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Horse in the middle ages

The refutation of the myth of the giant medieval “Warhorse”.
The education system perpetuated many myths about the Middle Ages.

Among them – the fact that women had no rights, the armor was incredibly heavy, the growth of men averaged 5 – 6 feet, and all the warhorses were huge – above 17 hand (measure of length “hand” = 4 inch = 10.16 cm )

Research on the breeding and use of medieval horses, and warhorse (a term denoting a war horse) in particular, would show that horses above 17 hands (measured at withers) were not the norm at that time.

Horse in the Middle Ages The most significant problem encountered when trying to determine the size is the one that the “big black mare” is often mentioned in medieval evidence, without other details. “Big” is a meaningless term.

If I have a Shetland pony, 15 Arabs might seem large, but if I have a horse of thoroughbreds, then an Arab might seem small. The first mention of the term “big horse”, according to Davis (pg 88), is found in edict of Edward I in 1252, according to which every landowner with an income of more than 30 livres per year must keep the “big horse” (and armor) ready for war. And again, the term “great horse” does not mean the natural size of this type of horse.

It is often assumed that in the earlier period the “warhorses” was lower, approximately 11 or 12 hands, and that in the later period the horses became larger, approximately 18 hands. In the fifth century Sarmatian burials, horse skeletons were found up to 15 hands (at the withers) (Equis, pg 22). The skeletons of horses found in a Roman fort in Scotland (Equis, pg 25), belonged to animals with a height of 11 and up to almost 15 hand. The 1st-century Chinese considered any horse more than 13 high, “big”, as evidenced by a careful record of imports of Fergana horses, whose average height was 16 hand (Gladitz, pg 107-8). Clearly modern-sized horses existed in antiquity.

On the other hand, Gladitz reports that many horse bones were found in Mongolian burials (pg 90) of the 13th century, which measured an average of 12–13 hands at the withers, and one horse’s skeleton — 15–16 hands. The height at the withers of Germanic horses in the 9th century averaged 13-14 hands (pg 131), and in “medieval” Russia – 13 hand (pg 135). Obviously, small horses were common in later periods.

The size of the horseshoe can tell us something about the size of a horse, if not its appearance or scope.
Hyland (Warhorse, pg 86) examined Norman horseshoes from Hastings in the Museum of London. The average width was 4 1/2 inches.

Hyland compared them with modern horseshoes used on stocky mares, 15.1 hand in height, and found that one set was exactly suitable, and most others came close. Davis (pg 77-8) also researched horseshoes. The horseshoes from England in the 9th century were on average 3 7/8 inches wide.

From the end of the 11th century, the average width was 4 inches, the same width was at the end of the 14th century – 4 – 3/8 inches. It can be assumed that the average horse size from the 9th to the 14th century (at least in these geographic areas) was approximately 14 to 15 hand. I personally studied horseshoes from Germany, dating from the end of the 15th century, the width of which was 3 7/8 inches – and again, there is no way to determine what goals the horse served.

The name of the horse spoke about the scope of its use and was not the name of the breed.
So, rouncey is a riding horse, destrier is a military horse. The Spanish horse at that time is a horse from Spain, regardless of its specific size or appearance. So, “great horse” (“big horse”) is a big (by comparison) horse, not a breed.

In the middle of the 15th century, King Henry VIII proposed 3 acts to Parliament for consideration in order to increase the number of horses available for military use (Davis, pp108-109). The first Act, of 1535, decreed that every owner of an “enclosed park” (land for grazing) should keep two mares capable of bringing offspring whose height would be at least 13 hand. The Second Act, in 1540, decreed that some counties and counties were obliged to place stallions with a height no less than 15 hand next to free-roaming mares. The term “shire horse” (literally, the “horse of the county”) for a large, heavy horse originated in connection with this Act. The last Act, in 1541-2, decreed that people of certain social statuses should have contained at least 7 riding horses, with withers at least 14 hands each.

In several of his books, Ann Hyland makes comments on the adaptation of “bardings” (horse armor). She had the opportunity to experiment with horses of different breeds, from draft horses to her Arabian mares, with a height of 14.2 hands. Armor fits best on her stocky mare (Warhorse, pgs 9-10). In addition, she notes that in Royal Armories at Leeds, England, a Lithuanian (Lithuanian) sledding mare is used, with a gauge of 15.2 hand as a model for their horse armor shows.

Using data on the size of ships and barges that were used to transport horses, Mrs. Hyland (Warhorse, pgs. 145-6) calculated that the average “fighting horse” of the beginning of the 13th century was approximately 15 to 15.2 hand (at withers) and rather chunky. Nowadays, after a number of studies were carried out, especially in warriors’ burials and on the battlefields, it seems clear that the usual existence of a huge horse of “harness” type for use in a war during the Middle Ages is a myth. Indeed, the most modern draft horses are on average 15-16 hands (at the withers).

Only Clydesdale (a breed of draft horses), Shire and Percheron breeds tend to be large (17 hands or more). Anglo Norman, Dole, Groningen, Kladruber, Frederiksborg, Ardennes, Dutch Heavy, Jutland, and many other modern harness types of horses – all on average about 15 hand (at the withers). I finish the list of harness and “slow” breeds (Horses and Ponies) existing in the Middle Ages and their non-permanent, average measurements. All these breeds are “stocky.”

Frieze – approximately 15 hand – may be descendants of horses delivered (to Europe) by the Crusaders. It is known that friezes were used as “warhorses”.

Boulonnais – approximately 16.2 hands – may have been bred from horses brought by the crusaders. Friesian (French breed) that served in the Crusades. Until the 17th century, there was an undersized type, approximately 15–15.2 hand, known as “Fish cart horse”, which was more common. But since then the population has decreased.

Schleswig – also known as Holsteiner (German) – 15.2-16 hand. Already existed since the 14th century, it is known that it was used as a warhorse.

Horse harness and armor
Images and finds indicate that the oldest method of bridling a horse was carried out with the help of a snaffle bit (German Trense). The early medieval bridle (German Zaumung)…


Horse harness and armor
Images and finds indicate that the oldest method of bridling a horse was carried out with the help of a snaffle bit (German Trense). The early medieval bridle (German Zaumung)…


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