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How to get one of Red Dead Redemption 2’s best horses early, for free

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This is an upgrade worth your time

Your horse is your one constant companion in Red Dead Redemption 2, and it helps to have a good one. Missions that involve racing or chasing someone are easier when you have a fast horse with a lot of stamina. Missions that require fighting on horseback will go better if your horse has decent health.

The Tennessee Walker horse you get at the start of the game is good-natured and easy to ride, but it is not a very good horse. It has a slow gait and is very frail. The draft horse you get during the “Exit, Pursued by a Bruised Ego” mission in Chapter 2 is only a little bit better. Indeed, the best horse you can buy in the early part of the game, a Dutch Warmblood workhorse, has a lot of health and stamina, but is still pretty slow. And it costs $450.

Luckily, there is a much better horse — one of the best horses in the entire game — that you can get for free once you have completed the “Exit” mission and are given access to stables.

Here’s how you get it, and why you want it.

Arabian Horses are the best horses

Horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 are put it into categories to tell you what they’re good at. Those categories are riding, draft, work, race and war. They also have handling styles, to give you an idea of how they ride. Those styles are standard, race and heavy.

Arabian horses, however, have their own category — “superior” — and their own handling style, “elite.” You want an Arabian horse, but the path to acquiring one isn’t easy.

The best horse in the game is the rose gray bay Arabian horse, which is rated 7 in health and stamina, and 6 in speed and acceleration. Health and stamina can be increased by three points through horse bonding, and speed and acceleration can be increased by two points with stirrups, so this horse will reach 10 health and stamina and 8 in speed and acceleration once you have kitted it out and fully bonded with it.

The trouble is that it doesn’t show up for purchase in a stable until very late in the game — you can only buy it in the epilogue, after Chapter 6. And it will cost you $1,250 once it’s available. You can buy a black Arabian horse with a 6 in every stat in Chapter 4 for $1,050, but that’s still a big investment in time and money.

Focus on the white Arabian horse if you want the best upgrade possible as quickly as possible.

Why the white Arabian horse is so good

You can tame the white Arabian horse as early as Chapter 2, and it has the same 6 in speed and acceleration as the other Arabian horses, but only a 6 in health and stamina. This means it will have an 8 in every stat once you’ve fully bonded with it, which is a big improvement over every other horse you can buy during the early chapters of the game.

In contrast, the $450 Dutch Warmblood has 5 health and 6 stamina, but only 4 speed and 3 acceleration. The white Arabian also blows away the Ardennes War Horse you might have gotten for pre-ordering the game, and the Dappled Black Thoroughbred you got if you bought the Special Edition or the Ultimate Edition.

Once I was fully bonded with the white Arabian horse, I was able to complete the sixth horseman challenge, which requires you to ride from Strawberry to Saint Denis in nine minutes without touching water. My plan is to ride the white Arabian until I can get the rose gray bay Arabian late in the game.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - map marked with path from Valentine to Lake Isabella
Head to the western bank of Lake Isabella to find the white Arabian horse.
Rockstar Games via Polygon

Where to find the best horse

You will find Lake Isabella in the western Grizzlies in the state of Ambarino — the snowy, mountainous area in the far northwest corner of Red Dead Redemption 2’s map. The white Arabian horse hangs out on the western bank of the lake.

Manually save your game before entering the area. The horse will bolt if you fail to tame it, and it can be hard to find again.

The white Arabian is flighty and nervous, but you can break it the same way as any other wild horse if you’re patient. Approach it very slowly, so you can hit the square/X button to calm it as soon as it starts to get anxious. The horse will try to buck you off once you mount it, so be ready to hit the left analog stick to further calm it and stay on. Then it’s just a matter of putting your saddle on it.

While you’re in the area, consider catching the legendary fish in the lake or hunting the legendary white bison on the eastern shore. The first clue to track the bison is on the island in the middle of the lake.

Why the horse is worth the effort

The fully bonded white Arabian can run long distances at its impressive top speed, and it feels almost like a cheat code as you crisscross the map while doing missions or challenges. A horse this fast is a big upgrade during the early hours of the game.

Keep in mind that there seems to be only one white Arabian horse in the game, and horses can die — permanently — if you’re not careful. Make sure to keep some Horse Reviver on hand at all times in case your horse is severely injured, and manually save your game frequently so you can reload to a recent save if there’s some kind of catastrophe.

Your journeys between missions and points of interest will be dramatically shorter than they would be on an inferior horse. Treat the white Arabian well, feed it frequently and brush its coat so its stamina core doesn’t degrade. Pursuers won’t be able to catch you, and targets won’t be able to outrun you. Everything about your early- to mid-game experience will be better.

Go get it right now; you’ll be glad you did.