Last Updated on December 3, 2021
In the past, the only way to make a long journey was by horseback. Have you ever wondered- how long does it take to travel by horse?
Horseback Across America
We’ve all seen the famous old west scene- horse and rider traveling days across rolling plains and rocky mountains. The old west has certainly been romanticized and many envy this seemingly peaceful and simple way of travel.
In reality though, how much ground could be covered traveling by horse this way? And what are the realities of a long journey on horseback?
The average speed of a horse at the walk is 4-8 miles per hour. Let’s say our horse walks 5 miles per hour and spends about 5 hours a day walking. (We will give him some breaks throughout the day to rest and eat!) If the United States is about 3,000 miles, it would take our horse about 120 days, or 4 months to travel nonstop across the country.
Of course, many things could come up along the journey that would extend this period of time. Unexpected weather or roads that are blocked or damaged are a real obstacle in a cross-country journey. And we would want to make sure our travel companion is doing well too. The horse may deal with illness, horseshoes that need to be replaced, and need time off for vital rest that could add days or even weeks to this travel time.
So what is a more realistic timeframe for traveling by horse across the United States? Let’s look at a few real-life examples of riders who have accomplished this journey.
Alex McNeil and Pepper
Alex McNeil and his horse Pepper traveled close to 4,000 miles from southern Oregon to New Hampshire. This journey took the team close to 8 months to accomplish.
McNeil had traveled across America several times before, but always in a vehicle such as a moped, motorcycle, or small airplane. This would be his first journey by horse. This would also be McNeil’s first time working with horses at all, as he had no riding experience previous to his decision to make this trek.
Pepper is a Tennesse Walker and was bought by McNeil in Montana as a green broke horse. To prepare for the journey, McNeil spent three months working closely with Pepper and seasoned trainers to learn all he could about endurance riding and horse care.
The original purpose of McNeil’s ride was to bring awareness to land conservation. The pair traveled almost 700 miles of their journey along the old Oregon Trail, where stagecoaches and old wagons had once journeyed.
You can read more about Alex McNeil’s travels with Pepper in his book, On the Hoof, Pacific to Atlantic.
Allen Russel and King Hobby Kono
Allen Russel and his horse took a different route across America. In 1975, the pair started at the Canadian border and crossed down the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains until they ended up in Mexico.
The whole journey was about 2,400 miles. Russel had an easier route as he could travel in remote areas in the mountains. However he didn’t have the same navigation technology that we have today, so the duo relied on old-school navigation to make their journey.
Russel later became a photographer, with his focus on capturing scenes from the American West.
Move Over Paul Revere
Everyone remembers learning about the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere. However, there was one rider who went faster and farther than the famous man history remembers.
Israel Bissel started his journey on April 19th, 1775. His message was to motivate the people to action against enemy troops.
At this time the trip from Boston to Philadelphia by horseback took about 6 days. Bissel made this nearly 270-mile journey in just 5 days, switching out horses several times along the way.
Bissel’s message had a far-reaching effect, and within days hundreds of men were making their way to Boston to join the fight.
A Slower Trip on the Oregon Trail
One of the most famous journeys taken in American History was those taken on the Oregon Trail. Almost 200,000 men, woman, and children made their way from the east to Oregon or California along this trail during the 19th century.
This journey of around 2,000 miles by ox or horse-drawn wagon usually took about 4-6 months. A wagon train traveled much slower than just a horse and rider, averaging about 2 miles per hour. At this rate, the pioneers usually covered about 10 miles a day.
The pioneers usually opted to walk beside their animals instead of riding in the wagons, so that the animals didn’t wear out as quickly. Traveling along the Oregon trail in the good weather during the summer was a much quicker route. Poor weather added time and difficulty to the pioneer’s journey, especially for those walking beside the wagons.
Modern-Day Long Distance Endurance Riding
Endurance riding has carried on into our modern-day in the form of an organized sport. These horse and rider teams are conditioned for long distances at a medium trot, covering anywhere between 50 to 100 miles per day at an average of 7 miles per hour.
At this speed, a horse could travel about 1,000 miles, the distance between Florida and New York, in just 20 days, if they didn’t stop or slow down.
Endurance riding started as training for the military cavalry. At that time horses were required to travel 300 miles in just 5 days. Over time endurance riding transformed from a military sport into a civilian activity. In 1978 the FEI recognized endurance riding as an international sport. Today, endurance riding is an activity that the whole family can enjoy together, as there are no age restrictions on who can compete. The only requirements involve a pre-ride vet check for soundness, and then you are ready to go!
How Long Does It Take To Travel By Horse?
Now that you know how long it takes to travel by horse, think you may be ready to take on a long-distance endurance ride? With the right team of experienced trainers and vets helping, this may be a sport you and your horse can take on together!
Learn all about Rocky Mountain Horse Facts.