The Gassy Gnoll: Happy Trails (Horsemanship Skills)

The Gassy Gnoll may be a seasoned adventurer, but his alter ego, Fitz, is more of a traditional scholar. He has little practical knowledge, a good amount of book-smarts, and the dexterity of a dead buffalo suffering from rigormortis. So when Fitz’s wife proposed going horseback riding in the mountains, he outwardly said “sure honey, it’s your birthday” and inwardly wondered if he’d make any of his skill rolls.

Horse-SilhouetteQuite honestly, prior to this week I had two encounters with horses. Once at age 12 when I was scared to mount the horse for fear of falling off. And once as an adult riding in the desert outside of Phoenix on a horse named Coors Light. That went a bit better, in that a) the horse seemed ok with the whole situation and b) I survived. So I considered it a success and chalked it up as a few experience points.

So how would this new experience compare? Well, I looked at it as a way to simulate how a wizard or cleric or other non-physical character might react to suddenly being thrown on an animal that might just as easily toss them off as transport them to their destination. Book smarts or hearsay vs. actual physical experience. Which would win the day?

It turns out most trail horses know more than their inexperienced riders about navigating various riding trails. So even this inexperienced rider did just fine on the horse named Dawn. She was a big draft breed used to dragging sleds and sleights, so carrying my carcass was pretty easy I think. Dawn was in line with about a dozen or so other horses. Also involved were a couple of experienced wranglers there to make sure people, horses, and equipment were all ok for the 90 minute ride.

But it made me wonder about horsemanship as a skill. Unless you’re riding fast, crossing dangerous terrain, or fighting from horseback, would you ever need the skill? Sure, you get sore from using unfamiliar muscles over an extended journey. Riders would get bumps, bruises, and blisters-a-plenty until they became familiar in the saddle.

I’m not saying there wouldn’t be dangers such as gopher holes, snakes and other critters, enemy attacks, weather, and so on. A random encounter table could be used to offer some obstacles on long journeys beyond the bodily wear and tear.

For the Colorado mountain trail we were on near a ski area, a random table might include:

  1. Bear
  2. Critter hole
  3. Rocky Terrain
  4. Fast Moving Stream
  5. Lost trail
  6. Fallen tree
  7. Cougar
  8. Horseshoe issue
  9. Saddle fail

Ultimately if I can ride a horse for 90 minutes without an incident, I suspect an inexperienced character could ride a day or two without too much difficulty. Horses are smarter than we give them credit for and can avoid most issues. ๐Ÿ™‚

What do you think?

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2 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Happy Trails (Horsemanship Skills)

  • Sevenbastard

    I’ve done a decent amount of riding and its easy to stay on a horse when it walking a trail and I don’t make PC have a skill for that, but when you try to take a horse in combat or gallop through the woods a skilled rider has a huge advantage, making a horse do something it doesn’t want to do while it is moving fast is not easy. Even show horses with experienced riders who ride the same horse everyday will refuse to jump sometimes. horses are weird, I had a horse I rode a lot and going through a trail it got scared of a bucket?

    Also I think people forget a trail ride usually doesn’t involve saddling and care and feeding of the animal. I think the horse skill involves that as well which is a important aspect of keeping your horse going for a three week overland journey.

    • Fitz

      @Sevenbastard – Great points. And the whole “horses are weird” point is one I didn’t account for. ๐Ÿ™‚ I also totally agree on the saddling, care, and feeding of the animal. That’s not an easy task, but a rider will gain experience over time especially if traveling with more experienced riders.

      So I think that 80% of the time, an inexperienced rider in the company of more experienced ones will be fine. It’s that 20% that could get you in trouble.

      Thanks for chiming in!

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