Roleplayer #21, August 1990

The Noble Steed

Character Design Rules for Horses

by Ann Dupuis

This article is an in-depth look at horse statistics, including Advantages, Disadvantages, Quirks, and Skills, which can be used to determine the personality and market value of an individual horse . . . and to add realism, excitement, and frustration to a horse-owning character's life. (Many of the same Advantages, Disadvantages, and even Skills can be applied to mules and donkeys as well.) Pertinent rules from the Basic Set and Bestiary are repeated here for convenience.

Basic Information

Horse, Cavalry

DX:9PD/DR:0/0Wt.1,000-1,400 lbs.
IQ:4Damage:1+2 cr#Origin:R
HT:12-15Reach:C, 1

Horse, Heavy War

DX:9PD/DR:0/0Wt.1,500-2,000 lbs.
IQ:4Damage:1+2 cr#Origin:R
HT:12-15Reach:C, 1

Horse, Saddle (or Harness or Pack)

DX:9PD/DR:0/0Wt.900-1,200 lbs.
IQ:4Damage:1 cr#Origin:R
HT:12-14Reach:C, 1

Horses can kick into any front or rear hex for the listed damage, or bite in close combat for 2 hits crushing damage.

For Draft Horses, Race Horses, and Ponies, see Bestiary, pp. 71-72.

For Destriers and Saddle Horses of Yrth, see Fantasy, p.131.

For complete information about mounted combat, see B135-137.

For general information about horses and other animals, see the Bestiary and pages B140-145.

For Exalted Horses, see Fantasy Folk, pp. 52-55.

For intelligent horses as PCs, see GURPS Horseclans.

Although a DX of 9 is average for a horse, agility and athletic abilities vary from horse to horse. The GM may adjust an NPC horse's DX to fit the horse's personality, reputation, and duties; see the Exceptionally Clumsy disadvantage, and the Exceptional Dexterity advantage, below. The suggested range is from 7 to 15. A horse's original DX may also be gradually improved through
proper training and exercise, although a truly clumsy horse will never be very good at dressage, jumping, or other skills requiring grace and athletic ability.

Sensing Abilities

A horse's smell is its keenest sense; a horse has a Smell roll of 16. Hearing (14) is its next-best sense, with sight (12) last.

The eyes of a horse are designed mainly for perceiving movement at great distances. Because the eyes are set on the side of the horse's head, their three-dimensional vision is somewhat limited, but this is compensated for by enabling the horse to scan the whole horizon without having to turn its head. Horses also have good dark vision compared to humans. Negative modifiers to sight rolls due to darkness should be halved for horses.

Most horses also have an inherent Danger Sense, rolled for at IQ +6.


The size of a horse is measured at the withers – the high point of the back where the neck joins the shoulders. Horse height is measured in "hands" (the term comes from the practice of counting the number of hand-widths from the ground to the top of the withers, with the hand held horizontally, palm against the horse, including thumb and width of palm in the measurement. The average human hand is about 4" wide, giving the now standard measurement.) A horse that stands 15-2 hands stands fifteen hands plus two inches, or 62 inches, at the shoulder.

An 18-hand horse is a giant, such as a Percheron or Clydesdale. These enormous breeds were developed for use by farmers after warhorses were no longer useful, having been outdated by gunpowder. Horses over 16-2 hands were extremely rare before the 18th century. 15-2 is considered the ideal height for a cavalry mount, being large enough to comfortably carry a man (5'10" or less) and small enough to maneuver quickly. Thirteen hands is about the size of the ponies of Genghis Khan and his Mongol armies. Any horse standing less than 14-2 hands is called a pony.

Assume 15-2 as the average height of any Saddle or Harness horse. Some breeds, such as Morgans and Arabs, tend to be that height or smaller. Racing Thoroughbreds tend to be 15-1 to 16-2 hands and 900-1,150 pounds – the modern Thoroughbred is nearly 2 hands taller than the first Thoroughbreds bred around 1750.

Horses also vary in body build, from slender through compact to stocky. In general, a compact horse is more suitable for long distance travel; a tall, slender horse is more suitable for speed over relatively short distances.


Each culture develops its own breed(s) of horse. Each breed has its own standard size, temperament and body build; many have typical colors as well. Indeed, some breeds have been bred specifically for color; Appaloosas and Cleveland Bays, for example. Most breeds are developed to fulfill a specific purpose: Thoroughbreds to race, Quarter Horses to cut cattle or race short distances, Arabs to be hardy and quick in desert conditions. Many cultures have taken their own native stock and infused bloodlines from foreign breeds to create a new breed. Each breed may have its own Reputation, shared by all horses known to be of that breed.


As a general rule, a year of a horse's life is equivalent to three of a man's. A foal is any horse less than a year old. A filly is a young female horse; a colt is a young male horse. When they reach the age of 3, the females are called mares and the males become stallions or – if neutered – geldings. At age one a horse becomes known as a "yearling." At age two most horses are large and strong enough to carry a rider, although bone formation won't be completed until the fifth or sixth year.

In general, it's better (for the horse) to wait until a horse is three or four – the equivalent of middle teenage years – before training it under saddle. A horse which is seven to ten years old is in its prime, and will often have had extensive training. It is also old enough to have picked up some bad habits. Thirteen years old is getting into middle age for a horse; attributes usually begin to decline at this point. A horse 16 years old is becoming elderly, although perhaps not yet geriatric. Some horses may be used for light to medium work while in their twenties, although age is definitely a problem which deserves special consideration at this stage.

See also the Age and Youth disadvantages.

Fitness . . . . . (Variable point cost)

A horse's Fitness is a measure of its current health, strength and stamina. Whereas HT and ST scores measure a horse's health and strength in general, a horse's current level of Fitness determines how close to (or far from) ideal health the horse is.

Fitness may be attained through proper care and steady, demanding work. Fitness can be lost through improper care, excessive demands, disease, malnutrition, or simply not enough exercise.

Very Unfit . . . . . -15 points

A Very Unfit horse will recover Fatigue points at only half the normal rate, as well as losing Fatigue points at twice the normal rate. All HT rolls are made at -2. A Very Unfit horse cannot have the Immunity to Disease advantage. (If a once-healthy horse has the Immunity to Disease advantage, and becomes Very Unfit, the Immunity to Disease advantage is lost until the horse recovers to an above-average level of Fitness.) A Very Unfit horse also loses at least two levels of Appearance, appearing Average at best.

Unfit . . . . . -5 points

An Unfit horse will lose Fatigue points at twice the rate of an average horse, but will recover Fatigue points at the normal rate. All HT rolls are at -1. An Unfit horse also loses one level of Appearance.

Average . . . . . 0 points

Most horses are of Average fitness when purchased from a dealer.

Fit . . . . . 5 points

A horse at this level of fitness will lose Fatigue points at the same rate as an average horse, but will recover Fatigue points at twice the normal rate. All HT rolls are at +1.

Very Fit . . . . . 15 points

A horse with this level of fitness will lose Fatigue points at half the rate of an average horse, as well as regaining fatigue at twice the normal rate. HT rolls are at +2.

Appearance . . . . . (Variable point cost)

A horse's appearance is what makes a first impression on people. There are many components of a horse's appearance: conformation (the proportions and angles of the body build), color of the coat, texture and healthiness of the coat, length and thickness of mane and tail, size and look of the eye, and shape of the face.

Markings on the face (stars, blazes, snips, and others) and markings on the legs (crowns, bands, socks, and stockings), can all add to the attractiveness of a horse. Scars and other blemishes detract from a horse's appearance.

A horse's Fitness also affects its appearance. An Unfit horse will appear less attractive than a Fit horse. In creating a horse with either the Unfit or Very Unfit level of fitness, purchase the horse's Appearance at whatever level it would normally appear, then adjust by -1 or -2 levels. There is no point benefit from the loss of Appearance due to lack of fitness. If the horse's Fitness improves, its Appearance will improve as well, up to its normal level.

Appearance may, in some cases, also affect a horse's performance; a well-conformed horse is less likely to have Lameness than a horse whose bones and muscles hang together in a less than ideal way. In other cases, a horse's beauty may cause a buyer to overlook some serious personality defects, or an ugly old nag may hide a heart of gold. The GM should take such things into consideration when roleplaying a horse.

Hideous Appearance . . . . . -20 points

This is the horse used by textbooks as the model for a horse where nothing is right. He has a ewe neck, a roman nose, a sway back, cow hocks, and a goose rump. And that's just for starters! His tail is thin and wispy, his coat an ugly color with no shine at all. He has mange (scabs, loss of hair, and leathery skin caused by a type of mite), and his legs are covered with scars from falling down so much. He is bony, ragged, and hangs his head dispiritedly. Only the knacker is interested in buying him. -4 on any reaction roll by humans (or other horse-utilizing races). A horse lover or Animal Empath would want to put him out of his misery.

Ugly Appearance . . . . . -10 points

As above, but not so bad. It's possible that a horse with good conformation may, with neglect or abuse, become Ugly. Mange can make any horse ugly, but getting rid of the parasite and allowing the coat to grow back in will vastly improve the horse's appearance. A bony, skinny horse may be suffering from malnutrition. A thin, wispy tail may be the result of over-brushing or an accident, and may grow out again. But even the best care can't make a horse with truly bad conformation attractive; the best that can happen is one step up from Hideous to Ugly, or from Ugly to Unattractive. -2 on all reaction rolls by humans.

Unattractive Appearance . . . . . -5 points

This horse may have good conformation, but just looks unattractive. Perhaps his coat has an unappealing color combination, or perhaps he is skinny or ill-groomed. A horse in superficially poor condition can be bought for less than market value, and with proper care will improve to an Average or even Attractive appearance. An unattractive appearance may indicate deeper problems, however, such as worms or disease. -1 on all reaction rolls by any race that uses horses.

Average Appearance . . . . . 0 points

No bonuses or penalties of any kind; this is how most horses look. There is nothing seriously wrong with the horse's conformation, and it is in reasonable health. A horse of average appearance may become Attractive with better care and grooming, or Unattractive with neglect.

Attractive Appearance . . . . . 5 points

This horse has the right bodily proportions, and an attractively colored coat. + 1 on all reaction rolls.

Handsome (or Beautiful) Appearance . . . . . 10 points

This horse has good conformation, a beautiful coat, and attractive markings. +2 on all reaction rolls by most people; +4 on reaction rolls made by horse lovers or Animal Empaths.

Very Handsome (or Beautiful) Appearance . . . . . 20 points

This horse really turns heads as it prances down the street. Perfect conformation, a coat that practically glows with color and health, a long flowing tail held high with pride, a perfect diamond-shaped star in the center of the forehead, four white socks all evenly matched, and an exquisitely shaped face sporting a kind eye all combine in a picture of equine perfection. +2 on all reaction rolls by humans; + 6 on reaction rolls made by horse lovers, Animal Empaths, and impressionable children. The horse's rider also gains a +1 on all reaction rolls by anyone who sees horse and rider together.


The most obvious feature of any horse is its color. Each culture tends to like certain colors over others in their horses. In Spain, spotted horses were all the rage until fashion dictated it was vulgar to be seen on such a flashy animal. The Nez Perce Indians of North America valued spotted horses so much they developed the Appaloosa breed. Cowboys of the Old West thought dun horses were the hardiest. Other cultures have put great value on white horses, or black horses, or bays, or greys, depending on fashion of the place and time. Individual people, as well, often develop the quirk of preferring horses of a specific color or with a certain set of markings. The following are the basic colors found in modern Earth horses. Other worlds may produce more fantastic or unusual colors, such as zebra or tiger striping, or green or blue or other bright coat colors.

Albinos are horses which are born white or almost white. No Earth horses are true albinos (with no color pigments at all, and with pink eyes); those horses which are known as albinos are really just white, with brown, light brown, or blue eyes.

Greys are born black or dark brown. White hairs begin to appear as the animals become older and they may eventually become pure white. Dappled greys have dark hairs arranged in rings around the white hairs, producing a pleasingly mottled look.

Roans have a uniform sprinkling of individual white hairs on a brown, reddish ("strawberry roan"), or black coat.

Duns vary in color from yellowish-brown to mouse-grey, have a black mane and tail, black stockings, and a dark eel-stripe along the spine. Yellowish-brown duns are also known as "buckskins."

Chestnuts are reddish to golden-brown or pure brown. The mane and tail are always the same color as the coat, though sometimes in a lighter tone.

Palominos are reddish- or golden-brown, or cream-colored, with white ("flaxen") manes and tails. Genetically they are a sub-set of Chestnut.

Bays can have varying shades of brown in their coats, but are also distinguished by their black mane and tail and black stockings.

Browns are completely dark brown or black except for the cinnamon coloring around the muzzle and the eyes, and on the belly and inner side of the legs.

Blacks are truly black, though perhaps with white markings.

Spotted horses include pintos (with large patches of brown or black alternating with white), and Appaloosas (with dark spots on a white coat, either on the rump or all over the body, or having a dark coat with a white "blanket" over the rump, usually with dark spots on the white). The dark and light pigments of the coat carry over into the mane and tail; pintos will have white and dark manes corresponding to the patches on their necks, and Appaloosas often have white and dark hairs mixed in their tails.

Horses of nearly any solid color may develop dapples if their coat is healthy. These appear as rings of a darker color on the normal body color of the horse. They are the byproduct of healthy oils in the coat, brought out by careful grooming. They usually appear in mid-Spring, and disappear in Summer as the horse gets a mild case of sunburn. Dapple-grey horses don't lose their dapples, as their coloring is a product of hair pigment rather than skin oils.

Distinguishing Marks

Regardless of the coat color, horses often have white or black markings on their heads and legs. "Black points" refer to a set of black markings on the legs – usually up to the knees (on the forelegs) and hocks (on the hindlegs). Most horses with black points also have black manes and tails. Many have a black muzzle or black-tipped ears as well. Bays and duns almost always have black points. White markings on top of the black coloring of the legs are often present.

White facial markings can add to the attractiveness of a horse. Patches of white come in almost all shapes and sizes, usually located on the forehead and down the bridge of the nose. Stars are small or medium-sized white spots on the forehead (also known as moons or flecks, depending on shape and size). Strips and blazes are narrow or wide bands of white running between the eyes and down the nose; snips are spots of white between the nostrils. A bald-faced horse is one with white covering the entire front of its face. The white pigments may also affect the color of the eye; bald-faced horses often have blue eyes. A horse with a narrow strip of white running across one eye may even have a strip of blue running through an otherwise normal brown eye. It's not uncommon, especially in spotted horses, for a horse to have one blue eye and one brown eye. A blue eye is sometimes called a "glass eye." Popular belief notwithstanding, a horse with one or both eyes blue has no worse eyesight than a horse with brown eyes.

White leg markings are also common. A band is a narrow band of white around the leg just above the hoof. A sock is a white marking starting just above the hoof and covering the fetlock. (Think "ankle," although anatomically the human ankle corresponds to the horse hock, and the wrist corresponds to the knee.) A stocking is a tall sock, and may cover up to the knee or hock, or, rarely, even higher. Some socks or stockings may be taller on one side of the leg than on the other. Spots are also possible, usually small patches of white located just above the hoof. A leg with a white marking will often have a light-colored hoof.

The saying, "One white foot, buy a horse; Two white feet, try a horse; Three white feet, look well about him; Four white feet do well without him," is a warning to the prospective buyer not to get suckered into buying a horse on looks alone. In some cultures, certain markings are considered lucky or unlucky, or are thought to indicate attributes such as great speed or stubbornness. There is no scientific evidence that, here on Earth at least, a horse's markings affect its performance.


Absolute Direction . . . . . 5 points

The horse always knows which way is home. It can also remember a route it has traveled before, making guidance from the rider less necessary. This advantage allows a loyal horse to carry an unconscious rider to help.

Alertness . . . . . 5 points/level

This is a general bonus a horse may get on any Sense roll. Cost: 5 points for each +1 bonus to the roll. The Alertness advantage also adds to the horse's Danger Sense roll.

Combat Reflexes . . . . . 10 points

The horse has extraordinary reactions and is very rarely surprised for more than a moment. This advantage gives a +1 to the horse's Active Defense in combat. It also grants a +2 bonus to any Fright Check the horse needs to make – very important to prevent a runaway in a combat situation. A horse with Combat Reflexes never "freezes."

Common Sense . . . . . 10 points

This is a rare advantage in a horse. A horse with common sense gets a +6 to any IQ roll involving reaction to circumstances. This bonus also applies to the initial learning roll when a horse is being trained. Common Sense also allows a horse to realize that a frightening-looking object or situation is actually not dangerous at all. When all other horses are panicking, one with common sense will get an IQ roll at +6 to determine whether or not there is any real danger. In any situation where a normal horse would act stupid (in a fire, or at a loud noise, or in combat), a horse with Common Sense who succeeds on an IQ roll at +6 will usually follow the guidance of a human handler rather than panicking.

Cow Sense . . . . . 5 points

A horse with Cow Sense can anticipate the movements of cattle, much as a good sheepdog can outguess sheep. This advantage is vital to a cow pony, and adds +4 to the Cutting and Roping skills.

Easy Keeper . . . . . 5/10 points

An easy keeper is a horse which eats less, and hence costs less to feed. The 5-point advantage buys a 10% reduction in feeding costs (not including charges by stablemasters who charge by the night rather than by the amount of food eaten). The 10-point advantage buys a 20% reduction in feeding costs.

Exceptional Dexterity . . . . . 5 points/level

A horse with a DX score higher than 9 is exceptionally athletic and supple. The cost is 5 points for each point of DX over 9. Thus, a horse with DX 15 would have the Exceptional Dexterity advantage at 30 points. It is recommended that any horse with DX greater than 15 also have the Unusual Background advantage to account for its incredible agility.

Exceptional Health . . . . . 5 points/level

A horse with a HT score higher than the normal maximum for its class (Cavalry, Saddle, Heavy War, etc.) requires the Exceptional Health advantage. The cost is 5 points for each point of HT above the normal maximum for the horse's class. Thus, a Cavalry horse with HT 17 would have 2 levels of Exceptional Health for 10 points.

Exceptional Intelligence . . . . . 20 points/level

A horse with an IQ score higher than 4 is a genius among its kind. The cost is 20 points for each point of IQ over 4. It is recommended that any horse with IQ of 6 or greater also have the Unusual Background advantage to account for its incredible intelligence.

Exceptional Strength . . . . . 2 points/level

A horse with a ST score higher than the normal maximum stated for its class (Cavalry, Saddle, Heavy War, etc.) requires the Exceptional Strength advantage. The cost is 2 points for each extra ST point over the maximum normally available to horses in its class. For instance, a Heavy War Horse with ST 60 would have 10 levels of Exceptional Strength, costing 20 points.

High Pain Threshold . . . . . 10 points

This advantage is more common in grey horses than in chestnuts or other colors. Horses with High Pain Threshold have less sensitive skin than other horses. They are not as likely to get saddle sores, and less likely to be bothered by any sores they do get. A horse with High Pain Threshold will not be stunned if hit in combat. A High Pain Threshold is a disadvantage to the rider of an ornery or disobedient horse; whips, crops, and spurs are less likely to get the beast to behave.

Immunity to Disease . . . . . 10 points

The horse naturally resists all disease organisms. It will never catch any infection or disease naturally. This advantage is more common in horses who also have the Fitness advantage. An Unfit horse cannot have this advantage.

Longevity . . . . . 20 points

This horse's life span is naturally very long. Normally a horse begins checking for the effects of aging when 13 years old; this horse will not need any aging rolls until age 15. It will also only fail an aging roll on a natural 17 or 18. Longevity allows a horse to remain fully useful in its twenties, and possibly even early 30s, but only a truly exceptional horse will live longer than 40 years without magical or technological help.

Natural Jumper . . . . . 10 points

The horse is naturally agile, courageous, and likes to jump obstacles. Only Natural Jumpers will be willing and able to jump dangerous obstacles (such as high stone walls, or deep ditches) at speed. This advantage adds +3 to the Jumping skill. When applied in conjunction with the Escape skill, Natural Jumper is a disadvantage to horse owners.

Night Vision . . . . . 5 points

The horse's eyes adapt rapidly to the darkness. All horses have partial Night Vision (see Sensing Abilities, above). A horse with full Night Vision is not affected by anything but total darkness.

Reputation . . . . . Variable

Horses may have reputations for being well-trained, fast, obedient, or for having exceptional foals. Stories may be told of the horse's loyalty or unusual intelligence. A horse with advantages or exceptional skills may gain a good reputation. Such reputations will generally be known only by a small class of people – inhabitants of its home town, for instance, or horse dealers throughout an area of countryside. Reputations for horses have the same costs and modifiers as reputations for people (see B17). A horse recognized as of a particular breed must include the breed's reputation among its advantages (or disadvantages).

Unusual Background . . . . . 10 or more points

This is a catch-all advantage that can be used whenever the GM wishes to introduce a highly unusual horse. Taking the Unusual Background advantage allows the GM to determine the horse's advantages and skills as need for such skills arises through roleplaying. The number of advantages and skills the horse may have is limited only by the point cost of the Unusual Background advantage.

Putting a large number of points (20 or more) into the Unusual Background advantage will allow for the as-needed development of a truly exceptional horse. Examples of Unusual Backgrounds: the horse is partially descended from unicorns, allowing exceptional intelligence and unusual traits (50 points or more); the horse was trained by the most skilled horseman known to the world (30 points to be applied to Trained skills only); the horse was once owned by a mage who performed interesting experiments on it (any number of points to be applied to any number of unusual traits); and so on. The details of most Unusual Backgrounds will be unknown to the horse's owner . . . and to most dealers attempting to buy or sell the animal.


Absolute Timing . . . . . -5 points

The horse always knows when it's dinnertime. This can work as a disadvantage to the rider. The horse will also know when it's time to stop working (based on the length of previous work sessions) and may refuse to work beyond its recognized stopping time.

Age . . . . . -3 points per year over 12

The horse is over 12 years old. Aging checks against HT are required to determine if any attributes have deteriorated. Horses aged 13 to 15 roll once per year. 16- to 20-year-old horses make aging checks twice per year; horses over 20 years old check for decline in attributes every three months. A failed roll means that the attribute in question is reduced by 10% (never less than 1 point). A critical failure reduces the attribute by 20% (at least 2 points). It's not necessary to check for deterioration in IQ; horses remain fairly stupid throughout their lives.

An additional HT roll is needed to determine if the horse has developed a lameness problem due to age. A failure indicates the horse gains Lameness at the first level of severity (or increases its current Lameness by one level). A critical failure indicates the horse gains Lameness at the second level of severity. A critical success may, at the GM's option, indicate that an already existing Lameness problem has been partially (or fully) alleviated, reflected in the loss of one severity level of Lameness.

Older horses also present feeding problems. After age 15, it is very important to maintain a proper body weight on a horse. Underfeeding an old horse (resulting in loss of Fitness to the Unfit level or below) causes rapid deterioration (-4 to aging checks). Older horses often develop problems with their teeth and can no longer chew hay; arrangements for soft food are necessary.

Everyday care of an older horse takes an extra half-hour; the rider must also be careful not to overstress an aged horse, and should take at least 20 minutes to gently "warm up" the animal (riding at a walk, slow trot, or gentle canter) before asking for any strenuous activity, such as galloping, jumping, or moving over difficult terrain.

Bad Sight . . . . . -10 points

A horse with Bad Sight gets a -4 penalty on all Vision rolls. Any skills involving the use of eyesight (jumping, cutting, polo, and combat) are performed at a -2. A horse with bad eyesight relies more on the rider for guidance. Horses with bad sight trip and slip more on difficult terrain, unless the rider makes a successful Riding check to steer the horse around trouble spots.

Blindness is also possible in horses. Horses which go blind are useless for riding over any non-uniform terrain (although a horse who trusts the rider completely may be made to perform any skill known on even ground at a -4 penalty – except the Jumping skill, which is at -6, and requires a command from the rider as to where the horse should take off). Blind horses are usually destroyed, or kept only for breeding purposes.

Bad Temper . . . . . -5/-15 points

This horse almost always has its ears back – a sign that it is less than happy. A horse with the -5 point Bad Temper disadvantage will rarely get along well with other horses; if crowded by another horse, it will kick out or bite. The horse will gnash its teeth when being saddled, and be generally unpleasant to work around (although it will only bite or kick a human who fails an Animal Handling or other appropriate roll). A bad-tempered horse also loses one level of Appearance; viewers will be able to tell it is potentially dangerous.

At the -15 point cost, the horse is always looking for an excuse to bite, or kick, or scrape a rider's knees against a tree, or use any of a number of related bad habits.

Bully . . . . . -10 points

This horse likes to push other horses around, stealing their food and driving them from water or green pastures. A bully horse will try to intimidate people, too, although it will submit to a person with a firm manner and a high Animal Handling or Riding skill.

Combat Paralysis . . . . . -15 points

This horse is so frightened in any combat situation that it immediately "freezes." It will stand in one spot, trembling violently, and refuse to move. Only a critical success on an IQ roll will allow the animal to overcome the paralysis on its own. A successful Riding roll on the part of the rider may break the "freeze," but further Riding checks will be necessary to prevent bolting or other panic actions on the part of the horse. A horse with this disadvantage cannot have the Combat-Trained skill.

Difficult Keeper . . . . . -5/-10 points

A difficult keeper is a horse which eats more than average, and hence costs more to feed. The -5 point disad-vantage brings a 10% increase in feeding costs; the -10 point disadvantage brings a 20% increase. Some horses (especially the racing breeds) simply metabolize their meals less efficiently than others, and need to eat more to keep their weight and strength up. Other horses waste a lot of energy in nervous habits (see Quirks and Odious Personal Habits for Horses) or unnecessary movement.

Exceptionally Clumsy . . . . . -5 points/level

A horse with a DX score lower than 9 is exceptionally clumsy. The point value is -5 points for each point of DX less than 9. Thus, a horse with DX 8 would have 1 level of the Exceptionally Clumsy disadvantage.

Exceptionally Stupid . . . . . -20 points

A horse with an IQ score lower than 4 is practically useless. The point value is -20 points for an IQ of 3. It is recommended that any horse with IQ less than 3 be used for glue (although continually walking in a circle to power a horse mill may be within its capabilities).

Exceptionally Unhealthy . . . . . -5 points/level

A horse with a HT score lower than the normal minimum for its class requires the Exceptionally Unhealthy disadvantage. This gives -5 points for each point of HT below the normal minimum for the horse's class. Thus, a Cavalry horse with HT 10 would have 2 levels of the Exceptionally Unhealthy disadvantage.

Exceptionally Weak . . . . . -2 points/level

A horse with a ST score lower than the normal mini-mum stated for its class (Cavalry, Under Saddle, Heavy War, etc.) requires the Exceptionally Weak disadvantage. The value is -2 points for each ST point under the minimum normally available to horses in its class. For instance, a Saddle Horse with ST 20 would have 8 levels of the Exceptionally Weak disadvantage for -16 points.

Gluttony . . . . . -5 points

This horse will eat anything put in front of it, and go looking for more. If the horse also has the Escape skill, only drastic measures will keep it from gorging itself on the feed supplies to the point of serious illness (and great expense to the owner).

Lameness . . . . . -10, -20, -30 points

A horse with the Lameness disadvantage at -10 points will be prone to lameness problems, but will not necessarily be lame all the time. After a day of strenuous work or difficult terrain, a HT check should be made to determine whether or not the strain caused the problem to surface. A skilled blacksmith may be able to correct the lameness problems with a special horseshoe, or the rider may simply need to hose or soak or wrap the affected leg to promote recovery.

A horse with the Lameness disadvantage at -20 points will almost always be slightly "off," in its movement, being in discomfort all of the time (from stiff or sore muscles, from very poor conformation, or from some injury or disease). HT checks should be made at -4 after any strenu-ous or difficult work; failure means the horse is lame until rest and veterinary treatment corrects the problem.

A horse with the Lameness disadvantage at -30 points is always seriously lame, with an incurable problem (unless magic or expensive technology is brought to bear), and should probably be put down.

A critical HT failure in any lameness check will increase the severity of the lameness by one level.

Low Pain Threshold . . . . . -10 points

This disadvantage is more common in chestnuts and dark horses than in grey or lighter horses. A horse with a Low Pain Threshold has very sensitive skin. They are more likely than other horses to get saddle sores, and more likely to be bothered by any sores they have. Horses with Low Pain Threshold may object to being saddled or ridden simply because it makes them uncomfortable. They are more likely to have the Bad Temper disadvantage as well.

Nervous Nelly . . . . . -5 points

A Nervous Nelly is a horse which is jittery and easily spooked. A horse with this disadvantage gets a -2 to all Fright Checks. The disadvantage also applies to horses which are nervous all the time. Such a horse may have the Odious Personal Habits of Weaving, Stall Walking or Continuous Pawing. A Nervous Nelly may also have the disadvantage of Difficult Keeper or Unfit, as it expends most of its energy in nervous habits.

Odious Personal Habit . . . . . -5/-10/-15

Nervous habits such as Pawing, Weaving (rocking from side to side in its stall), Stall Walking (continually turning in circles if the stall is large enough), Cribbing (grabbing part of a wall or door or fence or tree in the teeth and pulling at it with a grunt), Windsucking (sucking in air while cribbing), and Chewing are most often exhibited by bored or nervous horses. Horses with nervous habits sometimes have related health problems (such as splinters in the lungs in the case of severe windsucking).

Bad-tempered habits like Kicking, Biting, Rearing, Bucking, Rolling (often with saddle and even rider on its back), Cow Kicking (kicking out sideways with a hind foot), Striking (kicking out to the front with a forehoof), and Charging (with intent to harm any person who enters stall or pasture) are the most dangerous Odious Personal Habits horses may have.

Nuisance habits include Shying, Runaway, Balking, Doesn't Stand for Mounting, Bloating (sticking the stomach out while being saddled to prevent the girth from being tightened; if not forced to exhale, the saddle slides under its belly when the rider mounts), Jigging (taking short, bouncy steps instead of walking quietly), and Rubbing and Butting (against the rider to scratch itches, wipe sweat, or vigorously demonstrate affection). These are usually more annoying than dangerous, although a Runaway horse is dangerous if the rider misses a Riding Check and falls off.

The severity and point value of an Odious Personal Habit depends on the frequency with which the horse indulges in the habit as well as the potential danger to the health of the horse and/or rider.

One Eye . . . . . -15 points

The horse has only one good eye. The other eye may be missing due to an injury (making the horse at least Unattractive), or may be blinded by cataracts or other problems. The horse suffers a -2 penalty to any skill involving eyesight (jumping, cutting, polo, and combat). Sight rolls are also at a -2 penalty. The horse is more likely to be nervous about being handled from its blind side, and easily startled by any noise on that side.

Overweight . . . . . -5 points

The horse is not truly fat – just overfed. No over-weight horse can have the advantage of Fitness. Too much fat on a horse is also a trap for a prospective buyer; the extra padding may hide some minor or even serious defects in conformation. An overweight horse is more likely to look Attractive to an inexperienced viewer. Clever horse dealers take advantage of this trait.

Phobia . . . . . -5 to -20 points

Horses, just like people, may develop a phobia in response to a stressful situation. A horse which has been injured while pulling a vehicle may exhibit fear of that particular type of vehicle, or of all vehicles, and refuse to go near them. A horse with a phobia will respond fearfully (shying, balking, rearing, running away, kicking, or other defensive maneuver) whenever presented with sight or sound of the feared object. Specify a particular object as the source of fear; it may be confined to the object found at a specific location, or all objects similar to the original source of the fear. In the case of a specific location, the phobia may remain even if the object is removed.

Common phobias for horses include fear of water, dogs, bright colors, loud noises, or sudden movement. The more common the feared object or situation, the greater the point value of a phobia against it.

The horse can overcome a mild phobia with a successful Fright Check at IQ +4 (modified by Common Sense or Nervous Nelly) or a successful Riding Check on the part of the rider. However, just as with phobias and people, the fear persists. The horse will be at -2 DX while the cause of the fear remains, and horse or rider must roll again every ten minutes to maintain control.

Severe phobias are worth double points. The horse is not allowed a Fright Check; the rider is at a -4 penalty for checks to maintain control of the horse. The horse will he at -3 DX while frightened.

Reputation . . . . . Variable

Horses may have reputations for being ill-trained, slow, disobedient or for having nasty habits. Stories may be told of the horse's dangerous antics, perhaps involving injury or death to a previous owner. A horse with disadvantages or truly odious personal habits may gain a bad reputation. Such reputations will generally be known only by a small class of people – the inhabitants of its home town, for instance, or horse dealers throughout an area of countryside. Reputations for horses have the same costs and modifiers as reputations for people (see p. B17).

Skinny . . . . . -5/-10 points

The horse is notably underweight. At the -5 point value, the horse loses at least one level of Appearance, with Average looks at best. The -10 point value Skinny disadvantage lowers the horse's Appearance at least two levels, with Unattractive being the best the horse may look. Even a Very Handsome horse who has become painfully skinny due to neglect, abuse, or disease, will be Unattractive. Skinny horses at the -5 point level cannot have Fitness above Average; Fitness cannot be above Unfit for a horse with the Skinny disadvantage for -10 points.

Most skinny horses merely require proper care over the course of three to six months to bring them back to health. Some horses will always be a bit skinny, due to nervous habits or lack of appetite. In severe cases, this disadvantage may indicate a more serious problem, such as disease or parasites.

Stubbornness . . . . . -5 points

The horse always tries to get its own way. This makes it generally hard to get along with. Stubborn horses may also have the Odious Personal Habits of Balking or Rearing.

Youth . . . . . -10 for 3 years old/-20 for 1 or 2 years old

The horse is three years old or less. Bone formation isn't completed until the fifth or sixth year in most horses; horses three years old or younger are more prone to broken bones and lameness if worked hard. (That's one reason why most thoroughbred racehorses are retired when they turn four; their systems have been overstressed at a very young age. Something similar often happens to teen-age gymnasts who are pushed to the Olympic level.)

A young horse is usually relatively untrained, as well. It can have no more than three Trained skills. For every skill trained at higher than the Default level +2, the horse has acquired one Odious Personal Habit, Phobia, Quirk, or other Disadvantage in response to the stress of being pushed too far too soon.


Just like people, horses may develop likes and dislikes and mannerisms. A bad-tempered or disobedient horse may become very gentle and careful when a child is placed in the saddle. Or a horse, unlike "normal" horses, may dislike molasses or sugar. Some horses like clover, others don't. A very mild phobia may manifest itself as a quirk.

Odd habits which don't quite qualify as Odious Personal Habits may also be taken as Quirks. Some examples: The horse loves to have its withers scratched (most do, but some will lean towards the handler, almost falling, when being scratched); sticks out its tongue (either while being ridden or to ask to have its tongue played with); ticklish; won't stand still for long (this may easily become an Odious Personal Habit); tosses its head a lot; loves to paw and splash in water.

Horses have emotions and memories which can produce quirks. One particularly difficult horse doted on his rider (as long as she was on the ground with him) until she started riding other, better-behaved, horses. From the moment he saw her on another horse, he would lay his ears back and curl his lips at her whenever she approached him.


The following skills for horses are divided into two groups: Natural skills, which any wild or domestic horse may have, and Trained skills, which horses must be taught.

Natural Skills

When creating a horse, assume that all natural skills are at the default level. There are no point costs for Natural skills. (All of them are useful to the horse, but many of them can be inconvenient to the rider!) The GM, if given an appropriate rationale, may allow horses to start with higher than default levels on natural skills.

A horse's Natural skills may be improved, through practice, to a maximum of 12 for any skill based on IQ, or a maximum of 15 for any skill based on ST or DX. Use the training rules given below. (These maximums can be increased at the GM's whim or by application of appropriate Advantages, such as Exceptional Strength or Exceptional Dexterity.)

Acrobatics . . . . . Defaults to DX-3

This is the skill of leaping, twisting, rolling, bucking, and rearing, all for the fun of it. Many horses practice acrobatics in the pasture. Some horses practice acrobatics under saddle – much to the consternation of the rider.

A horse can be trained in acrobatics for circus or rodeo work. Usually this skill is combined with a Trick skill, providing such abilities as rearing on command or climbing staircases. (Roy Rogers' Trigger had the Acrobatics skill and many Tricks.)

Area Knowledge . . . . . Defaults to IQ+3

Area Knowledge works for horses as it does for people. Of course, it applies only to territory which the horse is familiar with, whether he is the wild stallion leading his herd through the wilderness or a pack animal being led along a familiar route. A coach horse being driven over the same route many times will soon increase his Area Knowledge of the route to the maximum. The Absolute Direction advantage adds +4 to this skill.

Bucking . . . . . Defaults to ST/4 + DX/3

This is the horse's ability to buck, usually with the intent of unseating a rider. (Some horses buck just for the fun of it, an Odious Personal Habit.) Use a Quick Contest between a rider's Riding skill and a horse's Bucking skill whenever the horse bucks, to see if the rider can remain on the horse's back. A critical success on the Bucking skill means the rider can stay on only with a similar critical success. A critical failure on the Bucking skill means the horse fell. A normal failure indicates that the horse didn't really have its heart in it, and soon stops. Rodeo bucking horses usually have this skill at 14 or higher.

Fighting . . . . . Defaults to ST/4

This skill enables a horse to fight with other horses, or to fend off predators. A successful roll enables the horse to stand and fight, rather than panicking and fleeing. The horse's actual combat ability is based on the normal Hit and Damage rolls of a horse of its class. In general, the stronger a horse is, the more likely it is to challenge other horses or stand its ground against enemies.

Horses trained for battle have the Combat-Trained skill, described below.

Escape . . . . . Defaults to IQ

This skill is a nightmare to horse owners. It is the horse's ability to free itself from ropes, bridles, saddles, stalls, and pastures. Most horses aren't clever enough to try to escape. But once a horse learns that it can unlatch its stall, or slip its halter, or remove its hobbles, it's well on its way to improving its Escape skill to the maximum level. A horse's lips can be amazingly dexterous in matters concerning latches and knots.

Leadership . . . . . Defaults to IQ+2

This is the ability of the horse to lead other horses. Stallions have an automatic +2 to this skill. The Alertness advantage adds +1 for each level of bonus. Combat Reflexes adds +2. Common Sense adds +2. Bully adds +1. Horses with the disadvantages of Combat Paralysis or Nervous Nelly get a penalty of -4 to their Leadership skill; horses with both get -6. A horse's Leadership skill level determines its social status within a herd; horses of equal skill will be led by the stronger, and horses of equal skill and strength will be led by the older.

Running . . . . . Defaults to ST/4

This skill represents experience in sprints and long-distance running. A racehorse may be trained in this skill to a maximum level of 15; only exceptional horses will ever learn Running on their own at any level higher than 12. Divide the skill level by 5, round down, and add the result to the horse's Speed.

Survival (Area Type) . . . . . Defaults to IQ+6

This is the horse's ability to live off the land, find good food and water, and avoid hazards. One successful roll per day is required to live safely in a wilderness situation without added care from a human companion; a failed roll means the horse loses 1 HT. GMs who want more detail may create tables of failed Survival results ranging from "burrs in the mane" to "broke leg in gopher hole."

The Common Sense advantage adds +4 to this skill. The Easy Keeper advantage adds +2. The Difficult Keeper disadvantage gives a -2 penalty. This skill is at a +4 in Plains, a +2 in Woodlands, and a -6 in Desert (unless the horse was desert-bred, in which case the penalty is -4).

Swimming . . . . . Defaults to DX

This skill allows a horse to swim rivers or ponds. Most horses will not swim unless pursued or urged on by a rider, although many horses like to wade and splash in water. The horse's swimming ability will be at -1 if bearing a rider or pack, and at a -6 if in harness.

Wrestling . . . . . Defaults to ST/4

This is the skill of "riding off," other horses or animals by physically pushing against them at a run. Polo ponies and cow ponies use this skill often when on duty. Most horses dislike getting that close to other animals, fearing retaliation. The Bully disadvantage adds +4 to this skill. Combat Reflexes add +2.

Trained Skills

Trained skills for horses have a default level – the level at which a horse can learn a skill with a minimum of training or experience. The very first time a horse is presented with a situation in which a skill roll is needed, that roll is made at a -2 to the default. If successful, the horse has grasped the rudiments of the skill, and can be trained in it normally. On a normal failure, the horse has not understood what was required and has not acquired the skill at the default level. On a critical failure, the horse has completely misunderstood what was being asked of it, and only professional training can overcome the mistake.

A successful Animal Training roll adds +2 to the initial learning roll; a critical success adds +4. A further Training check is needed for each additional level to which the skill is being taught.

A horse is best trained using patience, common sense, and repetition. A good memory (which most horses have) allows a well-trained horse to learn any of the following human-taught skills up to a maximum level of 15, or to a lesser level determined by the horse's physical abilities. In skills which have maximum skill level listed as, for instance, "DX +2 (or 15)," the maximum skill level attainable is whichever is lower. These maximums can be increased at the GM's whim or by application of appropriate Advantages.

A horse's maximum skill level has nothing to do with the horse's intelligence – only with the skill of its trainer, its willingness (obedience) to learn, the time spent on its training, and the horse's physical limitations.

When creating an individual horse, a basic skill (one with no prerequisite) at the default level costs ½ point; at default +1 it costs 1 point, with an additional +1 cost for every +1 in skill level thereafter. Double the costs for any advanced skill (those requiring one or more prerequisites). No advanced skill can be learned at a higher level than the prerequisite is known.

Airs Above the GroundDefaults to High School-6
Prerequisite: High School (Advanced Dressage)
Maximum skill level: DX

"Airs Above the Ground" are any of the various "high school" airs performed with the legs off the ground. Many of these movements are derived from combat maneuvers. Airs Above the Ground are currently taught in only two places on Earth; the French Cavalry School in Saumur and the Spanish Riding School (with the Lipizzaners) in Vienna.

Each of these movements must be taken as a separate skill. They include:

The pesade, in which the horse rears up on its hind legs with its body raised at an angle of more than 45 degrees and its forelegs bent. This maneuver tends to distress nearby infantry. It also adds +2 to damage with a trample attack performed the following round.

The levade, a more difficult variation of the pesade in which the hind legs are bent more sharply and the body is angled at less than 45 degrees. This takes great strength and balance on the part of the horse, and is primarily used as an exercise to create the powerful hindquarters required for the other Airs. In combat, treat as a pesade.

The courbette, in which the horse rears up and then leaps forwards several times on its hind legs. Successful use of this skill in combat doubles the damage done by a kick or trample to a front hex, or can be used to double the damage of a slam attack with a Speed of 1.

The ballotade, in which the horse half rears, then jumps forward, drawing its hindlegs up below its quarters. Successful use of this skill in combat adds +4 to the horse's Dodge for that round. The horse moves forward 1 hex.

The croupade, where the horse rears, then jumps vertically with its hindlegs drawn up towards its belly. Successful use of this skill in combat adds +2 to the horse's Dodge. The horse remains in the same hex.

The capriole, an extension of the ballotade and the croupade; as the horse jumps into the air it kicks out energetically with both hindlegs. Successful use of this skill doubles the damage done by a kick to the rear hex, in the case of a capriole performed in conjunction with the croupade – or, in the case of a capriole in conjunction with the ballotade, to the same hex (the horse moves one hex forward and kicks for double damage into the original hex).

The above maneuvers are listed in the order in which a horse is generally trained in the Airs Above the Ground. Horses are trained to perform them both under saddle and "in hand," at the command of their dismounted rider. Skilled warhorses can use these maneuvers in combat; circus horses can use them to astound audiences. Airs Above the Ground, when performed by a skilled team of rider and horse, can confound almost any opponent. The signals given to the horse by the rider are almost impossible to detect, and attacks by an athletic horse guided by a skilled warrior are devastating.

Each Air takes 1 second to perform. The pesade and levade can be prolonged for ST/10 additional seconds. The courbette takes 1 second for each hex forward the horse moves, up to a maximum of ST/10 hexes.

Each Air also Fatigues at the rate of 1 point per second of pesade or levade; 2 points per second for the other Airs.

At LibertyDefaults to In Hand-6, Trick skill-4
or other At Liberty skill-2
Maximum skill level: 15

The horse has been trained to respond to signals, sound or visual, given by an unmounted handler. This skill is used in conjunction with other skills; it allows the handler to control the horse in its performance of some trick or air without use of reins or rope. Common tricks trained for performance At Liberty include: bow, come when called, count by pawing, go at steady pace (usually canter) in a circle or straight line while humans (or circus animals) perform acrobatics on and around the horse, and rear. Horses with Airs Above the Ground are also often trained to perform those airs At Liberty. Each trick or maneuver must have a separate At Liberty skill.

When the horse has been trained At Liberty to skill level 12 or higher, it can perform At Liberty with other horses as well.

Combat-TrainedDefaults to Harness-6,
Under Saddle-6, Dressage-4,
High School-2, or Airs Above the Ground
Prerequisite: Under Saddle or In Harness
Maximum skill level: 15

This skill enables a horse to respond to its rider under combat conditions, without need for a Riding skill check. A chariot horse responds similarly to its driver. A Combat-Trained skill check is made at the beginning of each battle, and again whenever the horse is wounded. A Combat-Trained skill check is also required whenever the horse is required to make a Fright Check; as, for instance, when another nearby horse is wounded or panics.

Failure means the horse begins to get nervous; the rider must make a Riding check to maintain control. Critical failure indicates pure panic on the part of the horse, and requires a Riding chek at -4 for the rider to regain control.

Critical success on the part of the horse gives a +2 to all Riding checks made by the rider until the next Combat-Trained check is made; the horse is responding so well to the combat situation that it is paying attention to keeping its rider on its back (or driver in the chariot) as well as performing its martial duty.

The Combat Reflexes advantage adds +2 to this skill in addition to its other benefits in combat situations. The High Pain Threshold advantage adds +2 to skill checks made due to wounds; the Low Pain Threshold disadvantage adds -2. A horse with Combat Paralysis cannot be trained in combat.

CuttingDefaults to Under Saddle-6
Prerequisite: Under Saddle and Wrestling-12
Maximum skill level: DX+2 (or 15)

The horse has been trained to "cut" a target animal from the rest of the herd, and to interpose its body to keep the animal from returning to the herd. The natural Wrestling skill is required; a horse's Cutting skill level cannot be higher than its Wrestling skill +3. The Cow Sense advantage adds +4 to this skill.

At skill level 12 and above, the horse will cut target animals without any guidance from the rider, once it's been shown the wanted animal. Red Bird, a famous Western cutting horse, once cut a jackrabbit out of a field at his rider's orders.

DressageDefaults to Under Saddle-6
Prerequisite: Under Saddle
Maximum skill level: DX+4 (or 15)

The term "dressage" comes from the French word meaning to train, to adjust, to straighten-out. It is a method of training developed to produce easily controlled horses for battle. Among wealthy civilians, it is a gentlemanly accomplishment.

Movements learned include the halt (in a smooth and obedient way) and the rein back (the horse backs up on command). The horse also learns to collect and extend each of the three basic gaits; walk, trot, and canter. (Collection entails shortening the stride without slowing the pace; extension involves lengthening the stride without quickening the pace.) These abilities require balance, strength, and control on the part of the horse.

When the horse has learned the Dressage skill to Skill Level 12 or higher, it may be trained in movements on two tracks (in which the hind legs do not follow directly behind the forelegs), flying changes of lead (where the horse, in mid-stride, changes the order its legs touch the ground at the canter; when performed every two to three strides the horse appears to be skipping), and half-pirouettes (where the horse turns 180 degrees around its hind legs smoothly and with a steady rhythm).

Endurance Under SaddleDefaults to ST/5
Prerequisite: Under Saddle
Maximum skill level: 15

This skill allows a horse to travel great distances with a rider in a relatively short time. The normal "march" distance for a horse, in 6 hours, is equal to its effective skill level x 5 miles. This assumes average terrain and medium encumbrance – for variations, see below.

A horse must be at least 5 years old before it can develop the Endurance Under Saddle skill. Lighter horses, under 1,000 lbs, are best suited for Endurance Under Saddle, and get a +1 bonus. Horses over 1,400 lbs. have a -1, unless they have both the Exceptional Strength and Exceptional Health advantages.

The GM rolls vs. skill each time the horse is asked to travel its full "march" distance, to determine whether the horse makes it the full way, and in what condition. For every extra hour allowed to travel the distance, give a +1 to the skill roll, for a maximum of +6. To attempt the march in 5 hours, roll at -2; to make it in 4, roll at -6.

Type of terrain (seep B188) affects effective skill: +2 for Good terrain, -3 for Bad terrain, -5 for Very Bad terrain. Roads don't affect this; in fact, horses prefer to avoid hard-surfaced roads.

Encumbrance also affects skill: +5 for no encumbrance, +2 for light, -2 for heavy, -5 for extra-heavy.

A cumulative penalty of -2 is applied for each additional "march" the horse is asked to travel without resting for at least as long a period as it has spent traveling. A good horse with this skill can manage several consecutive marches. This does not represent uninterrupted travel, of course; horse and rider both take short rests.

The horse's Fitness level is an important factor in Endurance Under Saddle. A Very Fit horse adds +2 to Endurance Under Saddle skill rolls. A Fit horse adds +1. A horse who is Unfit adds -1; a Very Unfit horse checks its Endurance Under Saddle skill at -2.

A normal failure in the skill roll means the horse is unable to cover the distance without impairing its health. If it continues nonetheless, it will lose one level of Fitness. A critical failure means an automatic loss of one level of Fitness, or two levels if the horse is forced on. Each point by which the roll is missed represents a half-hour short of the ride's goal – this is when the problem appears.

Any failure of this skill roll also requires a HT check to see if the horse goes lame. Normal failure on this roll means Lameness at -10 points; critical failure is Lameness at -20 points. Any penalties or bonuses that were applied to the skill roll are also applied to the HT roll.

A normal success on the Endurance skill roll means the horse is able to go the distance, but still requires a HT roll at the end. A critical failure on this HT roll indicates that the horse has acquired the Lameness disadvantage at -10 points. This lameness will reveal itself after the horse rests for two hours. If the horse is not given rest, the lameness will manifest in the first hour of continued travel, and will be one level worse.

A normal failure means the horse should rest for a day. Otherwise, it will automatically lose one level of Fitness if pressed into covering its normal distance again, in addition to any loss of Fitness incurred as a result of the next Endurance Under Saddle skill check.

A horse whose Fitness drops below Very Unfit dies as a result of its overuse. The GM may allow one last HT check to determine whether or not the horse gets the rider to the destination before collapsing.

A critical success of Endurance Under Saddle indicates that the horse is ready and willing to continue on without any additional penalties.

Fatigue is figured normally for the distance traveled, taking into account the horse's current level of Fitness. A horse suffers fatigue penalties when it has only 1/3 of its Fatigue points left.

High School (Advanced Dressage)Defaults to Dressage-6
Prerequisite: Dressage
Maximum skill level: DX+2 (or 15)

Advanced dressage, also known as "High School," is the epitome of classical equitation. The horse is required to perform the most difficult exercises, all based on its natural gaits. The horse normally requires at least three years' training in dressage before being physically and emotionally ready for training this advanced.

The movements learned include the pirouette (a turn of 360 degrees on the haunches, executed in six to eight even strides), the piaffe (a tightly collected trot with the horse "dancing" evenly in one spot), and the passage (a slow, very collected trot with a prolonged moment of suspension between each stride). Horses with this skill can also perform dressage in synchronization with other horses . . . very impressive in military drills.

In HandDefaults to IQ+4
Maximum skill level: 15

This skill is the skill of obeying a handler's commands "in hand," with the restraint of halter and rope or bridle, and is a must for any horse used by humans. It includes good manners in being led, in standing still for grooming, and for being tacked up (saddle and bridle put on). It also includes good manners when tied to a post or picket line. A horse with In Hand skill level of 12 or higher may be taught to be "ground tied" – the horse will stand in its place when the ends of its reins or halter rope are dropped to the ground. If a horse with a high In Hand skill level likes its handler, it will also come when called (At Liberty – Come when Called defaults to In Hand-2), especially at dinnertime.

In HarnessDefaults to DX-3
Maximum skill level: 15

The horse has been taught to pull wheeled vehicles, sledges, or plows in harness. At skill level 10 and higher the horse knows how to apply itself in conjunction with teammates. A failed skill roll may indicate an attempted Runaway, or a horse slacking off and letting the load be pulled by the rest of the team. A critical failure of the In Harness skill may result in the horse getting tangled in the traces (the leather straps attaching the harness to the vehicle) or in a broken harness. Skill checks at a -1 to -4 penalty are required for pulling vehicles at speed or over hazardous terrain. (In the case of a team, roll one skill check against the In Harness skill level of the least-trained horse in the team.)

JumpingDefaults to DX-3
Prerequisite: Under Saddle
Maximum skill level: DX+3 (or 15)

Any horse can jump obstacles; this skill allows a horse to gracefully (or at least effectively) jump an obstacle with a rider.

The height a horse can jump at skill level 10 or less is 3 feet (2 feet for ponies). Each skill level above 10 allows the horse to jump an additional 6 inches higher without penalty. (A horse with Jumping-15 generally has no problems with jumps as high as 5 1/2 feet.) The jump may be as broad as it is high without any penalties to the roll.

The breadth a horse can jump at skill level 10 or less is 3 yards (2 yards for ponies). For each skill level above 10, the horse may jump an additional half-yard. This assumes the obstacle presents a height of no more than half of the horse's usual jumping height.

A bonus of +1 is applied for each reduction of 6" in height and/or 1/2-yard in breadth from what the horse is normally capable of.

A penalty of -l is applied for each additional 6" in height and/or 1/2-yard in breadth the horse is attempting to jump. A -1 to -4 penalty is applied if the obstacle is "scary" (flaps in the wind, brightly colored, or just looks odd), unless the horse successfully makes a Fright Check. Horses will refuse to jump anything at greater than a -3 penalty.

The highest jump on record was set in 1949 in Chile by Alberto Larraguibel on a horse named "Huaso." They jumped 2.49 meters (8'2"). The current record for a long jump is 8.40 meters (27'6"), set in Johannesburg by Andre Ferreira on "Something."

The Natural Jumper advantage adds + 3 to this skill.

PoloDefaults to Dressage-2, Wrestling-4,
or Under Saddle-6
Prerequisite: Under Saddle and Wrestling-12
Maximum skill level: DX+4 (or 15)

Polo is an ancient game, popular with the military. A polo pony must be able to gallop flat out, stop within a distance equal to his own length, turn on a sixpence, swing round in a pirouette, and start off from a standstill in any direction. He must also be able to "ride off" other ponies, which requires two-track work at a gallop. (See the Natural skill of Wrestling, and the Trained skill of Dressage.) Flying changes of lead should be second nature to him. An ideal polo pony also has courage, a long neck, good shoulders, a short strong back, great depth of girth, and exceptionally strong quarters. He has been taught to neck-rein, as the rider must guide him with one hand holding the reins.

A horse's training for Polo requires at least a year of Under Saddle training (skill level 12 or higher). It will be another year of training in Polo before the horse is ready for competition.

RopingDefaults to Under Saddle-4
Prerequisite: Under Saddle
Maximum skill level: DX+4

The horse is skilled in assisting its rider to rope cattle. The horse must follow the calf or cow closely. When the rider has tossed the lasso, the horse comes to a sliding stop, hindquarters well beneath its body.

A horse with Roping skill at 12 or better will follow the animal of its own accord, without spurring on or guidance from the rider. A well-trained roping horse will also keep the rope taut, if necessary stepping back to keep a struggling animal from gaining its feet, until the rider releases the lasso from the animal's neck.

The Cow Sense advantage adds +4 to this skill.

SteeplechasingDefaults to Jumping-2
Prerequisite: Jumping and Running-12
Maximum skill level: DX+3 (or 15)

Steeplechasing is the skill of racing over obstacles. A Jumping skill check is required for each obstacle. (The Grand National incorporates 30 jumps into a course of 4 1/2 miles. The jumps range from 4 1/2 feet high and 2 1/2 feet wide, to a fence and ditch slightly over 5 feet high and nearly 10 feet wide.)

The horse's Running ability (Speed) is adjusted by +1 for each critical success of Jumping, and -1 for each failure of Jumping. A critical failure on a Jumping skill check indicates a fall, removing the horse from the race and possibly resulting in injury or death to horse or rider. Compute damage normally, as for a fall at speed.

The rider must make a Riding skill check once for each race. A critical success adds +1 to the horse's Speed. A normal failure modifies the horse's Speed by -2, and a critical failure results in a fall by the rider.

Each race requires one Steeplechasing skill check. The amount by which the horse made its skill check (if successful) is added to the horse's adjusted Speed. The horse with the greatest total is the winner. An unsuccessful Steeplechasing skill check indicates the horse ran into some trouble (blocked by other horses, or whatever) and did not come across the finish line with the leaders. A critical failure on a Steeplechase skill check indicates the horse couldn't finish the race. The GM may require a HT check for Lameness.

A horse without the Natural Jumper advantage cannot learn Steeplechasing at greater than skill level 10. Steeplechasers are at their best between the ages of 8 and 12.

TricksDefaults to Acrobatics-6, In Hand-4, or IQ+2
No prerequisite, unless trick involves use of some
other skill such as Acrobatics or Under Saddle
Maximum skill level: 15

Almost any trick which a horse is physically able to do can be taught. Common tricks include bowing (with or without a rider), rearing on command (see Airs Above the Ground for a controlled rear), Posing (with forehooves on a platform or overturned bucket), and Camping or Stretching (stretching the forelegs out, or standing with both fore and hind legs stretched out; originally taught to coach horses to ensure they remained still while Milady stepped into or out of her phaeton). Other tricks include falling or lying down on command, or moving the lips as though speaking (a great one for a handler with a Ventriloquism trick of his own!). Tricks are usually taught in conjunction with the At Liberty skill.

Horse owners who teach their horses tricks should beware; sometimes a horse will develop the habit of performing its trick with no encouragement from its handler!

Under PackDefaults to DX-3
Maximum skill level: 15

The horse has been taught to carry a pack. It knows better than to do such things as roll on the ground when bearing a pack saddle and goods. It also has learned to balance itself and its load over rough terrain. In a baggage train each animal tends to follow the one in front of it, even without the coercion of rope. A pack horse automatically has the At Liberty (Packing) skill at Under Pack -2. Pack mules, being generally less excitable, have the At Liberty (Packing) skill at Under Pack. A person with the Packing skill (p. B46) will be able to judge a horse's Under Pack skill by working with it for a few minutes and making a successful skill roll.

Under SaddleDefaults to DX-3
Maximum skill level: 15

This skill allows a horse to be ridden. It knows the basics of the "aids" – the signals the rider uses to communicate his or her wishes to the horse. Each culture may use its own set of aids; the horse must learn each "language" separately.

The ancient Numidians used a switch as their sole means of controlling their horses; they struck the horse's neck to turn the horse away from that side, and swatted them on the nose to halt them, just as donkeys are guided in North Africa today. The native breed was apparently docile.

The two most common styles of riding in the U.S. today are the English and the Western. English riding makes use of direct reining, where pulling on the left rein turns the horse's bead left, pulling on the right rein turns the horse's head right, and pulling on both reins slows or stops the horse. Western riding uses neck reining, where the reins are held in one hand; pressure of the rein against the side of the neck turns the horse away from that side. Other aids which differ from one style of riding to another include the use of legs, seat, and vocal aids such as clucking.

When the Under Saddle skill is learned to level 12 or higher, the horse knows to walk at an even tempo in a straight line, to be supple in turning, to make the transitions from one gait to another smoothly and evenly. It also learns to move sideways and backwards at its rider's command. For a more highly-trained horse, see the Dressage skill.

Creating an Individual Horse

An average horse (Horse, Saddle), trained to be ridden but with no advanced training, will cost 5 to 15 points, depending on advantages and disadvantages chosen.

Average (10-Point) Horse

ST 30, DX 9, IQ 4, HT 13
Appearance: Average (no points). A chestnut mare with no distinguishing marks.
Alertness +1 (5 points)
Odious Personal Habit: Doesn't stand still for mounting. (-5 points)
Skills: In Hand-12 (4 points); Under Saddle-12 (6 points). All natural skills at default levels.

The ultimate warhorse (cavalry horse or heavy war horse), trained and experienced in the art of war, can easily be worth 150 points or more. Acquisition of such an animal will require a large capital outlay, as well as the "Ally" advantage on the part of its rider if a good relationship is established. (Alternatively, a person could buy a young horse cheap, and, with luck, patience, and six to eight years of intensive training, perhaps to produce an exceptional mount.)

McCormack Mac Malleran's Faithful Warhorse

The following is an example of the best a horse can be (while within the realms of reality, this is a one-in-a-million steed). Total cost in points: 163.

Name: Al Kurikai il 'arim (The Deathprince of the Wind. "Kai" is his nickname, meaning "Prince" in the language of Toran.)

Appearance: Handsome (10 points). Cavalry horse; a dappled grey stallion gradually turning white. Toranian (desert-bred), 16 hands, 1,400 lbs. (large for his breed). 12 years old. (Kai will acquire the Age disadvantage in one year.)

ST 40, DX 12, IQ 4, HT 14

Advantages: Alertness +1 (5 points); Combat Reflexes (10 points); Common Sense (10 points); Exceptional Dexterity (15 points); Fitness (Very Fit, 15 points); High Pain Threshold (10 points)
Reputation: (Breed) Toranian stallion (desert-bred horse) noted for speed, endurance, and loyalty. +2 to reaction by anyone who recognizes the horse as a Toranian. (5 points)

Disadvantages: One Eye (-15 points) (Blinded magically in combat two years ago); Lameness (-10 points) (A sore hip from an old battle wound which fractured the bone; healed magically. Now treated with three days of rest and some salve whenever it causes problems.)

Quirks: Loves pears. Vigorously nods his head when eating one, spattering pear-juice-and-saliva foam over McCormack. (-1 point)
Bucks for a few seconds when first mounted after not being ridden for more than three days. This would qualify as an Odious Personal Habit to anyone but McCormack, who doesn't mind. (-1 point)
Distrusts strangers. (-1 point)
Loves children. (-I point)

Natural Skills
Acrobatics-9; Area Knowledge (Northern Amber-land)-8; Bucking-13; Fighting-12; Escape-8; Leadership-13; Running-12; Survival (Desert)-l0; (Forest)-11; (Plains)-12; Swimming-12; Wrestling-12

Trained Skills:
Airs Above the Ground – (pesade)-14 (10 points); (levade)-14 (10 points); (courbette)-14 (10 points); (ballotade)-14 (10 points); (croupade)-14 (10 points); (capriole)-12 (6 points); At Liberty (Comes when called – from high In Hand skill)-12 (0 points); At Liberty (pesade)-10 (0 points); At Liberty (levade)-10 (0 points); At Liberty (courbette)-10 (0 points); At Liberty (ballotade)-10 (0 points); At Liberty (croupade)-10 (0 points); At Liberty (capriole)-8 (0 points); Combat-Trained-16 (4 points) (Combat Reflexes allows greater than normal maximum of 15); Dressage-15 (12 points); Endurance Under Saddle-15 (10 points); High School-15 (12 points); In Hand-14 (6 points); Jumping-12 (6 points); Under Saddle-15 (6 points).

Kai's Jumping skill is at a -2 to the above listed level, due to his One Eye disadvantage. His rolls to hit in combat are also at a -2.

Market Value of Horses

A horse's point total reflects its fair market value. Each point is worth $100. In most fantasy campaigns, an average saddle horse costs $1,200 and should be built on 12 points; an average heavy war horse costs $5,000 and can be built with 50 points.

A horse dealer will use the total of positive points to set his asking price. Thus, a saddle horse with a point total of 10 which includes disadvantages totaling -5 points will have an asking price of $1,500, or 100 times the total of the point values of its advantages and skills. An honest horse dealer will allow himself to be haggled down to the fair market value, based upon the point total of all advantages, disadvantages, and skills. A dishonest dealer may claim the horse has some advantages or skills which it simply doesn't possess, and will attempt to hide any disadvantages his animals have.

Both asking price and fair market value are based on what the horse dealer knows of the horse. It also assumes no additional importation or transportation costs incurred by the dealer. A horse which has been imported from another country (or even another city) will have the cost of its transport added to its fair market value.


The Noble Horse, by Monique and Hans D. Dossenbach. Published in the US by G. K Hall & Co, Boston, 1983, copyright by Hallwag AG, Bern. This is probably the best book about horses currently in print.

A Horse Around the House, by Patricia Jacobson and Marcia Hayes. Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1972.

Encyclopedia of the Horse, edited by Elwyn Hartley Edwards. Crescent Books, New York; distributed by Crown Publishers, Inc.

Understanding Horse Psychology, edited by Bill Weikel. The Farnam Horse Library, 1972.

My thanks also to the many horses I have known over the years. The best of them inspired this article: the worst of them inspired the Odious Personal Habits section. But I love them all.

(Back to Roleplayer #21 Table of Contents)

Copyright © 1997-2014 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved.

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