Bog's World

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Horses in Tir nan Og

The Most Important Thing in the World (to ilin).

A horse!
A horse!
My kingdom for a horse!

Richard III – Shakespeare

The lives of peoples and horses have been bound together for thousands of years. Appreciated first as just another source of food, the predecessors of the modern horse were hunted like any other wild animal. In time there came a steady process of domestication as nomadic peoples began to herd horses in the way they did goats and other animals.

Ultimately, however, it is as a means of swift transport that the horse comes into its own. On Oerick, elves and then men learned to ride. Whole ways of life were transformed. Horses are now the major form of land transport for many people. Wild horses do still roam certain parts of the world, but those ‘wild’ herds[1] found in the Flanaess are a deliberate introduction (they are almost always the property of the ilin classes) into an especially selected or deliberately shaped landscape (ie Alvorn, Ard Rhassë or Jorassë).

The PCs have recently acquired remounts for the first time in ages. These closely resemble everyone’s idea of a hill pony (pictographic reference could be made to Dartmoor or Exmoor ponies). They are nothing like the Rocca of the Flanaess, more closely resembling the horses of the Aerdy, although obviously on a much smaller scale. They are trained only to be ridden and are not schooled in any sort of manoeuvre.

They are shaggy coated, loose manned, dun ponies of about 14 hands. (14HH) They are comparatively broad in the chest, well feathered. None of them have any blazes or other lighter coloured markings. They are all unshod.

Their tack is a mixture of well-crafted leather or cordage braidwork and crude brass rings. There are no buckles or slide adjusters, everything has to be done with flat knots. There is not a saddle as such, simply an elementary pad upon which to sit. It has no bridge, no tree, no pommel and no cantle to speak of[2] , this is secured by a rope ‘girth strap’. The bridle is hardly any more sophisticated. There are no stirrups.

The cart is a two-wheeled affair. The wheels have six spokes and run on unshod ash rims. There are no brakes. There is room for two persons and a small amount of cargo on the cart, having the load space of an average sized estate car. It is fairly new, but possibly not either large or robust enough to carry a menhir. There are no specific seating areas on the cart, neither are there any sides to speak of. The only metal parts are bronze sleeves on the axle where it runs through it’s retaining clamps under the cart. The floor is a lattice of dried rawhide strips (ie if one were drop anything small onto it, it would be lost) and has a lot of give, giving a well seated passenger a very comfortable ride.

So What?

This is very different from what the PCs are used to. The horses they are familiar with are known as Rocca (it’s from the Galadhrim word for horse). They have the conformation of a barb (in the west) and an anglo arab (in the east). Ones which the ilin might ride could vary between 14HH and 15.4HH. They are faintly marked with a zebra or allopoosa like camouflage pattern[3] in what modern equitation would describe as chestnut to black or grey. Rocca are all hogged (ie their mane is an erect brush, not a loosely flowing, er, mane).

The spots and stripes of a Rocca’s hide are no accident – the Flaness, indeed most of Oerick has more top end predators than Modern East Africa[4] .

The Rocca selected for training by ilin are usually ‘forward’ (ie once prompted to movement, they will continue until asked to stop). Ilin will school (practice riding and fine control of the steed in a controlled environment) and jump their horses and like nothing better than to ride out for domestic or recreational purposes (hunting and hacking).

The aids (methods of communication with the horse) used by ilin and recognised by their horses are those which allow the freedom to use a bow and arrow, thus body weight and position, leg pressures and positions and verbal signals are all more used than the rein. ie to stop Hengstkreiger, Thranduil would ‘sit heavily into the saddle’ and squeeze lightly with the fronts of his legs. Hengstkreiger would then stop. To halt a well schooled Rocca on the rein would simply require the ilin to increase the pressure of his grip on the reins themselves. This would be enough of a signal for the Rocca to stop.

In the PE, domesticated Rocca are always steel shod. Horseshoes in the PE normally have a biting edge, like the tread on a wellington boot, to provide more grip in soft going.

Normal tack for an ilin’s mount includes a bridle, articulated bit, double rein, martingale, double girth strap, steel stirrups and a saddle. The saddle would have an under blanket and a sheep skin numnah before the saddle itself, which would be leather with an ash or mild steel frame (or ‘tree’) to keep weight off of the Rocca’s spine. The upper parts would be a confection of materials to local and individual taste – the saddle would more closely resemble that of a South America groucho than a modern European (‘GP’ or other) saddle. It would also have tying in points for the ilin’s trail kit and weapons/ammunition.

The tack will be well prepare leather of superior quality, the furniture will be brass or steel. The whole might be decorated with metallic charms (sliver, bronze, copper, tin etc) to ward of evil and give away the position of the horse at a dark campsite. Or cotton or silken tassels to keep flies away from the animal.

Rocca will generally be considered ‘ready’ when they can jump over a meter and allow the ilin to shoot at the canter (the easiest speed to shoot at), return to its owners whistle and steer accurately at the same time. The same goes for the ilin…

More advanced drills might include a running (for the ilin) mount or dismount, sliding off the side to ride with the Rocca completely obscuring the ilin from an assailant and training the Rocca to rear to order. A horse such as Hengstkrieger is actually trained to kick and trample. This is not as hard as it sounds. Rocca are notoriously bad tempered, more like zebra than modern domestic horses[5] . They are raised to not be aggressive and then kept busy training, the ilin classes generally believe, unlike their Aerdy counterparts that their mounts should not normally be required to become combatants themselves. However certain bloodlines are renowned for their disposition to training and discipline.

And what does this mean now?

The ponies acquired are only used to being ridden on the rein and require a lot of leg to keep them going[6] . This means that despite being smaller, they are less manoeuvrable than any Rocca. The conflicting riding style of the ilin PCs and unresponsiveness of these ponies’ means that they are not the panacea the party was hoping for. They are less comfortable and more prone to injury owning to the inferior tack. They have only ever been used as short distance transport and are not used to being ridden all day. Hoof care (an ilin will clean and inspect [and if necessary, then treat any ailments] his Rocca’s hooves twice a day – before they have breakfast and when they have finished riding) has been an alien concept to these ponies. Grooming has also been neglected and as a consequence, they are not enamoured of being handled at all.

However, nether are they used to being looked after by anyone who has a clue what they are doing. They seem quite clever and so should be easier to train than a potentially sour tempered Rocca. Once they get used to the idea of exercise, they will start to enjoy it. Also, feeding equines is rarely a problem[7] .

Anything else?

The horses of the Aerdy are much bigger. In appearance, they conform to what might be described as a ‘Breton’ although they are a little larger, averaging 16HH. They are known as Shevaude. Shevaude vary in colour from dun to chestnut. They are phenomenally non-aggressive (unless trained) and were bred from ancient stock with the same common ancestor as the Rocca. They do not occur ‘in the wild’ anywhere.

Both Rocca and Shevaude have a common ancestor to the SW of Oerick. The ancestors of the Rocca were the horses of the High King of the Nostir and are a much older strain than the new comers. The Oeridian and Suel migrants brought the ancestors of the Shevaude to Oerick and the Flanaess. The two strains might be capable of interbreeding, although human politics will keep them apart for now.

Aerdy saddles have a high pommel and cantle to hold the rider in place and withstand the impact of the lance during a charge. Their horses are inevitably barded to some degree and trained to charge at the enemy. Aerdy stirrups are an ‘L’ shape into which the Shevallier’s foot sits. They are normally steel framed with a wooden floor and leather frontispiece.

[1] Stable family groups of up to 17 animals headed by a single stallion (Sometimes two stallions are part of the group, but one will be dominant). Mares stay with the group; offspring leave. Females establish a dominance hierarchy. During travel, group is led by the dominant female and her foal, followed by other females in their order of dominance. Members recognise each other by sight primarily, but also by voice and smell. Families maintain close bonds even during extended migrations with up to a thousand other Rocca. The family will slow its pace to allow weak ones to keep up; they don’t leave them. The stallion is the rear guard when the family flees from a predator. Rocca are gregarious under conditions of abundant food or around water holes. Males have displays, including a loud snorting whinny, that seem to minimise aggression at such times.
Males are not sexually mature until 5 to 6 years of age. Until old enough to establish their own breeding groups, young males remain with their families or leave to form bachelor herds of 2 to 10 individuals. However, they retain good relationships with their fathers. Females have first estrous at 13-18 months but do not become fertile for another year. Young females have a characteristic stance during estrous which attracts nearby males who then attempt to abduct her. The abductor may have to fight her father to acquire her. She may be abducted by several males until she learns not to show estrous. This forceful removal from the family acts to prevent inbreeding.
Under ideal conditions, a female may produce a foal every year. One young is born after a gestation of 361-390 days (about one year). Newborn has faint markings and is short-bodied and long-legged. Weight 66-76 pounds; height 33”. Female guards her baby from other members of the herd when it is first born, perhaps giving it time to learn her pattern of stripes or spots. Foals are very attached to their mothers; bond lasts until birth of next foal. Life span is up to 38 years.
[2] And thus, no ‘front’ or ‘back’ unless a suitable impression is left in the pad by the rider. The pad is likely to be leather and well stuffed with straw. Under better equipped circumstances it could be used as a very thick numnah. There is a normally a saddle blanket with it. This is folded for use under the pad and unfolded to serve as a rudimentary rug in cold weather.
[3] Black ground colour with bold contrasting stripes continuing all the way down to hooves; rarely any shadow stripes, except occasionally and faintly on hindquarters. Seven to ten neck stripes; three to four vertical body stripes. Short, upright mane. Tail is long haired.
[4] Rocca use hooves and teeth in defence. There is much discussion about the adaptive value of stripes and spots, but none of the theories has consensus. One theory is that all those stripes or spots break up the shape and make it not so recognisable as prey; another is that the conflicting patterns of a herd exploding in all directions make it difficult for a predator to focus on one animal. The stripes also confuse the flies who cannot see the Rocca for the stripes. And finally, the pattern on each Rocca is individual and the learned pattern of each serves to bond Roccas together as a family group.
[5] Alas, Zebra become impossible dangerous as they grow older. Zebra has the unpleasant habit of biting a person and not letting go. Zebras are also virtually impossible to lasso with a rope, because of their unfailing ability to watch the rope noose flow toward them and then to duck their head out of the way. Hence it has rarely been possible to saddle or ride a zebra. The zebra doesn't have as strong back as the horse and therefore can't carry much load, making it unsuitable as a pack animal. Efforts of domestication went as far as hitching them to carts.[....]
[6] ie consistent prompting to walk, constant prompting to keep them from dropping from trot to walk. Canter requires a lot of hard work on behalf of the rider to persuade the pony that it’s worthwhile.
[7] In the wild, non-selective grazing of available grasses, especially grass stems and sheaths. Teeth very high crowned, an adaptation to chewing silica-rich grasses. Large barrel-shaped body holds a very large amount of relatively un-nutritious grass. Very dependent on water. In a domestic situation will live for extended periods (but not indefinitely) on hay and supplements (non-citrus fruits and root vegetables in the PE).

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