Return to Questions and Answers Index

Q&A    Questions and Answers:


Bonifas in The Cavalry Horse (on UMI microfiche in the Western history collection) cited Prussian rules for cavalry movement: 15 minutes at a trot, 5 minutes at a walk... and that allowing men to ride at a walk (2-3 miles an hour) tired both men and horses. The men would be tired out because they slouched in the saddle producing back problems, etc.

My own recollection is that a horse kept down to three miles an hour (I can walk that fast) starts jibbing.

Do you know of any army regulations covering such subjects? Any written material I can get my hands on at all? I am a librarian and can borrow materials on Inter Library Loan if I have a good citation (author, title, date of publication). Need help!

- F. Y. A.


During the Civil War, one of the standard training manuals was "School of the Squadron, Mounted," by Philip St. George Cooke (1862). The book recommends that the unit should move at a trot for 1,000 paces (one mile), then at a walk for 1,000 paces, etc.

Cooke also tells instructors to drill the squad to uniform rates of travel:

At a walk, the squad should cover a mile in 16 minutes (3.75 mph). At a trot, the time should be 8 minutes (7.5 mph) and at a gallop, 6 minutes (10 mph).

You are correct that you can walk as fast as a horse does. When hiking with a backpack over irregular terrain, my average speed is 3.5 mph. Pony Express riders pushed the equine speed limit at an average of about 9 mph over a couple of thousand miles.

By the way, the concern about back problems and fatigue is only partially valid. With correct riding posture, stirrup length, etc. and a forward-and-back motion at the hips in time with the horse, it is possible to ride for hours without a break and no discomfort. During the Nineteenth Century, many riders routinely made the 4,000-mile round trip between California and Missouri -- mainly at a walk.

Two Fifth Cavalry companies, 1876
Two of Colonel Wesley Merritt's ten Fifth Cavalry companies pose in a long column outside of Custer City in the Black Hills, Dakota Territory, 1876. Dust from additional companies rises in the distant town.
Photo courtesy Denver Public Library.

Happy Researching!

Previous Question  |  Next Question

Return arrow Return to Questions and Answers Index

Return arrow Return to the "Learning More About Horses..." page

  The contents of this document are not for reproduction.