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A kind of similarity to this question, Why didn't Gandalf or Frodo Fly to Mount Doom?

The difference is that this question I'm asking is why didn't the fellowship use horses for transportation from Rivendell? The Fellowship was formed during the Council of Elrond. When they leave Rivendell they just walk with no kind of transportation. Remember when Boromir and Legolas arrived, they used horses to come to Rivendell. Same thing with the question, Why didn't Gandalf or Frodo Fly to Mount Doom? Seems to me that the Fellowship thought they don't need to use any transportation. Why risk it with such a long walk?

66

It seems this question has been asked many times on the Internet, for instance here it is on Reddit, and here it is on some Tolkien forum. In both cases, the answer can be summarized in a few points:

They're going through the mountains, off the beaten path. They're not going to get much use out of horses in such terrain, and even if they'd avoided Moria they probably still would have reached a point at which they'd have to leave the horses behind.

I would have traveled lighter and brought no animal, least of all this one that Sam is fond of, if I had had my way. I feared all along that we should be obliged to take this road.

They want to be stealthy. Horses are harder to hide, and harder to keep quiet when evil is afoot.

The country was much rougher and more barren than in the green vale of the Great River in Wilderland on the other side of the range, and their going would be slow; but they hoped in this way to escape the notice of unfriendly eyes.

Half of them are half-sized. Hobbits and dwarves aren't big enough to properly handle horses.

It's wintertime. They'd have to carry extra food, water, and bedding for the horses, which would quickly become more trouble than it's worth.

So for these reasons, they don't ride horses out of Rivendell. When leaving Lothlorien, they leave in boats, so they can't take horses with them. After that, when horses are available, they are used.

Plus, I think it's worth mentioning they brought a pony who carried some of their gear, at least until Moria, where (according to the book) he bolted and made his way back to Bree.

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    @Edlothiad "'Now, now, Mr. Brandybuck, don't go reminding me of that! But there, you've broken my thought. Now where was I? Nob, stables, ah! that was it. I've something that belongs to you. If you recollect Bill Ferny and the horsethieving: his pony as you bought, well, it's here. Come back all of itself, it did. But where it had been to you know better than me. It was as shaggy as an old dog and as lean as a clothes-rail, but it was alive. Nob's looked after it.'" – Matt Gutting Jun 26 '17 at 19:56
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    One issue I have with your first point - in The Hobbit, Thorin and Company have no issue with taking 14 ponies and a horse through the High Pass. My guess at the reason is: "The Company of the Ring shall be Nine; and the Nine Walkers shall be set against the Nine Riders that are evil." – Matt Gutting Jun 26 '17 at 20:00
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    @MattGutting In The Hobbit, they lose the ponies, so even then it wasn't so easy for them. And as to the life/death of Bill, it depends on who's telling the story. – DaaaahWhoosh Jun 26 '17 at 20:06
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    In The Hobbit, the only reason they lose the ponies is that the Goblins steal them. And as far as "it depends on who's telling the story", I'm not sure what you mean. Bill actually appears in Chapter 8 of The Return of the King. – Matt Gutting Jun 26 '17 at 20:08
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    Re "Hobbits and dwarves aren't big enough to properly handle horses", that's simply not true, as anyone who's seen kids riding should know. – jamesqf Jun 27 '17 at 4:31
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Actually, this question is indeed answered in the book Fellowship of the Ring, albeit indirectly.

  1. Horses would attract much more attention.

    'And I will choose you companions to go with you, as far as they will or fortune allows. The number must be few, since your hope is in speed and secrecy.'

    True, bringing a horse does guarantee speed for your journey, but at what cost? Secrecy. Bringing a big ol' horse along with you, nine of them to be exact, would definitely attract some attention.

  2. Horses aren't able to cross narrow paths.

    'There is a way that we may attempt,' said Gandalf. 'I thought from the beginning, when first I considered this journey, that we should try it. But it is not a pleasant way, and I have not spoken of it to the Company before. Aragorn was against it, until the pass over the mountains had at least been tried.'

    The Fellowship planned to cross Caradhras (Plan A). True, if they had taken the Gap of Rohan, horses might have been more useful, but they couldn't, thanks to Saruman. Gandalf's Plan B then was to go through Moria. Both Plan A and B had paths that horses couldn't cross.

    Here's Gandalf's conversation with Gimli about bringing Bill to Moria:

    'We must find a way round the northern edge,' said Gimli. 'The first thing for the Company to do is to climb up by the main path and see where that will lead us. Even if there were no lake, we could not get our baggage-pony up this stair.'

    'But in any case we cannot take the poor beast into the Mines,' said Gandalf. 'The road under the mountains is a dark road, and there are places narrow and steep which he cannot tread, even if we can.'

    [...]

    'I am sorry,' said Gandalf. 'Poor Bill has been a useful companion and it goes to my heart to turn him adrift now. I would have travelled lighter and brought no animal, least of all this one that Sam is fond of, if I had had my way. I feared all along that we should be obliged to take this road.'

  3. The extra supplies (for the horses) would be burdensome.

    Indeed, bringing not one, but nine horses would require a lot more extra food (should there be a lack of grass) and water (and other stuff horses need to survive). Remember: Bill is only one pony (not a horse), and therefore doesn't need as much food and water as nine horses do altogether.

    'That animal can nearly talk,' he said, 'and would talk, if he stayed here much longer. He gave me a look as plain as Mr. Pippin could speak it: if you don't let me go with you, Sam, I'll follow on my own.' So Bill was going as the beast of burden, yet he was the only member of the Company that did not seem depressed.

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    Note: While I am aware that some of the other answers already have some of the points that I've stated, I have included some quotes from the books where this question is answered (indirectly) by the characters. – Mat Cauthon Jun 27 '17 at 13:08
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    I also note that your entire comment is bold. – Mad Physicist Jun 27 '17 at 19:33
  • So calling the eagles was not allowed due to secrecy? – The Witch King of Angmar Jun 28 '17 at 18:48
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It wouldn't have saved much time on their intended route.

The Fellowship's intended route was to travel south from Rivendell and then cross the Misty Mountains at the pass of Caradhras. While Bill the pony goes with them on the road through the pass, it is likely it was not suitable for horses. If the Fellowship had traveled that far by horse, they would have had to abandon their horses (as the reluctantly abandoned Bill before entering Moria), and they would have saved less than the two weeks that it took them to walk from Rivendell to the pass.

December 25: The Company of the Ring leaves Rivendell at dusk.

January 8: The Company reach Hollin.

The Lord of the Rings Appendix B, Section 2: The Third Age
Page 1091 (Single volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

The fastest way to get from Rivendell to Mordor or Gondor would have been by horse through the Gap of Rohan (the way that Boromir took to get to Rivendell). After failing to make it over the mountains, Boromir urges them to take that route instead of going through Moria.

'It is a name of ill omen,' said Boromir. 'Nor do I see the need to go there. If we cannot cross the mountains, let us journey southwards, until we come to the Gap of Rohan, where men are friendly to my people, taking the road that I followed on my way hither. Or we might pass by and cross the Isen into Langstrand and Lebennin, and so come to Gondor from the regions nigh to the sea.'

The Lord of the Rings Book Two, Chapter 4: A Journey in the Dark
Page 295 (Single volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

But Gandalf is firmly opposed.

'Things have changed since you came north, Boromir,' answered Gandalf. 'Did you not hear what I told you of Saruman? With him I may have business of my own ere all is over. But the Ring must not come near Isengard, if that can by any means be prevented. The Gap of Rohan is closed to us while we go with the Bearer.'

The Lord of the Rings Book Two, Chapter 4: A Journey in the Dark
Page 296 (Single volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

Although we are not told of discussions of the proposed route before the Fellowship leaves Rivendell, we know that the aim is secrecy. The main arguments against going on horseback seem to be:

  • A group of people on foot is less noticable than a group on horseback riding quickly.
  • The route that would have made the best use of the speed of horses was through the Gap of Rohan, and that was too dangerous.
  • Horses wouldn't save much time (less than two weeks) on the planned route.
  • Using horses for the first part of the journey would have saved little time, and would have meant abandoning the horses.
  • Using page number makes it a bit awkward because every single copy is different, I'm aware you've cited the copy but still. – Edlothiad Jun 27 '17 at 11:00
  • @Edlothiad I agree that having so many different editions make page numbers less useful. I didn't used to include them in LoTR citations, but I decided recently that they are still (marginally) useful. – Blackwood Jun 27 '17 at 11:34
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One point that's not mentioned is that the Fellowship is leaving Rivendell at the beginning of winter, and are planning to cross a high mountain pass. You need to appreciate that horses need to eat, and eat quite a bit. (Ask anyone who pays feed bills :-)) There's going to be very little if any grazing for them on the planned route, so they'd have to carry hay & grain. As a rough estimate, figure that an average horse might go through a 100 lb bale of hay per week (plus some grain), and can carry about 200 lbs. So they'd need 9 horses to ride, plus 9 pack horses to carry food for one week.

While Boromir and Legolas came to Rivendell on horses, they did most of their journeying earlier in the year, and at lower elevation, so their horses could graze. IIRC Boromir lost his horse about halfway through his journey, while Legolas came along a route used at least somewhat for trade (Bilbo gets things from Dale for his birthday party), where there would presumably be opportunities to get supplies. e.g. from the Beornings. And likewise for the Hobbits' ponies, when they left the Shire.

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