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How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 23 Apr 2011 04:51
by Corporal Carrot
I dont know much about horses, but I imagine that they have a natural inclination to NOT run directly into things if they can avoid it. So how do you get a horse to charge into an opposing army? Does it make a difference if its several cavalry charging together, so that most of them dont have much choice but to go head on? Would a single horse be more inclined to veer off to avoid hitting someone than a group would?

I've heard about some infantry tactics exploiting horses aversion to colliding with things, or stepping on squishy, unstable human bodies, but i dont know if they have any root in reality. Would appreciate some insight from those who know better.

One tactic supposedly used in the american civil war was for infantry to spread out in the face of a cavalry attack and lie down on the ground just before the cavalry reached them, and, apparently, the horses would try to avoid stepping on the bodies, as they prefer solid ground under their hooves instead of meat. (seems far fetched to me, but what do I know?)

Theres also the wikipedia entry for the Lochaber axe, which says:

the hook on the back allowed infantry to hook the cavalry off their horses. To accomplish this, as the cavalry charged, the highlanders would suddenly change formation from a large body, into smaller bodies of men with clear channels between them. The horses would naturally go into these channels, and the foot soldiers would hook the cavalry off their horses

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 23 Apr 2011 06:11
by Ariella Elema
There's a classic article by the military historian Matthew Bennett, "La R├ęgle du Temple as a Military Manual, or How to Deliver a Cavalry Charge."

More recently, the historian Gavin Robinson has been musing about the subject on his blog. He quite sensibly points out that early modern cavalry charges couldn't have worked as shock charges where galloping horses crashed into people. It might make sense to gallop a horse straight at a target if there's a lance sticking out ahead of you, but once cavalry abandons the lance, it ceases to be a plausible way to attack. He finds YouTube evidence to show that horses that crash into people or other horses at speed generally fall and/or get killed. You can read his posts here: http://www.investigations.4-lom.com/tag/cavalry-charges/. I think he has an article on the subject forthcoming.

There's also something early on in the Life of William Marshall about a Flemish mercenary trying to hook William off his horse with a polearm.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 23 Apr 2011 08:29
by Phil C
Also chek out Pluvinel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoine_de_Pluvinel). He was the first noted Riding Master to use "soft" horse methods relying on relationship with the horse rather than dominance to gain control.

Interesting to note that he coincides with massive military shifts to "light" horse where cavalry are used more tacically to harrying tactics from a relatively close, yet not contacting, distance and so greater, and more subtle, control is required.

Pluvinel's theory is essentially what Parelli rediscovered by observation and made famous in the modern riding world.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 23 Apr 2011 09:08
by admin
From 19thC British sources it is very clear that the lying on the ground thing was used by a lot of native infantry in various parts of the world - the Dervishes in the Sudan were famous for doing it in the 1880's. It suspect this works largely because the horse does not want to lose its footing and fall, not because horses give a damn about stepping on meat - most people who spend time around horses can tell you of at least one occasion when their horse has stood on their foot!

Horses also don't seem to have any aversion to shunting into people - I've been barged by horses a couple of times when they have just decided to turn around on the spot. Police use this with their horses and they don't seem to have any issues with running at and into a crowd of people.

In regards to riding a horse into an infantry soldier, this was recommend in the British cavalry - numerous sources state that against a soldier with a bayonet fitted it was generally safer to ride *over* the person, rather than trying to ride past them and hit them with your weapon. It was generally accepted, at least by the mid-19thC, than an infantryman with bayonet had the slight advantage over the cavalryman with a sword.

Lances were used by the British lancer regiments throughout the entire second half of the 19thC, through WW1 and up to the 20's or 30's! British lancers seem to have generally been employed against infantry (to counter the lying-on-the-ground tactic and to counter the reach of the bayonet), whereas they were not considered so effective against other cavalry I think (vulnerable to the cut of the enemy as they passed).

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 23 Apr 2011 13:22
by janner
Verbruggan has some good stuff on this.

here's a review: http://www.arthuriana.org/bookreviews/R ... ruggen.pdf

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 23 Apr 2011 14:38
by Corporal Carrot
admin wrote:From 19thC British sources it is very clear that the lying on the ground thing was used by a lot of native infantry in various parts of the world - the Dervishes in the Sudan were famous for doing it in the 1880's. It suspect this works largely because the horse does not want to lose its footing and fall, not because horses give a damn about stepping on meat - most people who spend time around horses can tell you of at least one occasion when their horse has stood on their foot!

Horses also don't seem to have any aversion to shunting into people - I've been barged by horses a couple of times when they have just decided to turn around on the spot. Police use this with their horses and they don't seem to have any issues with running at and into a crowd of people.

In regards to riding a horse into an infantry soldier, this was recommend in the British cavalry - numerous sources state that against a soldier with a bayonet fitted it was generally safer to ride *over* the person, rather than trying to ride past them and hit them with your weapon. It was generally accepted, at least by the mid-19thC, than an infantryman with bayonet had the slight advantage over the cavalryman with a sword.

Lances were used by the British lancer regiments throughout the entire second half of the 19thC, through WW1 and up to the 20's or 30's! British lancers seem to have generally been employed against infantry (to counter the lying-on-the-ground tactic and to counter the reach of the bayonet), whereas they were not considered so effective against other cavalry I think (vulnerable to the cut of the enemy as they passed).


Yeah, the horse not wanting to lose its footing is what i meant about them not wanting to step on the people lying on the ground. I wasnt suggesting that the horse cares about the people it runs over.

Thanks for the info, guys, lots of interesting stuff. :)

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 23 Apr 2011 19:19
by admin
The other thing I forgot to mention was that running your horse into an opponent's horse was fairly common - the idea being to make it fall over sideways and injure the rider. Polo horses seem quite happy in that kind of rough play, and polo horses are often used for modern jousting etc. Perhaps the temperament of different horse breeds comes into play here as well, as most modern riding horses are quite different breeds to those used traditionally for war. Hunting and polo horses are generally more similar I believe.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 23 Apr 2011 19:39
by Corporal Carrot
admin wrote:The other thing I forgot to mention was that running your horse into an opponent's horse was fairly common - the idea being to make it fall over sideways and injure the rider. Polo horses seem quite happy in that kind of rough play, and polo horses are often used for modern jousting etc. Perhaps the temperament of different horse breeds comes into play here as well, as most modern riding horses are quite different breeds to those used traditionally for war. Hunting and polo horses are generally more similar I believe.


Surely not at full speed though? The collisions between the horses in the videos from the article Ariella posted didnt end well for either horse, and one of them is one horse running into the side of the other, and its the running horse that gets knocked down.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 23 Apr 2011 22:47
by admin
I have no idea, but there are lots of written sources mentioning a horse and man being knocked over deliberately by another horse and man. Most mounted combat is not conducted at 'full speed'.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 23 Apr 2011 23:06
by Corporal Carrot
admin wrote:I have no idea, but there are lots of written sources mentioning a horse and man being knocked over deliberately by another horse and man. Most mounted combat is not conducted at 'full speed'.


Does that go for cavalry charges as well? I'm thinking of the classic charge with couched lances like in Braveheart, where they go at a dead run, full speed, smashing into the opposing army. Was charges like that perhaps done at a slower speed than the full on gallop that is depicted in movies? After all, a lance with several hundred lbs of horse and rider behind it doesnt need that much speed to go through a man.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 24 Apr 2011 00:10
by Phil C
Corporal Carrot wrote:Was charges like that perhaps done at a slower speed than the full on gallop that is depicted in movies?
Yep- there's very little chance of any kind of unit cohesion at those kinds of speed, and riding was/is done "knee to knee" traditionally to maintain cohesion and the ability to target. When I've done light cavalry riding we spent far more time learning to stay close at the knee and at the same pace than we ever did about learning to go at any speed. It's even more important when doing (overly)complicated things like the caracole that involves shooting and leaving in good order.

If galloping is fifth gear then most charges would likely be somewhere around third gear at most- as you say it doesn't take much pace to get a lot of force concentrated in one place when it comes to horse.

I've been chased down by light horse cavalry who, while I was going all out on foot, barely needed to hit second gear to catch up with me over a couple of hundred yards and a light tap on the noggin was enough to upset my balance, a lance or sword simply held on target would have had me pinned with no effort at all. A lot of cavalry tactics is about psychology and morale,facing them is damn scary at any speed, especially when they are en masse.

There's some C16/7th stuff in this article that may be of interest-
http://www.myarmoury.com/feature_lancepistol.html

IIRC Hope includes some horse and pistol tactics in his treatises. Basically aiming to gain the other rider's offside so you can shoot him easily,and using zigzag movements to stop him targetting you while you do it.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 24 Apr 2011 08:07
by Gerald
admin wrote:I have no idea, but there are lots of written sources mentioning a horse and man being knocked over deliberately by another horse and man. Most mounted combat is not conducted at 'full speed'.


Gaspard Le Marchant considered the Heavy Cavalry's primary weapon was the weight of the horse, which is why when he first submitted his and Osborns improved cavalry sabre he intended it for Light and Heavy dragoon alike.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 25 Apr 2011 13:14
by Corporal Carrot
Phil C wrote:
Corporal Carrot wrote:Was charges like that perhaps done at a slower speed than the full on gallop that is depicted in movies?
Yep- there's very little chance of any kind of unit cohesion at those kinds of speed, and riding was/is done "knee to knee" traditionally to maintain cohesion and the ability to target. When I've done light cavalry riding we spent far more time learning to stay close at the knee and at the same pace than we ever did about learning to go at any speed. It's even more important when doing (overly)complicated things like the caracole that involves shooting and leaving in good order.

If galloping is fifth gear then most charges would likely be somewhere around third gear at most- as you say it doesn't take much pace to get a lot of force concentrated in one place when it comes to horse.

I've been chased down by light horse cavalry who, while I was going all out on foot, barely needed to hit second gear to catch up with me over a couple of hundred yards and a light tap on the noggin was enough to upset my balance, a lance or sword simply held on target would have had me pinned with no effort at all. A lot of cavalry tactics is about psychology and morale,facing them is damn scary at any speed, especially when they are en masse.

There's some C16/7th stuff in this article that may be of interest-
http://www.myarmoury.com/feature_lancepistol.html

IIRC Hope includes some horse and pistol tactics in his treatises. Basically aiming to gain the other rider's offside so you can shoot him easily,and using zigzag movements to stop him targetting you while you do it.


Thanks a lot, Phil :)

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 25 Apr 2011 15:39
by Lyceum
http://members.tripod.com/~S_van_Dorst/ ... ranslation

Has some first hand stuff of warfare in there if I recall. I can't find an English translation of the actual training manual, I don't know if there is one, if there's still interest I'll translate some of it when exams are over.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 25 Apr 2011 18:47
by Ivan
Can't remember their names, but two girls from Hammaborg had an excellent presentation on last year's Dreynevent.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 27 Apr 2011 16:07
by Chiron
It does tend to vary as far as breed and temperament goes, a thorough bred or warmblood with high center of gravity would certainly get knocked down if another horse hit them, but something like an Icelander would tend to have a better chance. A horse could theoretically be trained to try and knock over another horse and rider but you would have to have the right horse and give him his head at the right time, a horse at an all out gallop would certainly get wiped out but a horse at a low gallop might be able to control his weight an angle to hit in a way that might not injure him, the other way to go is to train him flick away at the last moment, American indians would ride at a tree and then get the horse to turn away at the very last second. Running into someone negates some of the real value of a horse, when a horse wants to run something down it will go as fast as needed and will bite and strike with its front hooves. I have a horse who would do this to our English setter (I once saw the hose going so fast his belly was scraping the grass, but he only got her once, he stepped on her tail and she sulked for two days) a horse trained to run down a man would be truly terrifying, that plus a lance would truly justify the medieval fear of a knight and his horse. I have an old cowpony who will chase you around the pen for a game, and can change directions at an instant. His favorite trick is to look like he's going to the left of a tree and swerve to right to try and scrape you off on a trunk, a move that could quite easily be used to avoid a lance, a horse isn't a machine (if it was it would make riding a lot easier), it thinks breaths and kicks the shit out of things. Horses fight just as much as humans (the Vikings held horse fights) and I see horses play fighting and ramming each other quite often. They will jocky to get they're chest to the others flank and bite him in the hamstrings or back of the neck or rear and strike a little. Horses can be just as vicious sons of bitches as humans, why have battering ram when you can have a killing machine?
You might want to look at the spanish riding school allot of drussage moves where originally cavalry moves.
sorry for the long post.

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 27 Apr 2011 22:32
by Ariella Elema
Robinson's point about cavalry charges is that the usual movie scenario where a solid wall of cavalry gallops into another solid wall of cavalry or infantry is at best a desperate low-percentage tactic for breaking out of a bad place. With lots of training, you could get the right horse to crash into something head-first, but, given the laws of physics, there is a very high probability that it will be your horse that ends up rolling on the ground, thereby wasting all that training.

Apparently prescriptive sources regarding shock impacts were very common in the 18th and 19th centuries, but there aren't many examples of it actually happening. Have you run across examples, Matt?

Using a horse to body-check other horses or people like a hockey game is another matter entirely. I can personally attest that a galloping horse can shoulder you off your balance without breaking stride. Polo employs equine body checks, but usually only when both horses are travelling in roughly the same direction. The point is to get your opponent off the ball. In combat, there is no ball, so that kind of shouldering is less useful. T-boning another horse in polo is a foul, and tends to result in some kind of injury to the charging horse.

Another example to consider is the highly agile tactics required of a Portuguese bullfighting horse. See this video, for example. (Warning: contains bulls having a very bad day.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgG_Gwy7Ysg

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 27 Apr 2011 23:54
by Phil C
One nifty technique I was taught was a "military quarter turn".

A light touch to the flank with your heel and the horse "hops" on the spot with its rear end in that direction, and ends up facing roughly at right angles from the first position. I doubt it'd have any application at pace but it makes manouvreing in tight spaces much easier ( which is why I use it- for getting out of paddocks &c.) and it is useful to break out of a press or barge others out of the way (which I've done too, as well as to corner loose horses quickly).

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 28 Apr 2011 04:11
by bigdummy
Did y'all see this? It's interesting how the horses are biting at each other etc.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C86d-vGEIDg

Re: How were war horses trained?

PostPosted: 28 Apr 2011 10:46
by admin
Ariella Elema wrote:Apparently prescriptive sources regarding shock impacts were very common in the 18th and 19th centuries, but there aren't many examples of it actually happening. Have you run across examples, Matt?


Maybe.. what's the question exactly? :)