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"Vulnerabilty of mounted troops to missile fire" Topic

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718 hits since 9 Apr 2012
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Crocus Inactive Member10 Apr 2012 12:04 p.m. PST

Hi all

Many of the ancient and medieval rulesets I have read and used give missile troops an bonus for shooting at cavalry. This seems to fit with my picture of unarmoured horses peppered with arrows in a "darkening the skies" type of event. Cataphracts are different of course (according to my prejudice, of course!).

But how realistic is it? The local farmer has a retaining order against me since I took the bow out to his stables, so I don't really know what a horse might do if it was hit with an arrow or two. Would they buck and throw the rider, veer away from the pain, collapse in shock? Would your average horse put up with an arrow or two in the flank?

Please enlighten me with your not too graphic opinions.


No animals were hurt in the making of this post.

Altius Inactive Member10 Apr 2012 12:43 p.m. PST

So…. I'm unclear on something here. You took your bow and arrow out to a nearby stable to see what would happen if you shot one of the horses? I'm sure I must be misreading this.

I've never shot an arrow into a horse, so I can't speak from experience, but I can imagine a likely effect. A horse is not much different from any other animal, and so a lot depends on where you hit him. If it's in the right spot, it could kill him outright, or cause him to bleed out. Horses have large necks which are full of blood vessels, nerve clusters, and vital organs, and these make fairly easy targets. Eyes can be shot out. The belly can be hit, with disastrous results. Even if the arrow buries itself in a big muscle mass like the flank or shoulder, it will cause blood loss, weakness and pain. I would not expect a horse to act passively to being shot with an arrow. In any case, the result would be bad.

Pattus Magnus Inactive Member10 Apr 2012 1:10 p.m. PST

I'm going to assume the comment about the farmer and restraining order was a joke – certainly hope so in any case…

I think Altius pretty much summed up the likely effects.

I would also add that severely wounding or killing large-ish herbivores is what bows were originally invented for – their use in warfare was an afterthought. Well, maybe using bows in warfare was a parallel-thought, given that methods of warfare prior to agricultural states were probably mostly a matter of stalking and ambushing the neighbours rather than prey animals…

So, yeah, I think the increased effectiveness vs cavalry is probably legit.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP10 Apr 2012 4:26 p.m. PST

Horses are much more sensible than people – they won't stand around and get showered with arrows if they have the chance to bolt and run

Plus they are a pretty big target

just visiting Inactive Member10 Apr 2012 5:07 p.m. PST

But they are BIG. The kinetic energy imparted to the whole body from a single arrow hit is much less on a horse than it is on a human. Given that any cavalry other than "cataphract" is effectively unarmored, I opt for the effect being considered even. So it is just as easy/hard to affect the given armor class for cavalry as it is for infantry….

just visiting Inactive Member10 Apr 2012 5:11 p.m. PST

Horses are much more sensible than people

No they are not. If they were "much more sensible", they would refuse to be in the battle array to begin with. "The horses are revolting!"

Once the "rebellion" is put down, and the unwilling, sensible equines are pressed into service, and find themselves in the battle line, and find themselves a target area for incoming vollies of arrows: what would you expect the horses to do then? Where can they go to get out of the arrow storm? Back the way they came, like at Agincourt. But that situation is exactly the one to avoid if you are the cavalry: and the great majority of riders are also doing their best to let their horses carry them right out of the dead zone….

Mako11 Supporting Member of TMP10 Apr 2012 5:15 p.m. PST

I suspect all of the above mentioned, when they start getting hit with sharp, pointy things.

They'll probably be uncontrollable, and likely throw their riders, trying to get away from the arrows, and not knowing which way to run, or who is poking them.

Keraunos Inactive Member10 Apr 2012 10:38 p.m. PST

when you look at the pattern of horse armour, you get some idea of the effectiveness.

early armour on horses was about protecting the valuable horse – such as steppe horse armour – from its main threat – steppe horse archery.

even horse archers themselves started to aquire horse armour at one point.

similarly, the response to english longbows by the french knights was to dismount and walk into the battle.

As armour got better, you saw late medieval horse barding – all attached at places on the horse where it stopped archery.
and when the change to gunpowder came, that horse armour was dropped.

so yes, its the horse which is vulnerable, and the use of armour to protect that horse proves it.

Lion in the Stars11 Apr 2012 2:48 a.m. PST

You'd protect your horse, too if it cost you the equivalent of several years income (or your life/livelihood)!

The Last Conformist11 Apr 2012 6:32 a.m. PST

The kinetic energy imparted to the whole body from a single arrow hit is much less on a horse than it is on a human.
You're not trying to knock the horse over, you're trying to panic it and/or puncture something important (like a major artery). Kinetic energy relative to mass is not a critical variable here.

(Kinetic energy relative to some average depth of tissue to penetrate before hitting something important should matter, however.)

John D Salt11 Apr 2012 11:04 a.m. PST

ISTM from a crude P(hit) modelling perspective that there are two contrapuntal effects here. On the one hand, the horse plus rider is a larger target than a person alone. On the other, horse will I expect be moving substantially faster through the dangerous area. For a shot aimed at an individual target, the question is which effect carries the greater weight -- and I expect, on the basis of the SWAG method, that pace outweighs increased target area.

On the third hand, I doubt that most anti-hoss archery was aimed at individuals, so the question is more one of the packing density of a horse formation as against a foot one. Again my SWAG would be that the numbers favour the horsies.

If anyone would care to invent some numbers on the presented target area of a horse, in square metres, the movement rates of horse and foot crossing the arrow-struck zone, and the expected angle of fall of the arrows, I might feed them to the P(hit) calculator and guess some comparative numbers. Alternatively, presented target areas and packing densities might give a clue more directly.

As to the wounding effect of a hit, I will only comment that herbivores (prey animals) are evolved not to behave in ways that show injury, whereas carnivores (hunting animals, and quite often prima donnas like cats) can make as much fuss as they like. I would therefore expect horsies yet again to show up to advantage when compared with their riders.

All the best,


Patrice Inactive Member11 Apr 2012 1:22 p.m. PST

Wounded animals continue to run as much as they can.

But many humans faint, or at least stop fighting to care after themselves, when they see an arrow sprouting from some part of their body.

Altius Inactive Member11 Apr 2012 2:08 p.m. PST

As to the wounding effect of a hit, I will only comment that herbivores (prey animals) are evolved not to behave in ways that show injury, whereas carnivores (hunting animals, and quite often prima donnas like cats) can make as much fuss as they like. I would therefore expect horsies yet again to show up to advantage when compared with their riders.

I may be comparing apples to oranges here (and also may be misunderstanding the part about "not to behaving in ways that show injury"), but I've gone deer hunting before and you do get a definite reaction from the deer when you hit it, although you can't always tell if it's bolting due to fear or due to the fact that you hit it.

Also, my family owned horses when I was growing up. I never shot arrows, BBs, or rocks at any of them but I am almost certain that they would flinch, jump, buck, or otherwise register pain. I have seen horses injured, as well as horses that are afraid. In those moments, they become loud, flailing, wild-eyed animals who will definitely let you know that something is wrong. I can guarantee you that a horse will not quietly and placidly accept a serious injury such as an arrow. They are not machines.

Crocus Inactive Member12 Apr 2012 1:42 a.m. PST

All this is great stuff – thank you for your time. I am, however, not really any clearer about the key question: would a horse hit in the flank by an arrow descending from unaimed shooting bolt, crumple or shrug it off? Would a single non-critical arrow strike disable that cavalry man? The evolution of horse armour line of thought is most convincing to my mind, but its all hypothesis…

Off to the piggery with my can of petrol to test out the incendiary pig hypothesis..

Personal logo Grand Duke Natokina Supporting Member of TMP06 May 2012 11:57 a.m. PST

Besides hitting the horse and causing him to disorder ranks, the man/horse combination is a much bigger target than a man on foot. This is probably one reason for the bennie for hitting a mounted target.

Lewisgunner Supporting Member of TMP07 May 2012 1:24 a.m. PST

An article on the battle of mansourah in the most recent Slingshot describes Crusader crossbows in action against the Mamlluks. I think part of the reason that they are effective is that the horse is a major part of the cavalryman's wealth, both actual and social and, if you are expecting to fight mounted, a major part in him playing his part in the battle and taking part in the gaining of honour and hopefully looting. Being shot off your horse is to be reduced to being a footsoldier, perhaps in a very open and exposed position.
Of course, if you are a very motivated risk taker like a knight those considerations may not weigh and you may have a servant following the action with a spare horse. However, for lots of cavalryman the horse is to be husbanded and protected.
So it may not bee just the risk of injury and death to the target that makes horsemen shy from archers, but the deterrent effects on the mind of the rider.

On a point of casualties, at Agincourt the French set up two units of horsemen on armoured gorses to charge the longbowmen. It looks as though they thought that unarmoured horses were unlikely to make it based upon their experience at Crecy and other battles. Clearly the advantage of crossing the ground vquickly was outweighed by the lielihood of death from the longbows.
I'd think that crossbows would be very troublesome to horses too. The short, heavy, bolt has a lot of energy and would be likely very damaging.


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