War Horses in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages is one of the longest historical periods which lasted from the end of the 400s to the 1400s. Naturally, many changes took place during this period and it was also during this period that many Countries became Christian countries, which also has an impact on how horses lived during the Middle Ages.

From wild animals to domestic animals

As early as 6-7000 years ago, the horse began to be domesticated and from being an animal hunted for its meat, it eventually became one of the most popular domestic animals. During the Bronze and Iron Ages, the horse belonged only to the very upper echelons of society.

It was the chiefs, noblemen and women who were said to be able to perform magic who also had access to the horse. In the Middle Ages, however, this changed and the horse became an attribute and a symbolic animal for knights and others. In Naples and in the Papal States, horses were not allowed to be used for various simple tasks or for farming. However, it was different in the rest of Europe and here at home in the Nordic countries where the horse was the pride of the peasantry and played a significant role in enabling them to carry out tasks that were previously too hard for a single farmer. As a means of transport, of course, the horse was fantastic and it was now possible to cover larger areas than before when needed.

In the Middle Ages, however, horses were relatively small, the height of the mane was only about 135 centimetres and it was particularly reminiscent of today’s Icelandic horse, among other things. Today’s horses are around 150 and 170 cm and this makes the horse one of the domestic animals that actually expanded its adult weight during the Middle Ages. There were a lot of horses in Sweden during this time and in fact so many were exported that they also had to start importing horses from Spain and northern Germany, for example, which were larger and fatter than the Swedish ones.

During the medieval period, there were no great difficulties in breeding different types of horses. These new types of horses were named after different characteristics or the region they came from. During the Middle Ages, the aids used for the horse also became better and more comfortable, stirrups, saddles and bits are some of the things and in fact there is not much difference between what we use now and then. At the end of the Middle Ages, the strength and speed of the horse was also practised and the very first jousting games saw the light of day.

In the later part of the Middle Ages, many people needed bigger and stronger horses that could carry a knight with proper armour, while the peasants, however, were happy with slightly smaller horses as they did not cost as much to buy or run. To put this in perspective, a medieval workhorse suitable for farming cost between 3-6 marks. However, a larger and more robust horse suitable for a knight cost between 24 and 140 marks. An absolutely staggering sum considering that a servant earned 1 mark, in a whole year!

War horses in the middle ages

Middle Ages Horses were not divided into breeds during the Middle Ages. Instead, they were divided into groups based on the horse’s purpose. Battle horses, transport horses, speed horses, and farm horses all existed. Although efforts to produce horses of a similar size to medieval horses have been made, medieval battle horses have become extinct. If he could afford it, a knight would have a stable of horses. There are four main sorts of horses that an army would deploy during a conflict.

The Destrier

The Destrier was the most expensive horse, and only nobility and knights could afford it. Destriers were large horses that were usually employed only in battle. A destrier has to be quick, agile, and powerful. It had to be able to handle a lot of weight because the horse had to carry not only a fully armored knight and his weapons, but also its own armor. Destriers were referred to be “giant horses,” yet there is little information regarding their size. The typical height of a medieval horse was roughly 120 to 140 centimeters, thus they were almost certainly taller. Scholars have calculated that a destrier stood between 150 and 160 centimeters tall based on medieval horse armor.

A knight’s battle horse could not be so tall that he required assistance to mount it. Even though the knight was wearing full armor, if he was knocked off his horse during battle, he needed to be able to hop back on the horse.

Destriers have been specially trained for battle or contests. The destrier would be trained to respond to pressure from the knight’s legs since a knight riding into combat needed his hands free for fighting. Destriers were taught to bite and kick on demand, as well as trample downed foes.

Destriers were uncommon and, as a result, knights sought them out (if they could afford them). Destriers were also employed in jousts at tournaments.

The Palfrey

The palfrey was used for rituals as well as for riding, traveling, and hunting. It might even be employed in battle by knights if necessary. A well-bred palfrey can be as expensive as a destrier.

The palfrey was much smaller than a destrier. It was both shorter and longer at the same time. Riding a palfrey was far more pleasant, and noble women preferred it as a riding animal.

The Courser

Coursers were quick horses with a lot of stamina. They were frequently used by messengers and anyone who needed to move fast. They were not as well-trained as the palfrey or destrier, but they were also much less expensive.

Because it was swift, strong, and agile, many knights who did not have access to a destrier preferred to ride a courser into combat.

Armor for Horses

Horse armor is known as barding, and the quantity of armor worn by a horse was determined by the expense and the horse’s ability to wear the armor. Cuir bouilli (boiled leather), padded fabric, or steel were used to make the armour. Horse armor was most typically worn at tournaments rather than in warfare. Armor for horses weighed roughly 32 kilos on average.

There were various types of armor, each of which was designed to defend a certain portion of the horse.

Trappers, sometimes known as caparisons, were made of leather or cloth and hung over the horse’s back. Trappers could reach the ground and even wrap the horse from head to tail in their nets.

The peytral covered the horse’s chest area and may reach all the way back to the saddle.

Chamfron: This was a crucial element of a horse’s armor, designed to protect the horse’s head. It was sometimes embellished with horns or other motifs, which were usually constructed of leather or metal plates.

Flanchards: Flanchards were created to protect the horse’s flanks. The flanchards were normally fastened to both sides of the saddle and featured side openings for the knight’s spurs.

Crupper: The crupper (also known as the croupier) guarded the horse’s back.

Criniere: The criniere was made up of segmented plates that were worn around the horse’s neck.

Horse armor was frequently ornamented, and the colors of the knight who owned the horse were commonly displayed.

War horses were an essential part of a knight’s arsenal. They were also valuable prestige symbols, and every knight aspired to buy the finest horse he could purchase.

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