How Terrifying is it to fend off heavy cavalry (such as Knights,Samurais) with Spears

Sep 2012
A long time ago I had Shogun:Total War on my laptop. In one of the description for the Takeda Faction of the game, it stated something like "The charge of the Takeda cavalry is the ultimate test for even the bravest warrior!"

This really got me wondering. Usually Medieval Movies like Bravehart and RTS games like Age of Empires always show infantry with spears have a huge advantage over heavily armored cavalry elites like Knights and Samurais. As shown in Bravehart, all you have to do is wait for the Knights to charge than you pull your spears and hit the horses. In games like Rome:Total War and Age of Empires, its even more brutally easily to slaughter heavy cavalry-all you have to do is basically have the spearman attack the knights and they should be able to slaughter them with ease.

In fact this easy countering of Knights and elite heavy cavalry by spear infantry as portrayed in movies and games has become so imprinted into popular culture, that many people who don't study Medieval History into detail think that you just have to wait for the Knights to charge your spears and boom they'll get slaughtered as they hit the spears. Basically in their view you just need to hold the spear steadily and you'll be able to slaughter elite knights just like that,

However the quote from Shogun:Total War about the fending off the charge of theTakeda Cavalry(which are the best heavy mounted Samurais in the game) being the ultimate test of courage (even assuming you have spear men), made me wonder-is Heavy Cavalry as easy to destroy with spears as Bravehart and PC games portray?

I read of cases in Medieval Warfare were spearmen-and we're talking about well-trained ones with long spears- would panic and run away even though they assume those killing positions with the spears (like how the Scotts angled their stakes upward) easily. Or if they do hold it off at first, it seems that as the Knights keep coming, there are times when they would just panic and run away (even if it looks like they did slaughter Knights like in the movies and games).

Is it really that terrifying? So many people in today's world-including Military Historians who don't study Medieval Warfare in details and impose modern concepts on the past-think that with basic Discipline and the right position, the elite heavy cavalry should be easy to kill!

I mean things I read in the Napoleonic Warfare states that Horses would not charge at men with mere bayonets that are only add 2-3 inches to the rifles they're attached to.And these rifles with their bayonets are much shorters than the spears traditionally used in Medieval and Ancient Warfare!

So wouldn't the horses be too scared to charge at the Medieval Spearmen?

What exactly made the Knights (and other elite heavy cavalry like the Takeda Samurai) so scary to fight against, even if you're using anti-cavalry weapons that disciplined and trained spearmen would panic and abandon their formations?


Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
So wouldn't the horses be too scared to charge at the Medieval Spearmen?

What exactly made the Knights (and other elite heavy cavalry like the Takeda Samurai) so scary to fight against, even if you're using anti-cavalry weapons that disciplined and trained spearmen would panic and abandon their formations?
War cries, intimidating armour, psychology (reputation, fear etc etc)...


Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
Horses are strong, big, and fast... I've been around small groups of fast moving horses and it is very hard to not get a little bit faster heart rate when they are moving in your direction even if you are fairly sure they have plenty of space to move to the sides. That is probably multiplied when there are far more horses and you know they are coming directly for you ridden by men who want to kill you. However I do think that training and discipline can overcome that for both men and horses. Probably the biggest misconception in the Hollywood image of a cavalry charge is a crowd of horses stampeding full speed into a group of spearmen. It probably did happen in some battles but as a regular occurrence that seems doubtful as it is extremely dangerous for the horses to run full speed into an unmoving object- even one as soft as a human (compared to a rock or tree) and horses are more expensive than the infantry. Falling/tumbling after tripping over the first rank of infantry blunts the rest of the charge. Cavalry in pursuit of fleeing men could certainly gallop full speed but not while formed in close ranks moving into other close ranks. A slow gallop or fast canter is entirely possible however and many horses with some training have no problem doing so. The difference in speed between a full on gallop varies with the breed of horse but a typical top speed is around 60kph while racehorses can achieve speeds of 80kph. A slow gallop or canter would be more like 40 to 25 kph. The force of getting hit even at that speed is quite high- an American football linebacker can hit with speed around 20-25K which is on the low end of the speed above and linebackers mass 1/4 or so of a horse not to mention rider. That much mass moving at that speed would hit with 7,000 to 15,000 newtons of force and while that force is spread over a wide area the inertia of the horse means that the much lower mass man is not going to remain standing unless supported by men behind him.

Perhaps with a couched lance the increase in energy is worth it while the distance the lance adds is enough for the horse to slow from a gallop to a safer speed by the time there is a collision but reenactors who have ridden at speed into groups of men on trained horses report knocking several men backwards and the horse being relatively undisturbed.

Muhlberger's World History: Re-enacting medieval cavalry -- Henrik Olsgaard reports


Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Sure the psychological effect of a charge of heavy chivalry is not to be underestimated.

It was scaring, nothing else.

Anyway, like in many cases, humans can control fear and we are able to act even beyond our "psychological stops".

In history the most known case of shameful defeat by heavy chivalry against infantry was the defeat of the Germans in Switzerland. Swiss troops faced heavy chivalry winning fear and concern and simply using the correct techs and the most suitable strategies.

I would say that heavy chivalry is effective against chivalry, against equipped and trained infantry the best chivalry is the light one, better if equipped with bows [Mongolian light chivalry was deadly, for example]. So a chivalry which avoids the contact with enemy infantry, it gets close, it uses bows to hit the enemies and go back to prepare a further attack.

Medieval heavy chivalry was simply astonishing in the open field, or when the infantry was not prepared to receive the charge. Classic situation is when two wide formations of infantry are fighting on the battle field and squadrons of chivalry charge on the sides. In such a context the knights entered deeply the infantry formation spreading death and terror.


Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
Between a rock and a hard place
Not really a horsey person myself, but a a few hundred horses thundering down on you would certainly quicken the heart beat. i believe we are born with two instinctive fears, falling and loud noises. A charge of heavy horse must be pretty loud.


Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
My own personal experience is that watching a whole bunch of horses galloping toward you is pretty scary (even though I was actually protected by a fence). The sensation of weight is very vivid. You can actually feel them coming - the vibrations come through your feet. Of course back then I knew the horses were going to gallop past. In warfare, they would have ridden right up to me with their riders looking to attack in some way. The effect is to create a sort of psychological freeze where the the horror and fascination of the situation stops you from rational thinking. I've seen the same in a child, who came out of bushes right in front of a horse and rider, causing the animal to want to bolt away. That was a very stressful few seconds, both for the child, the rider, for me (deciding whether to force the issue by rescuing the child and throwing the rider), and for my poor old dog, who cowered in the grass. As it was the rider regained control, the child recovered his wits, and that stupid mother didn't even realise how much risk her child was in, nor that I was willing to risk my neck to save him.

But yes, charging horses are scarey. Size, weight, and aggression matter.
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Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
I am not an expert on it, but didn't those knight train all the time? Weren't they heavily armored? Think the effect might have been more than psychological whatever tehy show in movies and war games.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2010
The Netherlands
Well obviously your first problem are your sources, never believe anything historical that hollywood tells you and never think games come even close to reality.


Ad Honorem
Sep 2012
Valles Marineris, Mars
I think that there was 1 battle in which infantry defeated mounted knights


Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
In my war game, chess, a knight is worth 3 foot soldiers.

I would assume that the armor, horse, and training made a knight more effective.

Movies focus on "man bites dog" stories, and it is a good story when the ordinary guys on foot win.

Knights became less effective against the English lowbow and archers in general and then guns, but they probably did OK against infantry with spears.