The best horse in PC gaming

Source: Cook & Becker
Monty 'n Me

I once crossed a river on horseback and thought for certain I would die. It rained the day before and the runoff made the water deeper and faster than usual—some grade-A drowning material. But Monty carried me. He waded up to his neck and carried me through the brute force of thousands of pounds of hurtling water like it was nothing more than a mud puddle. When we reached the other side, he turned back towards me, snorted, and took a dump.

At that moment, I knew I would become a videogames writer.

And no one understands the value of a loyal, healthy horse companion better than PC Gamer. They’ve helped us scale vertical cliffsides in Skyrim, disable tanks with their poops in Metal Gear Solid 5, and be less angry than normal when we couldn’t fast travel The Witcher 3. They’re also very pretty and I like the noises they make. 

But the time for sharing the love is over, as we've decided to declare the best horse in PC gaming through rigorous horse analysis. Tuck that shirt in, champ your bit, and let’s ride.

Round 1: Gait

The Appaloosa Horse Club—who sell some great Appaloosa-themed Idaho license plates, by the way—are my go-to for equine facts and criteria for showmanship and competition. To have a baseline acceptable gait, and I’m judging by Western style riding standards, a horse must “move straight and true at the walk.” Some horses, in games and real life, skitter at the sight of a small rock or pull over to snack on tall grass whenever they like. They’ll zigzag on easy terrain and take alternate paths on a whim. The perfect videogame horse knows where you want to go before you do. It can’t turn on a dime, but eases into your key presses without hesitation, and won’t tear off into the woods without checking with you first. Riding a horse is an exercise in trust, and if your horse is coded to be an erratic jerk, there’s nothing true left to walk for.

Roach: If Roach’s gait were true, I’d trust her, but damn, if I give Roach the smallest bit of leeway, she’s happy to take me on a trip down whatever fork in the path she feels like while clipping every fruit stand and fencepost on the way. 

Battlefield 1 horse: With reliable, steady gaits and just enough resistance on the reins to make them feel alive, the Battlefield 1 horses are great companions to ride. But in the trenches their surety and truth dissolves into nothing. Once they’re stuck in a trench, their otherwise reliable trots trot off while I jam the keys and fruitlessly try to lead them by the reins with my gun hands. War truly is hell.

D-Horse: It’s hard to properly assess D-Horse since most of Metal Gear Solid 5’s terrain is fairly flat, but even at top speeds, D-Horse keeps a steady back. When it comes to obstacles, though, D-Horse is a fickle creature, uncertain where to go or what to do with the slightest bump in the path. There’s a reason you can send D-Horse into the sky with a fulton parachute on demand. 

(Winner) Skyrim horse: Skyrim horse does not falter. They’ll try to climb cliff faces, invisible walls, visible walls, and even fly with the right console commands. (Every good horse knows a few console commands, eg AddShout Giddiyap, ModApple +1000, AntialiasMane_ON.) Problem is, they move like personal gravity isn’t a thing, trotting in a floaty way that highlights how their pace doesn’t match the length of their gait. But an odd, unrealistic gait doesn’t matter so long as it’s true and straight, which makes a loose adherence to gravity a pretty handy tool against mountainsides in your way.

Round 2: Mane attraction

Let’s talk about hair. There are a few traditional ways to groom and prepare a horse’s mane, and while they all serve a specific purpose, there is one objectively best way to do it: braiding. It utilizes the horse’s natural mane to make an impossible maze of mesmerizing, twisted strands while also keeping the hair out of way of riding implements and impacting the horse’s performance. Other methods include pulling or thinning, in which the mane is trim that still has weight and substance, but barely fills out half the nape, which is a horse crime. Banding uses rubber bands to make your horse look like a big joke, one tiny clump at a time. In a videogame, a mane shouldn’t make you laugh, it should make you feel unworthy and grateful because it doesn’t matter if you have level 99 dragonbone armor—you only look as good as your horse does.

Roach: In the complex horse lexicon, roach actually means to shave a poor creature’s mane down to its neck. But in The Witcher 3, Roach actually has a fairly lengthy mane. Geralt is definitely going for irony, but to use an otherwise healthy horse’s mane and its identity as the butt of a joke shows the two have some work to do before they can even take mane fashion seriously, let alone riding.

Battlefield 1 horse: A thinned mane isn’t a great starting point for this war boy, but with some subtle hair physics and a few longer loose strands, it looks like the Battlefield 1 horse has had a few weeks to let things grow a bit wilder than normal. If only a little wild was enough.

D-Horse: With a pulled and thinned mane, D-Horse won’t stop any single horses in their tracks, but his hair is functional and sleek despite its simple, compromised design. That said, after completing the game you get can equip the optional Furicorn skin, which gives D-Horse a demonic obsidian mohawk. It’s not exactly elegant and there’s no subsection in the Appaloosa Horse Club Handbook stating criteria for ideal rock spine arrangement, but it’s 100-percent better than roaching the sucker.

(Winner) Skyrim horse: Mods don’t disqualify horses from presentation categories since combing through arcane folders and unzipping files requires the exact same skillset as running a comb through a horse's mane. And with a few mods, you can give your Skyrim horse the braided mane they deserve. I can’t find a mod that does that, which falls to the community, but I understand the difficulty of making something so impossibly perfect. The potential for one to exist is enough for Skyrim horse to take the cake here. The Immersive Horses mod is a good starting point, bringing new breeds, commands, and some gorgeous natural manes to the table.

Round 3: Life Force

You won’t find this section in the Appaloosa Horse Club Handbook, but I have no doubt it’s a regular topic of debate among the board at every monthly potluck (Deborah makes some mean scalloped potatoes). When a good horse trots into a room, people turn their heads and recognize that yes, this is a horse, four legs, hooves—the whole rigamarole. A great horse trots into a room, though, and people know it without looking. They feel it. Also, they smell pretty bad, so that helps. But the ideal horse should carry an unseen energy, an inner glow that says, I’m a horse, my legs are big, and rivers are very easy to cross. Sidenote: can I have an apple? In videogames, this comes across best when a horse behaves like it isn’t a wire mesh and a few shades of brown.

Triangle of Truth

Don't stare directly into it. 

Roach: There’s life force in Roach, but not in the ways that align with horse excellence. Were Roach to attempt what insiders call the ‘Triangle of Truth’ by walking the perimeter of a triangle in alternating walks and trots, he’d no doubt veer off path and into a pile of monsters, then get spooked and rear back, knocking Geralt to the ground. It’s a good demonstration of personality and life, but not in the ways that make a virtual horse an excellent riding and emotional companion. 

Battlefield 1 horse: The Battlefield horse has some pretty good idle animations. It whinnies, shakes out its mane, and flicks its tail. But you could drop a nuclear bomb half a mile away and they wouldn’t flinch. During a terrible twist in which I turned on my own horse, convinced they were a robot or phantasm assuming the visage of a horse, I held a flamethrower to their face and emptied the fuselage. What I found inside was unspeakable.

Skyrim horse: There’s no need to peer inside the Skyrim horse’s head to know it’s an empty vessel. While it’s the most mobile and powerful of every videogame horse, it sacrificed soul for functionality and took on the traits of a big hunk of styrofoam in the process. 

(Winner) D-Horse: I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday (not apples or barley, so what could it be?), but I can recall something someone said in a film theory class I took nearly a decade ago. Showing someone on the toilet in a movie is one of the most effective tools in establishing the diegesis, or universe, of the film. Doing so implies that this person ate off camera, went through the digestive process, and had to perform a mundane, regular, and highly relatable ritual. Similarly, by showing us D-Horse defecating and letting us use that to spin out jeeps so we can parachute them into the sky is key in establishing the sense that Metal Gear Solid 5’s world is a real place, as ridiculous as it is. Thanks to a stinky keystone I can envision D-Horse as a creature with its own desires and daily minutiae, and a livelier companion to spend time with beyond simple transportation and daily horse proximity needs.

Final Round: Graphics

For the final round, we’ll be reviewing what makes every videogame horse really stand out: the graphics. Graphics, as the Appaloosa Horse Club defines them, are “the polygons defining the wire mesh of a horse, the textures defining the color and features of the horse, and how those elements are in conversation with one another.” A few pages later, they summarize, stating each horse, “...should look pretty rad at 140Hz.” We couldn’t agree more, but it’s also one of the more difficult categories to rate, since every horse is beautiful, unique, shining, and eternal, and as such should be graded according to its own scale and not in any competition at all, actually. Oops.

Roach: Very Polish-ed. Huge, detailed muscles, but has a head that clips through physical objects, including its own body. Not a great look for a horse.

D-Horse: A very regular model with light contouring to give the impression that this horse could be lifted into the sky via parachute with ease. Good butt.

Skyrim horse: With a few mods they can look real enough to reach out and touch, or like a sabertooth tiger wearing cyber armor, a very rare horse indeed.

Battlefield 1 horse: Looks like a very realistic horse from the outside. Cosmic horror on the inside.

Winner: All horses

PC Gamer's pick for Best Horse goes to...

Skyrim’s horses take the cake, despite having dated animations and eyes deader than a mudcrab. They win because they’re the most expressive and diverse of the bunch thanks to mods. Granted, it’s never about what you want, but what you can do for them.

Source: Immersive Horses YouTube video by Brodual

If a horse wants to be a flaming hell skeleton, it can. If it wants better animations, it can have them. If it wants a lush river of a mane, no problem. What color? We have them all. Skyrim’s horses can grow to the size of a mountain and snort to slay dragons. They can be smaller than an apple, which is sort of every horse’s dream, really. They can become deities of Skyrim, perfect in every way (except for the smell, that’s always going to be part of the deal). 

The only thing modding can’t do for a horse is program it to respect you, but a real horse’s mind is just as insurmountable, deserving of dedication and patience and no other expectation than for the privilege to simply get to and fro. Also, the Battlefield 1 horse was pretty cool, but I just couldn’t get over how creepy their eyeballs look from the inside.

James Davenport

James is stuck in an endless loop, playing the Dark Souls games on repeat until Elden Ring and Silksong set him free. He's a truffle pig for indie horror and weird FPS games too, seeking out games that actively hurt to play. Otherwise he's wandering Austin, identifying mushrooms and doodling grackles.