Q&A: Horse Transport

I have heard before that transporting horses on ships is difficult and tends to be fatal for the animals. Would this still be true for fantasy creatures like centaurs, or does being sentient negate that issue? How reasonable is the concept of naval combat with centaurs or similar creatures?

kikon99

This depends on specific elements of your centaur’s physiology that you might not have considered.

Keep in mind: I’m not an expert on horses, so it’s entirely possible I’ve missed something critical.

The biggest problems with transporting horses are, stress, instinctive and immunological. This isn’t just by sea, but in other circumstances as well.

Horses find the isolation combined with tight spaces, and the actual movement vehicles, extremely stressful. This provokes an adrenaline response, which raises the heart rate, and can have numerous secondary effects down the line, including compromising their immune system.

The loading process can easily result in the horse critically injuring itself. This isn’t universal, but if the horse startles, it’s easy for them to stumble or slip, particularly on carpets or other runners. Though this can also result in the horse falling on pavement when backing away from the ramp.

Horses instinctively avoid entering dark, cramped spaces. Exactly like the kind of space you’d try to load them into for transport.

Factors like ramp angle can further agitate the horse. The steeper it is, the more this will bother them.

The fight or flight response triggered by their stress means they put additional strain on their immune system. When exposed to unfamiliar pathogens, their immune system is already compromised. Meaning, they’re at much greater risk of becoming ill. This can, in turn, kill the horse.

Worth remembering that acquired immunity is a major consideration for human travel as well. Travel to new ports comes with a host of pathological threats. A fact that I ran afoul of earlier this year on a flight to Baltimore.

The stress can also leave horses on edge for prolonged periods, this can come with it’s own medical risks, as well as potential behavioral issues. This varies by the individual, but it’s something to consider. A horse may become more aggressive while stressed. Though, I suppose that’s just as true for humans.

In the end a lot of these factors depend on your centaurs, and how well the can cope. Naval travel will probably be less dangerous, but no less unpleasant. Some factors like the instinctual aversion to cramped spaces may still be present, but the individual could make an informed decision to work against it. This wouldn’t be fun for them, but it is possible. Other factors like the constant swaying making it difficult to maintain balance would be constant agitating factors. So they may be more stressed than normal.

I’m not sure about the idea of naval combat with centaurs. It doesn’t strike me as a good fit. At least not without radically different ship designs. D&D’s Dragonlance does run with the idea of Minotaur sailors, though. Most of that setting’s Minotaurs man ships at sea. It’s not completely insane to suggest your fantasy setting may have classic mythical monsters who operate in any number of mundane positions, though seaborne travel strikes me as more something a centaur would do out of necessity, getting from point A to B, rather than a career path of choice. Though, certainly room for rationalization in your setting.

I’m not going to pretend that the list above is a comprehensive set of problems facing horse transport. As I said at the beginning, I’m not an expert on horses, by any means. I’ve been on horseback once, and have no interest in repeating the experience. So, my research has been pretty limited.

-Starke

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