14.2 to 15.2 hands, conformed much like Charisma. (Charisma, by the way, was 7/8 working TB (not racing TB) and 1/8 Percheron. But I’ve seen horses with very similar conformation and bone that were Quarter-Horse/Arab, old-type Morgan/Arab, TB/Irish cob, TB/ Welsh cob, TB/ Dales and other combinations that provide sound riding conformation. Each of these crosses has unique abilities/character, but all can produce a riding horse combining the best qualities of both parents.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — November 20, 2010 @ 7:25 am


    Thank you Elizabeth! Yet even more wonderful details to keep in mind. I hadn’t paid that much attention in my Greek classes. We mostly concentrated on the language part of “language and culture” so I missed that detail on the Parthenon.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 20, 2010 @ 8:10 am


    What’s really nifty about that frieze is that you can see the kinds of things riding instructors talk about today creating exactly the same reactions in the horses…not all the riders are sitting the same, not all the horses are posed the same. The sculptor clearly knew horses and riders, and understood the relationship between the rider’s seat and the way a horse carried it. So the variations not only make the frieze a better composition, but are a little mini-lecture/demonstration on the importance of the rider’s seat and balance.

  • Comment by Genko — November 21, 2010 @ 2:33 am


    Fascinating! As one who has not had the opportunity to work with horses at all (I’ve ridden maybe once or twice in my life, gentle horses in a group with lots of supervision), I’ve always found it interesting. There’s almost something built into our genes maybe that has an affinity for horses. At least I’ve always felt it.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 26, 2010 @ 7:53 pm


    I have a rancher friend who has the affinity for cattle that I have for horses. We discovered that we each think “our” animal smells good and the other animal doesn’t. At one time, I took a college course in Dairying, because I loved Jersey milk and cream and butter, and thought if we ever lived out in the country, I’d like to keep a cow. But our Dairying instructor commented one day that you should keep only animals whose smells–including the manure–you don’t find offensive, because if you find the animal’s smell offensive, you will end up neglecting it. (Which probably also explains some of the cases of neglect in the care of humans. Doesn’t excuse it, but explains it.)

    I learned a lot from her and her husband, working with them from time to time, and some of what I learned is in Surrender None, Gird’s book. She thinks cattle smell good, and cow pats, even fresh ones, are just not that bad. But she thinks horses stink. I find horse smells attractive and shoveling horse manure, while sometimes tedious, never twinges my nose unless the horse is sick.

  • Comment by Russell — January 3, 2014 @ 11:15 pm


    Quick question, I am sure someone has covered this before and maybe Elizabeth did but I missed it, Is the old gray cart-horse that Gird rides actually a paladin’s horse?

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 4, 2014 @ 8:58 am


    Russell: I’m not sure exactly how to place Gird’s old gray “cart horse”. It’s of the same lineage as the horses that come to paladins (in various ways–not always the same, by the way) but since Gird isn’t exactly a paladin, I wouldn’t call the horse a paladin’s horse. It’s a gift of the gods, certainly. One of the Windsteed’s foals.

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