Automaton Horses

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Refuelling the Automaton Camel
"[Horses in Fantasyland] are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame or put their hooves down holes [...] Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are."

Horses are cool. They're a sure-fire signal for fantasy, medieval, and western stories, can make the characters look good with a sufficiently awesome name or respectable pedigree, and most importantly, provide a relatively fast and reliable form of transport for the heroes.

In all too many stories, that's really about as far as they take it. The horse doesn't eat, doesn't sleep, doesn't need any sort of special care.

In real life, horses aren't automatons, they're animals with needs.

In video games, this often becomes an Acceptable Break from Reality. After all, unless it's the point of the game, would you really want to have to stop fighting the armies of darkness to water your horse or let it take a rest? It's not as if the hero has to eat anything. Why should your horse?

For actual automaton horses, see Mechanical Horse. For a related trope regarding tireless animals, check out Huge Rider, Tiny Mount. See Horse of a Different Color for horses that aren't actually horses at all. Related to Invulnerable Horses, who never ever get shot. Plot-Powered Stamina is the supertrope, which can apply to sapient beings as well as draft animals.

May result in Somewhere, an Equestrian Is Crying. See also Artistic License – Animal Care.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: The Survey Corps expeditions involve an unflagging gallop for hours. Given a Hand Wave that the horses have been specially bred for speed and endurance. Good thing too, they're the only way to escape a Titan on open terrain.
  • In a filler episode of the Rurouni Kenshin anime, Kenshin pretty much steals a horse after he gets thrown out of a train by thieves and uses it to catch up. The horse fit here to a tee and was kinda... infamous in the fandom for it.

    Films - Live Action 
  • Averted with tragic results in all versions of True Grit (novel included). Rooster rides Blackie hard for several hours to get medical attention for a delirious and dying Mattie. Blackie collapses from exhaustion well before they make it to safety, and Rooster is forced to draw his pistol and put the poor horse out of his agony.

    Literature 
  • As with quite a lot of lazy fantasy tropes, Poul Anderson attacks this trope in his essay "On Thud And Blunder.":
    As for the latter choice, writers who’ve had no personal experience with horses tend to think of them as a kind of sports car. ‘Tain’t so.
    You cannot gallop them for hours. They’ll collapse. The best way to make time in the saddle is to alternate paces, and have a remount or two trailing behind, and allow the animals reasonable rest. Don’t let your steed eat or drink indiscriminately; it’s likely to bloat and become helpless. In fact, it’s a rather fragile creature, requiring close attention — for example, rubdowns after hard exertion — if it isn’t to fall sick and perhaps die on you. It’s also lazy, stupid, and sometimes malicious. All of these tendencies the rider must keep under control.
    You cannot grab any old horse and go to battle on it. It’ll instantly become unmanageable. Several of us in the Society for Creative Anachronism tried a little harmless jousting, and soon gave up … and this was with beasts whose owners were already practicing the more pacific equestrian arts, such as tilting at a ring. War horses had to be raised to it from colthood. The best cavalrymen were, too. For lack of that tradition, the vikings, for instance, never fought mounted. Upon landing in a victim country, they’d steal themselves four-legged transportation, but having reached a scene of action, they’d get down.
  • House of the Scorpion: Justified, as the horses were all eejits- meaning they had computer chips in their brain that made them only able to do one command until they are told to stop, and thus if you never told them to eat, sleep or drink, they wouldn't.
  • Played straight with Valadan in the Warhorse of Esdragon books, especially The Wind-Witch. Druyan and her family, being avid horse-breeders, know perfectly well how to care for horses and what they are and aren't capable of — but Valadan himself, being sired by the North Wind, breaks all the rules. He can and will run Druyan across half a continent in a single day to warn the Duke of an oncoming viking attack. After one especially hard run Druyan spends an hour walking and rubbing down Valadan as she would any other horse before admitting to herself that it's totally unnecessary. For every other horse in that world, however, it's an important plot point of The Wind-Witch is that none of the other Riders can match Valadan, and they have to play some shell-games to keep them in the saddle at all, as they keep exhausting and foundering their mounts trying to keep up.
  • Discussed and Averted in The Horse and His Boy, one of The Chronicles of Narnia books - naturally, since the character discussing the issue is a horse. When the heroes find out that Prince Rabadash is going to ride out with his cavalry, they all freak out, but as Bree the horse points out, lots of provisions will need to be gathered, and the progress of the force will be not be especially fast since men, armor, weapons, food, and water are heavy and the desert is dry and hot, so they can't just gallop all day long across it. So, the threat goes from "really really scary" to "still dangerous, but manageable".
  • Played horribly straight near the end of the Coldfire Trilogy. The protagonists are on an extremely tight schedule with a lot riding on them making it to the destination in time, so Tarrant, despite being quite a horse aficionado himself, works an enchantment on the horses that turns them into unstoppable riding machines even as their bodies are slowly consumed by the enchantment. Vryce can feel his horse disintegrating underneath him as they ride up the final slope, and it's rather awful.
  • Raising Steam: Played with by being discussed. Moist is granted the use of a rare and valuable golem horse—a quite literal automaton—but the lack of "all those fussing little rituals that defined horsemanship" rather unnerves him. He feels that having a mount that can travel faster than any living animal without ever tiring or needing food or water, and which just stands there dutifully when not in use, is getting something for nothing; that all that power should come at some kind of price. What makes it even weirder for him is that like all golems, the horse is entirely sentient, but still doesn't mind its lot—when he tells it to go frolic in a field when he's not using it, it takes this as an order.
  • Provost's Dog: Subverted in Mastiff. Beka is miffed when Sabine's horses are added to the Hunt because she thinks they'll slow them down, being such high-maintenance animals compared to Achoo.
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: Discussed:
    "[Horses in Fantasyland] are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame or put their hooves down holes [...] Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are."
  • Entirely subverted in The Three Musketeers where horses regularly keel over, get shot, and get ridden to death, with the careful planning of replacement horses at regularly-placed intervals being an integral part of any high-speed chase. Of course, the novels were written when horses were the only form of personal transportation.

    Live Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Bronn describes Dornish sand steeds in these terms, which could easily be hyperbole for their great endurance.
  • Mentioned in an episode of Lark Rise To Candleford, where a curate preaches a sermon about treating a pony badly and finally understanding a spiritual message through the animal's pain. It is a clue to why the priest acts as a mendicant and puts other people's welfare above his own, almost to a fault.
  • Lampshaded in the first series of Blackadder by the immortal phrase, "Chiswick! FRESH HORSES!"

    Video Games 
  • In NetHack, horses are just like any other pet, only that they can be ridden. They need a saddle to ride and food to live, but are happy even without shoes, a harness, water or sleep. (The player character, likewise, never needs water or sleep.)
  • Horses in The Elder Scrolls:
  • The Legend of Zelda
    • Ocarina of Time had nods to reality: Making Epona gallop too long would tire her out and reduce her to a trot for a while. Otherwise, the game played this trope dead straight. You also have to line Epona up correctly to jump a fence and be going a decent speed, or she balks and won't jump; and she can't climb stairs or swim. She also won't get too close to Hyrule Castle without pitching a major fit about it.
    • This happens in Twilight Princess too, not to mention that Epona's whinnies get much more strained if you push her too hard.
  • World of Warcraft: Horses and other mounts never need feeding or rest.
  • Used in the game Mount & Blade: horses can gallop for hours at a time, even when armoured.. They can be lamed however. And if a lamed horse is cut out from under you during battle, expect to lose that horse for good. Also, humans in the game need to eat but horses don't. Probably one of the Acceptable Breaks from Reality as the human food alone takes up most of your inventory space.
  • Horses in Sacred not only do not need to eat or sleep, they can apparently teleport as well... sometimes into inaccessible places.
  • Not only do the horses in Gunfighter and its sequel never get tired, they don't seem to mind getting shot. If you shoot a horse in the second game it will sometimes give a bemused neigh, but other than that nothing happens.
  • Harvest Moon is an interesting example. The first games that featured a horse only had it there to unlock a sort of mini game, but later versions had them usable for faster transport. It wasn't until more recent installments that this trope was finally averted and the horse became a member of the stable, requiring the same food and sleep and attention that the cows and sheep require (and in the latest console game, all distinction is lost and you can even ride your sheep.) Seeing as how a good portion of the point of the game is to tend to animals, it took a while for the franchise to avert this trope.
  • Played straight in the steampunk-themed Independent State of Caledon in Second Life, where public transportation takes the form of a driverless horse-drawn cart that starts, stops and turns at scripted intervals.
  • Red Dead Redemption's horses don't require feeding, grooming or watering, but they can be killed and riding them too hard (either with liberal use of spurs or by putting them through rough terrain) can cause them to buck you. There's even a slight chance of them getting injured going through rough terrain and becoming lame. If you ride him/her for long enough without giving the Horse a chance to rest (dismounting and hitching, or pausing to save/fastravel from a camp, the horse will simply drop dead mid-trot/gallop. It does take quite a long while, though.
  • While your horse in Star Stable will slow down without encouragement from you, you can theoretically gallop forever (provided you don't run into things). You also have to feed, water, and groom your horse, but failing to do these things just makes the horse unhappy; it won't, y'know, starve to death or anything like that.
  • Assassin's Creed III takes this Up to Eleven. Horses can get shot by a musket volley, lay down on the ground for three seconds, and then get back up and ride normally as if nothing happened. The only time when a horse actually dies in the game is in a cutscene.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, your horse (or hart, dracolisk or war nug) can be ridden at a hard gallop from one end of the map to the other and back without issues.
  • In Go Vacation, horses are considered "gear" or vehicles, and are thus as tireless as a car or snowmobile.
  • The horse you can obtain in Stardew Valley might as well have been a motorcycle. Doesn't eat, drink or rest; moves faster than a running human, can turn on a dime, and navigate any terrain that a human could (including board bridges a foot wide, at full speed); and will patiently wait in the exact spot you left it in when you dismount, no matter how long you leave it... unless you get bacjk home yourself and advance to the next day, in which case it will have returned to its stable and is waiting for you there. Definitely worth everything you paid for it.

     Western Animation 
  • Thundarr the Barbarian pushes his and Ariel's horses incredibly hard.
  • David the Gnome is best friends with automaton fox Swift, whom David rides all over the world like a car — needing to stop to eat or rest is never an issue.

     Real Life 
  • Charles XII of Sweden rode from Istanbul in Turkey to Stralsund in Northern Germany (a trip of around 1200 miles) in fifteen days on a single horse, which is an incredibly impressive feat for both man and horse (the horse's eventual fate is not recorded).
  • William Nevison, an English highwayman, was recognized by one of his victims in Kent. In order to establish an alibi, he rode all the way to York (roughly 200 miles), hoping to get there earlier than it would be believed possible so as to fool the authorities. It worked too, and, given the timescale involved, chances are he either galloped or cantered the entire way, again, an incredibly badass feat for man and horse.
  • War horses were trained to not be spooked by loud noises. Church bells were often used for this, along with breeding for a - for want of a better word - 'brave' temperament. Police horses are similarly trained and selected to handle noise and similar stresses.


Alternative Title(s): Automaton Horse

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AutomatonHorses