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Automaton Horses

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"[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, it should go without saying that 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.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Garami, The Arms Peddler has a cart drawn by a zombie horse, which never needs to eat, rest, or actually stop moving, if it comes to that. However, it isn't as fast as a regular horse, allowing for chase scenes.
  • 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.
  • Averted in Silver Spoon, when Hachiken is told off when he wants to continue practicing his jumps and forgets that horses need a break too.

    Comic Books 
  • Lucky Luke's horse Jolly Jumper is less an automaton and more "just that badass". One sequence shows him running at full speed nonstop over several days, once with Luke sleeping on his back in the saddle, and another running while sleeping. It must be said that this is the same horse that fishes, cooks beans, smokes, and regularly beats his rider at chess...
  • Averted big time in Tex Willer: anyone with a lick of sense treat their mounts well, so if we see someone push their horses it's an obvious sign they're idiots who will pay for it soon or the situation is just that desperate.

    Films - Live Action 
  • Averted in The Professionals. Hans Ehrengard is put on the team because he's a horse wrangler, and is shown feeding and caring for them in several scenes. Both sides make sure to bring spare horses during the chase, and a horse has to be shot after it's lamed while crossing a stony desert.
  • 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.
  • Averted in Quantez: after escaping a posse, one of the gang's horses has to be put down, and the rest have to be cooled down, fed, watered, rubbed down, and rested for at least a night before they are fit to ride again.
  • Averted in Gladiator. After killing his (would-be) executioners, Maximus takes two horses to race back to his family. He is shown alternating which one he is riding, slowly stripping away his gear and the horses are even visibly sweating at some points. He eventually rides one as fast as he possibly can...and it eventually collapses from exhaustion.

  • Bret King Mysteries: Averted. In The Mystery of Ghost Canyon, a villain spends several days fleeing on one of the fastest and strongest horses around. The main characters stop to feed and rest their horses several times, but their villain does not show his horse the same courtesy. The poor animal is starved and exhausted to the point of collapse by the time Bret and the others capture his rider.
  • Defied 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 "earth-shatteringly scary" to "very bad, but manageable".
    • Bree brings it up again when planning their own desert crossing, pointing out that This Is Reality, and that "galloping night and day" through the desert is a quick recipe for death by dehydration and exhaustion. Instead, they'll have to alternate between trots and walks, with the humans dismounting during the walks since it won't slow them down extra, the horses need all the rest they can get and remounts are not available.
  • 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.
  • Discworld:
    • Subverted in Mort; on first returning from his botched first assignment, Mort dashes dramatically out of the stable..but he catches himself and returns several times to feed and groom Binky.
    • Raising Steam plays with the trope by discussing it. 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.
  • David Eddings, despite peddling fantasy tropes "like dope", averts this. In the Elenium universe, some of the horses - especially Faran, Sparhawk's loyal mount - are distinct characters in their own right and their needs are mentioned. Actually discussed at one point by the antagonists, when one of them rides a horse so hard it dies and he has to go and steal another. Meanwhile, in the Belgariad, equine limitations are not only mentioned but play a major role in the plot by limiting how far and fast the characters can go, and in one instance pushing the horses too hard results in some of said horses actually collapsing under their riders, forcing the company to slow to a crawl and baby them until they recover.
  • 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.
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz justifies this in the case of the Sawhorse, which, being made out of wood, requires neither food nor sleep.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Tortall Universe averts it: Horses are always treated as animals, and in the later books, such as Protector of the Small and the Beka Cooper trilogy, knights have more than one horse, a warhorse and one for riding. In Mastiff, Beka is even annoyed when Lady Sabine and her warhorses are added to their hunt, as she's concerned the horses will slow them down too much.
  • 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."
  • 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 in The Wind-Witch 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.
  • Averted in the Safehold series. If Merlin has to go on a long trip on horseback instead of recon skimmer, he gets frequent remounts. Some minor-character cavalry officers are specifically noted to have left most of their units without horses due to asking the horses to do too much on too little food and rest, and on two occasions Weber points out that even war-trained horses are not predators and are not going to charge headlong into an unbroken line of Charisian bayonets.
  • Averted several times over, sometimes with tearjerker results, in The Saddle Club, which makes a point of showing that horses are actually rather fragile animals susceptible to a wide range of injury and illness.
    • In the first major aversion, Veronica's horse Cobalt sustains a broken leg (a very serious injury in horses due to the way their bodies are built) because Veronica jumps him recklessly and ends up having to be put down.
    • Prancer, a race horse, breaks a bone in her foot that ends her racing career. She recovers and becomes a lesson horse at Pine Hollow, but there are mentions in a couple of books of having to keep her out of certain types of competitions that would risk aggravating the injury.
    • In one of the specials, Pine Hollow favorite horse Delilah dies from an incurable virus.
    • Even when the horses are well, the series also goes out of its way to depict horses as living creatures with wills of their own and distinct personalities; they don't always do exactly what the rider wants them to do all the time, and riders also have to adjust their approach for each horse based on that horse's characteristics rather than expecting them all to respond identically to the same techniques.
  • Depicted realistically in the H. Rider Haggard novel Allan Quatermain, in which the hero and his companion Umslopogaas ride 100 miles in a night (sunset to just before dawn) to foil an assassination, giving their horses the minimum rest and water allowable. Umslopogaas's horse dies 20 miles short of their destination and he has to jog the rest of the way. Quatermain's horse makes it there and collapses, but survives.
  • The Return of the King: Horses require approximately 2% of their body weight in feed each day; for a 500kg horse, this works out to be approximately 10kg. A 6 day ride of 6,000 horses, i.e. the Ride of the Rohirrim, would require 360 tonnes of food. When King Théoden asks the messenger of Gondor about Minas Tirith's supplies, he mentions that the Rohirrim could only carry enough meal to get to the would-be battlefield, but 400 tonnes of it would have required several wains that were not mentioned.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lampshaded in the first series of Blackadder by the immortal phrase, "Chiswick! FRESH HORSES!"
  • Doctor Who: In "The Girl in the Fireplace", the Doctor needs to break through a window, and mentions that he'd need a truck to do it. When he actually does break through, he does so on an available horse. Horses being living creatures with a sense of self-preservation (and notoriously skittish besides), it would take supernatural powers or extreme abuse to force a horse to charge through a window, and the impact would severely injure if not kill it.
  • 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.
  • The Musketeers: Averted in the third episode when Bonnaire tries to escape the Musketeers' custody by galloping off on his horse, only for it to stop moving completely after a few miles. When D'Artagnan, who grew up on a farm, catches up he smugly points out that if Bonnaire hadn't overworked the horse he might have got away.

    Video Games 
  • Exaggerated in Assassin's Creed III. 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.
    • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey in which you travel all over Ancient Greece, island to island, gives you Phobos, also known by players as 'the Horcycle'. You whistle for him, and he comes. He can stumble, and temporarily die if you gallop off a cliff too high, and when you've travelled about 60 seconds he can be called for again.
  • Cavalry horses in the early days of Battlefield 1 were notorious for being these. They had the ability to soak up bullets (and even cannon fire) without any form of crippling effects, gallop indefinitely and even leap over vehicles or onto buildings. Occasional wonky Frostbite Engine physics also sometimes allowed them to win a head-on collision against armored cars.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, your horse (or hart, or dracolisk, or war nug) can be ridden at a hard gallop from one end of the map to the other and back without issues. However, while they can't be killed, they can be attacked by enemies and throw their rider; once they take enough damage from whatever's attacking, they will disappear and have to be re-summoned after the fight concludes.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Throughout the series, this is Played Straight in every game in which horses appear. They can be ridden indefinitely with no signs of fatigue, never require food or water (but then again, neither does the Player Character), can survive attacks and falls which would kill (or at least severely lame) real horses, and, in some games, can be ridden up near-sheer surfaces in gravity defying fashion. Many Equestrians have shed tears over the portrayal of horses in the series.
    • Justified in Oblivion and Skyrim in the case of Shadowmere, the spectral horse belonging to the Dark Brotherhood, and also in Skyrim in the case of Arvak, a skeletal horse only found in the Dawnguard DLC. Since neither of these is actually alive, they of course don't need things like food or rest.
    • The loading screens in Skyrim even Lampshade this property:
      "What the horses of Skyrim lack in speed they make up in stamina."
  • In Go Vacation, horses are considered "gear" or vehicles, and are thus as tireless as a car or snowmobile.
  • 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.
  • The Legend of Zelda has several examples:
    • 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. The same game features truck-sized boars known as Bulbos, used as mounts by Bulblins and as battering rams by Link, smashing through gates and palisades without a second thought. Crashing into a wall, however, makes them fall down and take a few seconds to get their brain cell back in order before getting up no worse for wear.
    • In addition to the limitations from earlier games, horses in Breath of the Wild are prone to resisting your controls until you build their trust up (either by appropriate use of the "soothe" command or feeding them apples and carrots). They can also be killed by enemy monsters, environmental damage, or your own cruelty/carelessness, meaning you'll either have to catch and train a new horse or find the Horse God and ask him to resurrect your dead mount.
      • That being said, as of the Champions' Ballad DLC, horses in Breath of the Wild are officially more automaton than an actual automaton. The unlockable Master Cycle Zero has a limited amount of fuel, which needs to be replenished when it runs out. Contrast with any given horse, which can travel at a continuous canter indefinitely and travel at a gallop for 90% of the trip with well-spaced spurring.
  • Minecraft has horses, donkeys, mules and other mobs that can be ridden. The only thing a player needs to take care of is their health points. Feeding them restores health and this is rarely necessary since horses auto-regenerate health. You can also breed them with if there aren't enough naturally-spawning horses near your base, and when left unattended horses will slowly wander around and chew grass. Otherwise, "tame" one by climbing on it a few times, slap a saddle on it and you can ride it around indefinitely, without worrying about it getting tired or straying even a millimeter off-course.
  • Used in the game Mount & Blade: horses can gallop for hours at a time, even when armored. 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.
  • In NetHack, horses are just like any other pet, except 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.)
  • In Ravensword: Shadowlands, horses (and later pterodactyls) effectively function as summonable vehicles that don't ever need to be tended to.
  • 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 or fast travel from a camp), the horse will simply drop dead mid-trot/gallop. It does take quite a long while, though.
    • In the prequel, horses require a lot more maintenance. This time around, Surprisingly Realistic Outcome happens, which means you need to feed them in order to keep their Health and Stamina up as well as grooming them to keep them clean (which affects stamina). You also need to strengthen your bond with your horse by praising and petting them in order to increase their stats as well as unlock new moves, tricks or abilities for them to do.
  • Horses in Sacred not only do not need to eat or sleep, they can apparently teleport as well... sometimes into inaccessible places.
  • 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.
  • Agro from Shadow of the Colossus runs at maximum speed for as long as you want her to (unless you run her into a wall or cliff, in which case she'll halt), requires no care, is incredibly stoic around the giant monstrosities that are the colossi, and when she's thrown around by them she never gets injured for more than a few seconds.
  • The horse you can obtain in Stardew Valley might as well have been a motorcycle. The horse doesn't need food, water, grooming, or rest. It 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. The horse will patiently wait in the exact spot you left it in when you dismount, no matter how long you leave it... unless you get back home and advance to the next day, in which case your horse will have returned to its stable and will be patiently waiting for you there. Definitely worth everything you pay for it.
  • 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.
  • Lampshaded in Ultima VII: the description of the in-game book "Magic and the Art of Horse-and-Wagon Maintenance" states that the book's title is rather ironic because horses need no food or rest.
  • Roachnote  in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt downplays this. While she can't be killed, doesn't require any maintenance regarding food and water, and can gallop indefinitely as long as she's on a path or road of some sort, she will run out of stamina from galloping off the beaten path, she's finicky about terrain, and will buck you off and bolt if her "Fear Gauge" is filled.note 
  • World of Warcraft: Horses and other mounts never need feeding or rest. And you can basically keep them in your pocket until you need them.
  • In Dragon Quest XI, horses (or any creature mount) never need a rest. As such, the mounts that can occasionally run at high speeds tend to be the best way to get around between towns.

    Western Animation 
  • Played with in Amphibia. Anne initially sees their snail, Besse, as just a vehicle, before spending an episode learning to appreciate her as a member of the family.
  • 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.
  • Horses died by the thousands during World War One; first because most of them had been confiscated or bought from civilians and weren't used to forced marches or dragging artillery out of the mud, and second because the conscripts put in charge of them seldom had horse wrangling skills, so rode them into the ground. This was a contributing factor in the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, as the Germans could not move up enough supplies and ammunition as a result. Worse, while the Allies could order more horses from their colonies or the United States, the Germans could only replenish their stock by capturing them from the enemy. They ran into the same problem in World War 2 (most of the German army was still horse-drawn, contrary to the popular image).

Alternative Title(s): Automaton Horse