When The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released back in 2011, it released as a vast open-world RPG with a metric ton of content, features, and systems that intimately interacted. In 2021, in a post-Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Witcher 3 world, its achievement doesn't stand the test of time, but in 2011, it was an impressive feat. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the development of the game had many bumps in the road. For example, the team at Bethesda Game Studios had a really hard time adding horses and horseback riding as a gameplay mechanic.
According to Lianne Cruz, a developer on the game, director Todd Howard was very close to axing horses and horseback riding from the game due to the issues it was causing the development team. Not only was Bethesda Game Studios having trouble making horseback riding that looked and felt natural, but the feature was causing performance issues with early builds in the game, or more specifically, Bethesda was having trouble rendering the world quick enough for players to ride through it on horseback. This issue, alongside a few others, almost led to Howard canning the feature altogether, noting at the time that it wasn't core to the experience and that if it couldn't be done right, it wasn't worth adding. Further, Howard wasn't keen on the idea of the feature holding back development.
Would Skyrim be a worse game if it didn't have horses? Probably not. But if you're making an open-world medieval RPG -- even if it's more fantasy than realistic-- you need horses and horseback riding. If it didn't have this, it would be a noticeable exclusion. In other words, while it may have not impacted the overall quality of the game, it would have been something players would have likely, at the very least, noticed.
For more coverage on The Elder Scrolls -- including the latest news, rumors, leaks, and speculation pertaining to both The Elder Scrolls Online and The Elder Scrolls VI, and of course Skyrim as well -- click here. In the most recent and related news, the aforementioned Todd Howard recently revealed why the next installment in the series is taking so long.