Importance of barding (horse armour) and lack of it

Nov 2018
2
Istanbul
#1
Companions rode on unarmoured horses, Persians favoured armoured horses I think, and it became the fashion around that area. Eastern Romans used it for a while. I also read that Mongols had their horses covered with lamellar, and the Chinese too. In the middle ages barding was a rarity and later disappeared due to firearms. Most cavalrymen rode on unarmoured horses through the the ages.

Before the age of gunpowder I can understand light cavalry preferring not to cover their horses as they are for mobility, but isn't it very dangerous for heavy cavalrymen to ride on unarmoured horses? One arrow, bolt or a good slash could kill the horse and I figure falling off a horse, especially in the middle of a charge, is not a safe thing. Masses of crossbowmen or archers could easily shoot the horses under the men.

Yet most cavalry still rode on unarmoured horses. I know barding is expensive but surely keeping the warhorse alive would be worth the cost? Not to mention the cavalryman's own safety. How did these heavy cavalry deal with these problems, getting unhorsed?
 
Aug 2014
4,594
Australia
#2
Mobility isn't an issue as much as fatigue; an armoured horse fatigues very quickly. Because of this, horse armour is only viable for a very limited set of cavalry tactics.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2017
722
United States
#3
Mobility isn't an issue as much as fatigue; an armoured horse fatigues very quickly. Because of this, horse armour is only viable for a very limited set of cavalry tactics.
What tactic were these?

As far as I understand, cavalry could never smash into ranks like a wrecking ball. Before, I thought that they could, just it was more dangerous and didn't always go well, I figured the armor on the horse would give extra mass to the charge and protect the horse from all the sharp bits that it would be going into and over.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,272
#4
What tactic were these?

As far as I understand, cavalry could never smash into ranks like a wrecking ball. Before, I thought that they could, just it was more dangerous and didn't always go well, I figured the armor on the horse would give extra mass to the charge and protect the horse from all the sharp bits that it would be going into and over.
Psychological facxtors were pretty dominate in infanty/cavalry interactions. Mass just is not a factor..
 
Aug 2014
4,594
Australia
#6
What tactic were these?

As far as I understand, cavalry could never smash into ranks like a wrecking ball.
Of course they can; we have many eyewitness accounts where this happened during the Napoleonic Wars. It isn't guaranteed though. It depends on the situation, the type of horse, the type of training, the intelligence of the horse, whether it is frightened or maddened, and so on.
 
Sep 2017
722
United States
#7
Of course they can; we have many eyewitness accounts where this happened during the Napoleonic Wars. It isn't guaranteed though. It depends on the situation, the type of horse, the type of training, the intelligence of the horse, whether it is frightened or maddened, and so on.
Apologies. I should've clarified.

I meant formed ranks, bracing, armored, and such. Where a horse that would make contact would basically ram its head into a shield or armored chest of multiple men. I read that such a maneuver would leave a horse with multiple broken bones and likely a fractured skull and kill it within a few moments of impact.

A charge a la Rohirrim in Return of the King:
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,272
#8
Of course they can; we have many eyewitness accounts where this happened during the Napoleonic Wars. It isn't guaranteed though. It depends on the situation, the type of horse, the type of training, the intelligence of the horse, whether it is frightened or maddened, and so on.
False. We have extremely few eye witness accounts where this is alledged to have happened. The Odd horse here and there, some enthusiastic accounts. Experienced cavalry commanders repeatedly said horses would not run into a mass of men.

If this was posssible the entire military history of cavalry would be different.
 
Apr 2018
281
USA
#9
What tactic were these?

As far as I understand, cavalry could never smash into ranks like a wrecking ball. Before, I thought that they could, just it was more dangerous and didn't always go well, I figured the armor on the horse would give extra mass to the charge and protect the horse from all the sharp bits that it would be going into and over.
They certainly could. At the battle of Dreux, Conde's heavy cavalry even managed to smash through an entire Swiss pike square and come out the other side without stopping. The theory that cavalry wouldn't physically charge into infantry is generally drawn from the experiences of certain 19th century officers. If you look farther back descriptions of cavalry physically crashing into infantry or other cavalry start to get much more common.

Anyways, as Dan said horses weighed down by heavy armor were more likely to get tired during great marches and were ill-suited for skirmishing, scouting, raiding, ambushing, etc. At the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, most of the english men at arms reportedly had armored barding for their horses but didn't have time to put it on before the start of the battle, and thus took heavy casualties when they charged the scottish pikemen.

Especially as armor got heavier in the 16th, the heavy barded cavalry were increasingly relegated to a secondary role on the battlefield as well, since their horses might only get in maybe one or two good charges before they got tired. They would typically be held in the last reserve with the first attacks carried out by the light cavalry and demilancers only, since they had the speed and stamina to charge and reform over and over again as they wore down the enemy and probed for weak points. The Commander would prefer to commit the fully-armored men at arms only when he was certain they would be able to turn the tide in one go, however it was becoming increasingly common for a battle to have already been decided by the light cavalry or gunfire long before that point, with the men at arms not getting the chance to fight at all.
 
#10
The Mongols used horse armor sparingly. There are stories of Genghis Khan getting his horse shot out from under him during battle, which indicates that even their leader, the guy they'd want to protect the most, rode a bare horse. It was probably just as hard to hit their horses. Their tactics kept them constantly moving in small groups at high speed. While you're aiming at the horses of one approaching unit, another unit might hit you from the flanks before you can even shoot. With that kind of chaos going on around you it would probably be just as hard to hit as horse, despite its size.