Warhorses

Aug 2016
977
US&A
#1
Horses have been used more in warfare than any other domesticated animal. Recently, I've been wondering about how horse breeds might have affected the capabilities of various armies.

Are there any surviving breeds of warhorse out there?

Has the outcome in any battle been largely attributed to the difference in quality between the combatants horses?

What traits were most prized for horses used by heavy cavalry, light cavalry, horse archers, etc?

Do we have specific descriptions of any specific breeds of warhorses?
 
Likes: Niobe
Feb 2019
589
Pennsylvania, US
#4
In the middle ages, you'd often see descriptions of the horses' traits (I.e. palfrey, etc), not really breeds perse... "breeds" come later... you had the destrier (heavy horse), courser (lighter, quick horse) and rouncer (all purpose horse)... the 3 main types of war horses / "chargers" in the middle ages... their names are their traits, essentially. You can take a guess that the destrier was probably similar to Percherons... I almost wonder if the Andalusians are more like courser... lighter and quick. The rouncer may have been something like a Friesian, or similar warm-blood breed.

Viking burials have revealed that the bones of their warhorses are much like those of the Norwegian Fjord or Icelandic horses - both are shorter, stockier, level-headed horses... you could imagine this stature being useful for being transported by boat, but they are also strong enough to carry a 200-250lbs man into battle. I think Fjords are the ideal war horse... they are very brave, smart and darned good-looking (I own two... I'm a bit biased! ;) ).
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,930
Dispargum
#6
Probably not the result of breed, and more the result of culture, training, and environment: In the Plains Indian Wars, Indian ponies were hardier and able to subsist on a leaner diet of prairie grass while army horses had to be fed grain. It effected logistics since the Indians could operate anywhere, but the army could venture out from their forts only as far as their grain supplies lasted. Army horses were faster in the short run, but Indian ponies had greater stamina and endurance. Custer once sent out a patrol that did not return. When Custer went looking for it he found its remains. Hoof prints told him the patrol had stumbled upon a large party of Indians. A chase had ensued. Initially, the army horses stayed ahead of the Indians, but as the army horses tired the soldiers started falling behind one by one. The bodies were strung out along many miles of prairie. There were no survivors.
 
Feb 2019
589
Pennsylvania, US
#7
Probably not the result of breed, and more the result of culture, training, and environment: In the Plains Indian Wars, Indian ponies were hardier and able to subsist on a leaner diet of prairie grass while army horses had to be fed grain. It effected logistics since the Indians could operate anywhere, but the army could venture out from their forts only as far as their grain supplies lasted. Army horses were faster in the short run, but Indian ponies had greater stamina and endurance. Custer once sent out a patrol that did not return. When Custer went looking for it he found its remains. Hoof prints told him the patrol had stumbled upon a large party of Indians. A chase had ensued. Initially, the army horses stayed ahead of the Indians, but as the army horses tired the soldiers started falling behind one by one. The bodies were strung out along many miles of prairie. There were no survivors.
Chlodio, this is so interesting! I never heard this before!

These probably were what were called Cayuse Indian ponies - a separate breed from Mustangs and Spanish Barb... they originated from the horses brought to Canada from France (Percherons, most likely... they are more hardy and have greater endurance still than many of the heavy horse breeds) and mixed with Spanish Barb, resulting in several distinct characteristics - pony height, roan coloring and gaited walk.

Todd Feinman mentioned the Mongol ponies as well.... That pony body type is a very effective one for indigenous people - it's thrifty with feed (“easy keeper”), they have thicker coats in winter, stronger, sturdy legs... they are just heartier. They do not necessarily need to be kept in barns the same way... in my experience, they tend to have less “genetic” hoof issues (but yeah, they can still get thrush, etc).

As people began refining breeds, the battle has always been between stamina and speed. People either tried to balance this as best they can, or to tip the scale one way or the other (thoroughbred = speed over shorter distances... percheron = slower but with stamina to work a full day)... usually what gets added to a horse to accommodate this is height... they push for a taller mount to cover more ground, or to have a large enough frame to accommodate muscle to pull a heavier load. When you see a Clydesdale, you are looking “The” farming breed... on par with the biggest fanciest tractor money can buy today. They were an investment that paid off by them having a purpose (working the earth)... and they cost a small fortune to feed and hay annually. Their selective breeding doesn't really have a good application today... whereas the “speed gene” they traced back to a single mare's DNA from about 300 years ago, is still marketable. The racing industry is a money maker... ergo, fast horses have a future.

You can currently observe how people are ruining (in my not-so-humble opinion) many of the “duel purpose” breeds (horses and ponies used for both riding and driving/pulling... so a nice balance of speed and stamina) as they breed them taller and finer through the legs, stretching them into a “sport body”, loosing the “baroque” (heavier muscles, curvaceous appearance with purpose behind it) look... because people want horses for “sport”... Friesians look like standardbreds with more mane and feathering... Justin Morgan would not recognize his unique horse anymore... it now looks like a Thoroughbred... they are even stretching Fjords. :crying:
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,584
#10
Horses have been used more in warfare than any other domesticated animal. Recently, I've been wondering about how horse breeds might have affected the capabilities of various armies.

Are there any surviving breeds of warhorse out there?

Has the outcome in any battle been largely attributed to the difference in quality between the combatants horses?

What traits were most prized for horses used by heavy cavalry, light cavalry, horse archers, etc?

Do we have specific descriptions of any specific breeds of warhorses?
There were certainly known breeds but the diffusion of breeds we see today was not that well documented though there are certain types of horses referred to regularly and greatly sought after as early as the Persian empire and probably before that though written records grow sparser there are some other evidences.
 
Likes: Niobe
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