I'm trying to find out how people used to travel by horse, when they had to go to a very distant territory.

I have done research on horseback riding, horses and relay stations.

I found out that the horse has 3 walking speeds: walk, trot and gallop. I learned that a horse can't run for more than two hours, it must take breaks. And also a horse sleeps standing up and only for about two hours.

For the relay stations, there are about every 20 km and the horses of the relay stations belong to the king or to the state. Therefore, there is an attendant who has to lead the travelers on horseback. The travelers do not use the horse alone.

But what I would like to know is how did people who had to travel, alone or in group (but without an attendant) to a very far territory, by horse, for an urgent mission?

They could not use their personal horse, because the horse could not travel too far (for example between 700 and 1000 km) in only a few days (less than 2 weeks).

  • 1
    Suggest you begin your research with the pony express and/or Stage Station and/or Tevis Cup. Pony express & Tevis cup are elite riders; the situation you propose will probably perform far less than that. Also the phrase "the travelers do not use the horse alone" is ambiguous; I don't think you are implying that they ride double (which would greatly affect performance), but that these are institutional horses, not privately owned? I'm skeptical of 500KM/week.
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 18:12
  • Haven't looked into it, but I suspect any such trip would be made by boat up the river systems (particularly Yangtze and Yellow), and only by horse as a last resort.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 18:43
  • @Lendellz 1500 BC would be ancient Chinea. AD 1500 would be lated medieval or early modern China..
    – MAGolding
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 20:49
  • @MCW Sorry, my english is not very good. When I say that the travelers don't use the horses alone, I meant that they are accompanied by a driver. The driver is in front. And they are in the back, on a carriage. I'm not sure about the 500km/week. It was just an example, to see if it was possible at the time.
    – Lendellz
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 21:50
  • @T.E.D. Thank you for your answer, yes I sea :)
    – Lendellz
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 21:51

1 Answer 1


As it happens, I own a copy of Atlas of World History, Rand McNally, ISBN 0-528-83779-6, and on pages 76-77 it has a map of "the Manchu Empire at its Height" - the Qing Dynasty of China c. 1800.

The map has several concentric and very roughly circular lines dawn around Peking (Beijing) and each line has a number. The number specifies the "maximum number in weeks for a mounted courier from Peking". Presumably if couriers took longer than the specified number of weeks there would be trouble for the responsible members of the courier service.

And of course the average number of weeks, and the minimum possible number of weeks, would be shorter than the maximum number of weeks.

On the map sale about 500 kilometers is about 37 millimeters, so 700 kilometers should be about 51.8 millimeters, and 1,000 kilometers should be about 74 millimeters.

Going north to Manchuria, 700 kilometers would be a bit beyond the 2 week limit, while 1,000 kilometers should reach the 3 week limit. Going south into China, 700 kilometers would not quite reach the the 2 week limit, whle 1,000 kilometers would be between the 2 week and 3 week limits.

Of course, imperial couriers could sometimes travel faster and reach places in less than the maximum times listed on the map. And travelers who were not imperial couriers would probably not be able to travel as fast as imperial couriers.

And as I wrote in a comment: 1500 BC would be ancient China. AD 1500 would be late medieval or early modern China. We may doubt that there was a mounted courier system during the Shang Dynasty in 1500 BC, and of course back then someone might not be able to travel as far as 700 or 1,000 kilometers without leaving the territory of the Shang Dynasty, and thus the region served by any hypothetical Shang mounted courier service.

Added 04-15-22. Urgent messages were carried in saddlebags on horses ridden by the couriers if they had to get somewhere fast. Eech courier would ride and drive his own horse. Ordinary mail might be carried in mail carriages or mail wagons pulled by horses, which sometimes might also carry passengers, depending on which organization operated the mail service, and would travel much slower than single horses ridden by single men.

  • 1
    thank you very much for your detailed answer. I am extremely grateful. I was talking about the Ming Dynasty (1500). As I am not an English speaker, I don't know how to use AD, BCE, CE, BC. Thank you for the book reference. I understand that 700 to 1000 km, could be done between 2 and 3 weeks, in the case of an imperial courier. Could the traveler sent by the emperor drive the horse himself or was he accompanied by a driver? As for the people who were not sent by an emperor. It took longer for them. But we have no data for them?
    – Lendellz
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 22:17
  • @Lendellz AD = Anno Domini = CE = Common Era --- BC = Before Christ = BCE = Before Common Era
    – Jos
    Commented Apr 14, 2022 at 3:40
  • @Lendellz Mounted couriers rode on horses and carried any written messages in their saddlebags. See descriptions of how the pny express in the USA worked, for example. Nobody sent unrgent messages which had to arrive as ast a spossible in carriages. People who traveled in carriages would travel slower thanpeopel who rode on horses.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Apr 15, 2022 at 6:46

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