If a low level druid used wild shape to turn into a horse, does it make sense for that character to be able to compete against race horses in a race? As a DM how would you rule that?

Personally, I would say that the druid is at a disadvantage. The druid, comparatively, spends very very little time as a horse. To me, it doesn’t make sense that the druid could keep up in a race with horses, who have been horses their entire lives and have been trained to be a racer. Would the magic of wild shape give the druid any kind of advantage in order to keep up with the horses that have hundreds upon hundreds of hours as a trained racer? If one of your druid players wanted to try this (assuming they did not train or practice in racing of any kind) how would you rule it in game? Would they have a disadvantage, would you treat the race as en even playing field, or wild shape magic give them an edge above the rest?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Bear form would be a good option too, albeit a bit more gory. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stian
    Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 10:48

5 Answers 5


A wild-shaped druid is physically as good as any race horse, and mentally might have other advantages

What is a race horse?

The Monster Manual includes stat blocks for draft horses, riding horses, war horses, and ponies. There are no "race horses" in the rules, but we should not expect that every possible animal has a stat block1. You haven't told us what kind of race horses these are2, but it likely reasonable to take the stat block of a riding horse and modify it3 to make it faster but capable of carrying less weight4.

As you note, race horse breeds are different from other horses in terms of their physical form, and racing individuals are different from untrained individuals in their possession of hundreds of hours of training specific to their kind of race. If a race tests both the natural talent and training of the horse, it will be resolved by Ability Checks:

An ability check tests a character's or monster's innate talent and training in an effort to overcome a challenge.

When an individual with both natural aptitude and specialized training competes, the game represents this by giving them proficiency in a particular Skill.

The Skills entry is reserved for monsters that are proficient in one or more skills. For example, a monster that is very perceptive and stealthy might have bonuses to Wisdom (Perception) and Dexterity (Stealth) checks...Other modifiers might apply. For instance, a monster might have a larger-than-expected bonus (usually double its proficiency bonus) to account for its heightened expertise.

A riding horse has a +2 proficiency bonus, but is not proficient in any skills. A race horse, however, the product of months or even years of training for specific skills, will have its skills reflected in its variant stat block. The specific proficiencies assigned by the DM should relate to the kind of race. For example, horses that have to jump obstacles might have an Athletics proficiency. Horses that have to maintain a certain gait under speed might have an Acrobatics proficiency. Horses that have to maintain speed over long distances might have a proficiency in Constitution checks (and see the Hobgoblin's answer about using the Chase rules).

Physical equivalence

So now our druid, an ingenue to racing in a horse body, attempts to wild shape themselves into a race horse. Can they become an actual race horse, or are they limited to a riding horse form because that has an official stat block?

The wild shape rules say:

Starting at 2nd level, you can use your action to magically assume the shape of a beast that you have seen before.

Note that this is not limited to, for example, beasts in the Monster Manual, or beasts that have an official stat block. Any beast the druid has seen is fair game. Thus, if a druid had never seen a race horse before, they might be limited to the stat block of a riding horse, with its slower speed. But once they have seen a race horse, the druid can adopt that form.

But once in the body of a race horse, specialized for the particular kind of race, will the druid lack the training the other natural horses have? No, because the creature rules in 5e represent this training as a skill, and the druid assumes all the skills of the beast they become:

You also retain all of your skill and saving throw proficiencies, in addition to gaining those of the creature.

So, no matter the hours of training a race horse has had, once a druid has seen the horse, they are capable of changing into the form of a horse with just as much training. This may seem strange or counter-intuitive to you, given your statements that: "it doesn’t make sense that the druid could keep up in a race with horses, who have been horses their entire lives and have been trained to be a racer...the horses that have hundreds upon hundreds of hours as a trained racer?" But it is the way the wild shape rules work; the druid gets to assume the proficiencies of the beast5. If it makes it easier for you, you can consider the advantage of all this training to be subconscious muscle memory and physical conditioning rather than learned behavior.

Thus we can see that at a minimum, a druid is the physical equivalent of a natural race horse.

Int, Wis, Cha

One thing that the druid retains is their Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. Since these are respectively 2, 11, and 7 for a riding horse, most likely the druid's scores are better. Here is where the druid might even have an advantage over natural race horses. Depending on the type of race, and how the DM chose to run it, the wild shaped druid might be permitted certain checks that could influence the outcome. The druid might use an Intelligence (Investigation) to go over the course beforehand, finding areas of loose dirt to avoid or memorizing corners and being able to anticipate them and move to the inside in a race. During the race the druid might use Wisdom (Perception) to note where the lowest spot was on a hedge they needed to jump or Wisdom (Insight) to predict how a competitor might react to a difficult uphill section. They might make a Charisma (Intimidation) roll to get a competitor to back off rather then passing them. Such opposed or unopposed checks could favor the druid over natural horses.

Mounted 'Combat'

The druid might not be the only one on their side in the race. Does the wild-shaped horse have a rider or driver? If so, as an intelligent mount, the druid would need to decide whether it was controlled or not. Submitting to the control of their rider allows them to use the rider's Initiative - and since the riding horse has a Dex mod of 0, a dexterous rider could give the druid an initiative advantage over the other horses - although it would restrict the druid's possible actions. If the druid was independent, however, they would be permitted the Help action, which might benefit a driver needing to make checks, for example a chariot or sulky driver who needed to make Vehicle Proficiency checks to maneuver.

A wild-shaped druid is physically as good as any race horse, and mentally might have other advantages over natural horses.

1 As the Monster Manual says in the Other Animals sidebar:

A book of this size can't contain statistics for every animal inhabiting your D&D campaign world. However, you can use the stat block of one animal to represent another easily enough. For example, you can use the panther statistics to represent a jaguar, the giant goat statistics to represent a buffalo, and the hawk statistics to represent a falcon.

2 You haven't told us what kind of race horses these are - do they run on flat tracks, or jump, or run endurance races over open terrain? Do they bear riders, are they riderless, or do they pull sulkies? Do they bear saddles or handicapping weights?

3 We are encouraged to do just this by the Modifying Creatures sidebar in the Basic Rules:

Despite the versatile collection of monsters in the Monster Manual, you might be at a loss when it comes to finding the perfect creature for part of an adventure. Feel free to tweak an existing creature to make it into something more useful for you, perhaps by borrowing a trait or two from a different monster or by using a variant or template.

4 We can find riding horses in the PHB Mounts and Vehicles. But while there, we note this (emphasis mine):

A good mount can help you move more quickly through the wilderness, but its primary purpose is to carry the gear that would otherwise slow you down. The Mounts and Other Animals table shows each animal’s speed and base carrying capacity.

Thus, while a riding horse stat block might be a 'good enough' approximation of a race horse in combat or other contexts, it should not be representative of the speed of a race horse. The riding horse is no faster than the warhorse, and it can carry loads of 480 pounds, considerably heavier than any race horse would be able to bear at speed.

For a race horse, we should be creating a variant riding horse that is faster but can carry less weight.

5 For example, a druid who had seen only Cows (VGtM) could transform into one and have its strength. But a druid who had seen an Ox (VGtM/MMoM) could assume that form with their wild shape, including their Beast of Burden feature which allows them to pull heavier loads, a trait which presumably is at least in part due to their training and experience as a draft animal.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ I think the point about gaining the target form's proficiencies is the strongest point in favour of magically gaining the ability to coordinate 4 legs when you're used to running on 2, and in general learning to be a horse and move like one. It's not just a pure humanoid mind in a different body with no new muscle-memory like the OP was worried about. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you're listing possible advantages, it might be worth mentioning that a third-level druid can cast enhance ability before wildshaping, to gain advantage on all their checks. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Commented Jan 3 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanB True, and they can maintain concentration on it after the change. But there are lots of possible buffs that the druid or others could give before a race. The spirit of the question seems to be about any benefits inherent to wild shape itself. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Jan 3 at 20:44

You have the same physical statistics as the other horses, except you are smarter.

Wild Shape states:

Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast, but you retain your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores.

By changing into a horse, you inherit all of its physical attributes (strength, dexterity, constitution, speed), but you keep your own mental attributes. That is, you are physically on par with other horses, but you’re much smarter. If anything, it seems to me that would give you an advantage over the other horses, or at least an even playing field, assuming the DM is using one of the basic horse stat blocks.

That said, “race horse” is not a Wild Shape option.

It should be noted that “race horse” is not an official stat block, and is not a Wild Shape option. It seems conceivable that a trained race horse would be uniquely equipped for racing in ways the published horses (draft, riding) may not be. So if the DM wants to rule that race horses are faster than non-race horses, that seems like a reasonable ruling too.

Finally you might take some inspiration from the dinosaur racing rules in Tomb of Annihilation, probably ignoring the part about attacking other racers. They work well for dinosaurs, but may feel a bit empty without the strategy of attacking.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. I suppose what my question came down to is should the prior training of the competition and the lack of training on the players part have any impact on the encounter. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jex
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jex You may have a point, I’m expanding this answer now. Check back in a few. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 20:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jex Since race horse isn’t an official monster (that I’m aware of), it’s really up to the DM. To me, ether ruling seems reasonable here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 20:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ " “race horse” is not an official stat block, and is not a Wild Shape option", how so? If a "race horse" is a beast (how could it not be), and the druid has seen it (probably, maybe even seeing one currently in the situation), and it doesn't have too high CR (seems plausible), it is a wild shape option. There is no requirement of having an official stat block, as far as I could find. That is, DM can't deny the wild shape, instead the DM needs to provide the necessary stats for race horses and use them also for the wild-shaped druid. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 13:05
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp We’ve explored that question before, and it isn’t as straightforward as you seem to think it is. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 2 at 13:28

You can use the Chase rules in the DMG

Wild Shape mechanically gives you the Constitution, speed and modes of movement rate of whatever beast you change into.

When you change into a Riding Horse, you'll have the same speed of 60 feet as any other riding horse. The default monsters that have stat blocks and that you can change into under the rules do not exhibit the same variance in their ability scores that PCs have. All the riding horses have Con 12 when you use them as a polymorph target, unless you can find a published adventure with one that has a different speed or constitution, or your DM makes this available. So you are neither at an advantage, nor a disadvantage in such a race.

That said, the DMG has rules for chases on p. 252 that help to make racing or chase scenes with creatures that have a fixed speed and that would normally be boring and deterministic in outcome more interesting:

A chase participant can freely use the Dash action a number of times equal to 3 + its Constitution modifier. Each additional Dash action it takes during the chase re­ quires the creature to succeed on a DC 10 Constitution check at the end of its turn or gain 1 level of exhaustion.
A participant drops out of the chase if its exhaustion reaches level 5, since its speed becomes 0.

Because the outcomes of these Con checks can be random, these rules can lead to more varied outcomes. Chases (and races) also may have some complications that the DM comes up with — in those situations, retaining your PC's intelligence may give you a leg up vs your beast competitors.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah I wasn’t familiar with those chase/racing rules. Good to know! Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Jex
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 23:01

When you use Wild Shape, you take on the stats of an average member of that species. If you were able to Wild Shape into a human, you'd have Str 10, Dex 10, Con 10. Not exactly viable in a competitive race. A druid Wild Shaped into a horse wouldn't have the superior genetics or exercise regimen of a bred and trained racehorse. You could probably choose a superior breed of horse (Arabian or the setting-appropriate equivalent, for instance), with GM permission, but not a specific pedigree.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Hi MindWanderer and welcome to the stack! If this is the direction you would like your answer to go, you might want to read Can a druid use Wild Shape to take the form of a specific, individual beast? and consider including some of the citations there to support your answer, for example, the claim that Wild Shapes makes you an average member of a species. As a new user, please take the tour when you have a chance. Happy stacking! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 23:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's fair, but the conversation you linked focuses on aethetics and breed. It doesn't cover the question of exceptional individuals. The clear assumption is that you take on the stats in the beast's monster stat block, which are those of an average member of the species. The alternative is that your druid would have to keep a massive laundry list of the exact variable stats of every individual beast they've ever seen, which would be a monstrous task. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 2 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wild shape says that you can assume the form of "a beast that you have seen before" and that your stats are replaced by the stats of "the beast". It does not say whether it is using 'beast' in the sense of an individual or a species. You might find it a "clear assumption" that this is "an average member of the species", but others don't. My suggestion to read the question was so that you could more clearly articulate an argument to support your assumption here, rather than just expecting everyone to agree with you on this point. Ideally, answers to questions here support their assumptions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Jan 2 at 18:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ That the "individual" interpretation requires the druid to keep a list of every exceptional individual they have ever seen is an argument in favor of your interpretation, and as such would improve your answer rather than being left in comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Jan 2 at 18:25

Ultimately, It's up to the DM. If this happened during one of my sessions I'd let them compete on an even playing field. It'd make a great session if the other PCs have bet on the druid as the horse to win and subsequently lose a chunk of gold due to poor rolls by the druid 🤣.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. \$\endgroup\$
    – Community Bot
    Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 19:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted because it’s the first answer that doesn’t only go into the mechanics, but answers what would make for a good race. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 23:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Downvoted because I don't agree that "It'd make a great session if the other PCs have bet on the druid as the horse to win and subsequently lose a chunk of gold due to poor rolls by the druid". I think the druid's player would feel bad because their character had let everyone down, and the other players would feel bad because their characters had failed at something they spent time and energy on. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Commented Jan 3 at 20:12

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