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First of all, thank you for your very informative website. I have sent the address on to a "horse-crazy" young friend of mine and am sure your site will be eagerly devoured.

I am looking for information on average speeds at various gaits in a pony at the walk, trot, canter, gallop (and yes, I realize that ponies vary in size and ability).

I realize that the "Pony Express" was actually run with horses, so their average speed of 9 mph might not correspond to a real pony's.

I am writing a children's story, and trying to figure out how long it would take a character changing ponies every ten miles or so to go sixty miles, over territory that varies from relatively flat to gently undulating. My daughters are stuck on hobbits, and want a story about hobbits and ponies, and I am doing my best to oblige them. I suppose I also ought to find out how long it would take a character on the same pony (not changing to fresh mounts, I mean) to cover the same distance safely (for the pony's health and well-being, I mean)

Do you have any resources that could help?

Thanks much.

- B.L.J.


Bilbo on a pony In other words, if he were in a hurry, how fast could Bilbo ride his pony from Hobbiton to Bree? Probably a lot longer than the fabled riders of Rohan, let alone Gandalf on the great Shadowfax!

There is no simple answer, because a horse's speed may vary from two or three miles per hour to 15 MPH or more, depending on terrain and the animal's condition. I've been in rough territory where it took longer to find a route on horseback than it would have taken me on foot, because a horse can't slip through openings that would accommodate a man (or Hobbit) alone. If an area were heavily wooded and tangled with brush or deadfalls, the need to backtrack could even put the speed into negative numbers on occasion.

For a bit more background, take a look at these pages on my website:
- page 100 - Cavalry regulations

- page 113 - How many miles should we ride in a day?

- Louis Remme's Wild Ride

Another thing to keep in mind, a Hobbit might reckon his speed in either miles or leagues per hour. At roughly three miles per league, that would put Bill's speed range at something like one to five leagues per hour.

A final factor to consider is that while a pony may be slightly smaller than a horse, a Hobbit also weighs a lot less than a man. That probably means that the Pony Express average of 9 MPH (3 LPH) would still work for your story. The Hobbit might change ponies every three leagues -- or every hour -- and the 20 league journey (60 miles) would take about 6 hours and 40 minutes, not allowing for rest stops or other delays.

I hope this helps... and I'd love to see your finished story!

I hope this helps.

Happy Hobbit Writing!

P.S. While we generally think of Medieval war horses as huge draft horses, in actual fact they tended to be quite small. Recent archaeological finds of actual war horse skeletons have revealed that they were usually only 12 to 13 hands tall (48 to 52 inches). When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense, because a pony has a lower center of gravity for making tight turns in battle, plus being easier for an armor-suited knight to mount. In short, Bill the pony might have been a good mount for one of the riders of Rohan.

(Screen capture from "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" COPYRIGHT © 2012 New Line Productions Inc. - Used under Fair Use Doctrine.)

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