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"Horsekeeping in the Thirty Years War" Topic

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Gunther von Kessel08 Oct 2020 8:10 a.m. PST

Yes, I mean the animals themselves.
We all read about the exploits of their riders but never hear about the abilities of their steeds that made these possible.

For example: It is said, that a modern horse should on average carry a maximum weight of 20% of its own weight, and that only for two or three hours a day, if I remember correctly. A modern standard horse weights around 450kg, giving you 90kg for your own weight, saddle and bridle.
Pushing the horse further will make it ill or injured after a while and as such turn it unusable in the long run.

Now we have the problem, that the horses were smaller and had to carry more weight than a modern hobby rider.
A cuirassier armour alone adds an additional weight of 30kg to the horse, a saddle another 10kg, the rider 70kg, weapons, clothes, ammunition, personal belongings and so on give at probably another 15kg.

That means 125kg for a probably smaller horse (400kg) with a carrying capacity of probably 80kg. 45kg excess on maybe day long marches.

It should be obvious, that a horse would not be healthy very long, highly deminishing its value in combat.

So, how did they counter this problem? Did they led their horse on the bridle? Did they have replacement horses, as unlikely as it seems? Waggons for the armour and personal belongings? Or did they simply give a Bleeped text and just wondered who lasted longer, horse or rider?

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP08 Oct 2020 8:21 a.m. PST

All of the above. I've read about Gustavus A being able to upgrade his cavalry after access to German horse and his preferential foddering at the Alte Vest that caused losses among his mercenary forces.

KeepYourPowderDry08 Oct 2020 9:58 a.m. PST

I believe that the need for bigger, stronger horses (additional cost and shortage of supply) was one of the factors that sounded the death knell for cuirassiers and the rise of the harquebusier (on top of cost of armour, lack of manoeuvrability of the rider, exhaustion of the rider etc that we tend to think of re: armour) .

There is much discussion of the ability of horses in Venn's Military and Maritime Discipline (Book 1). I believe the Marquis of Derby wrote a book about horses and horsemanship – whether it is still easily available I'm sorry I don't know.

GurKhan08 Oct 2020 10:06 a.m. PST

I'm reading Pierre Picouet's "The Armies of Philip IV of Spain, 1621-1665", which of course includes the Thirty Years War; and he several times quotes strength figures for cavalry units that include a significant proportion of dismounted men. So in many cases, it looks like they did just push on until the horse died. (An example, p.160, five regiments of cavalry in Catalonia in 1644 fielded 3,356 mounted men and 602 dismounted.)

Which leaves me wondering what such dismounted troopers did on the battlefield. Stay back with the baggage? Form up with a nearby infantry unit? Run along beside the horses like cuirassier-armoured hamippoi?

General Kirchner08 Oct 2020 11:57 a.m. PST

fascinating topic, and for one i am curious to read more on.

the "human" factor is so clearly lacking in so many wargames, and that horses are so much more than just a truck with legs really should be more of a factor as well.

I have seen mentioned that horse disease was a big reason for the splitting of the two french armies in disposition right before blenheim, several times, but not really discussed at any length.

Napoleons dismounted dragoons are another.

WWII horses dying in staggering numbers as well as ACW shortages.

please give me more if you find anything.

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP08 Oct 2020 12:08 p.m. PST

I imagine it had a lot to do with the familiarity of the rider with horses more generally AND whether the 'trooper' supplied his own horse. The other consideration is remounts and more generally if you don't look after your livestock your troopers become infantrymen.

Commanders in the 30YW seem to be largely professional full-time soldiers (many of them mercenary) and their military effectiveness would be short lived if they didn't care about their army's effectiveness. I'm sure there will be notable exceptions and perhaps becasue they are both exceptional and notable, it gets recorded? Safe-hand commanders who were men of the working day may be considered expected and typical and therefor unremarkable? Just a thought.

Let's assume that people of yesteryear were less sentimental than many of us are today and have a cavalier attitude (no pun intended) toward animals more generally. That doesn't off-set practicality and professionalism. Buffoon commanders have a habit of being replaced over longer wars and campaigns as hard lessons are re-learnt and peoples get better as war.

I an age where colonel proprietors raised troops and regiments from their own purse I'm sure they projected enforced care over their costly property. Compare that to 'modern' state funded wastage such as horse neglect in the Boar campaigns of the early 20th century where troopers and officers may not have been as familiar with the requirements of cavalry campaigning in unfamiliar terrain.

In campaign terms I doubt cavalry were as rapidly mobile over sustained periods than wargamers might assume. Rest,recovery availability of forage and remounts have always been a real consideration. In previous periods most cavalry rode on a palfrey but fielded on destriers and I suggest a similar system persisted from one generation to the next.

It's an excellent query and a fascinating subject. A mini campaign taking these factors into consideration could be fun.

jwebster Supporting Member of TMP08 Oct 2020 1:00 p.m. PST

There's a "race" here that is 100 miles across rugged terrain. The "Western States" is held both horseback and on foot (different days). There's probably a lot of material out there about how to train your horse for the event which I think would be very relevant.

Horse fitness isn't the same as people fitness (and not many wargamers do people fitness well …). Things I know

  • If you push a horse too hard, they will die, rather than refuse to go further
  • Very dependent on quality of food and availability of water. Horses are often not smart enough to drink enough when water is available ..
  • Horse can do short bursts of energy (charges) but this wears them down a lot. Rules that model fatigue are on the money, but it's hard to do well.
  • If riding all day, horses need to transition between speeds, hence the need to get off and walk at times


Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP08 Oct 2020 7:27 p.m. PST

Excellent points John. You have already made me think about how to represent cavalry limitations in a table top game. I'm thinking something like cavalry having to spend minimum numbers of turns at rest throughout a game? Say, they must rest for three turns across a 12 turn game? That would be simple without having to calculate fatigue in movement or combat values. Each to their own. Sky's the limit really.

Personal logo Grelber Supporting Member of TMP08 Oct 2020 7:49 p.m. PST

I can't tell you much about the 30 Years War, but I can give you some things to look for, based on other wars.
1.Cuirassiers and dragoons (at least in more modern times) were mounted on larger horses, which would have made the weight problem less, though it probably wouldn't have eliminated it entirely.
2.In the 1897 war, the three Greek cavalry regiments were short of horses. They tried to buy more from Hungary, but these needed to be trained. Stephen Crane, who reported on the war, mentioned one regiment having a dismounted squadron (a quarter of their men). This sounds like the horses were consolidated into three squadrons, so they would maintain their mobility, and the other squadron just walked, and probably functioned as an infantry company.
3. One World War I cavalry march (when they were in a hurry) involved trotting 20 minutes, walking 20 minutes, and halting for five minutes. I seem to recall that during the retreat from the Belgian frontier in 1914, British cavalry would alternate walking on foot, leading the horses with riding. So, yes, efforts would be made to take care of the horses, as best they could.+


Gerard Leman10 Oct 2020 12:30 p.m. PST

Now we have the problem, that the horses were smaller and had to carry more weight than a modern hobby rider.

I'm not convinced that the horses were smaller. Horse breeders would have had a bid incentive to breed large, sturdy horses – an incentive that does not exist today. Indeed, certain regions, such as Friesia, were known for their large horses. Whether run-of-the-mill troopers would have been able to afford or otherwise acquire such horses is a different question, but the officers would certainly have been interested, and they, after all, tended to have the heavier armor. See entry for "Friesian Horses" in Wikipedia.

Stoppage10 Oct 2020 3:19 p.m. PST

I understood that the age of the coach (circa 1750s) and the development of post-roads led to breeding larger horses (to pull the coaches).

[These larger horses then enabled the development of proper horse artillery.]

Gunther von Kessel10 Oct 2020 3:32 p.m. PST

Interesting discussion so far!

I also believe that there were different horse breeds for the various cavalry types. Cuirassiers for example would have ridden way larger horses than dragoons. I would even go as far as to say that they pressed cold blooded horses into service to compensate losses.

Also there would be, as mentioned, the question about the quality of the riders. I think we all know Cromwells quote about the quality of the Royalist horse compared to his own. My guess is that at the beginnings of the wars young nobles might have formed the backbone of the units, being replaced by commoners to compensate losses after a time. That would mean lesser men on lesser horses after a while. Of course prestige units like the cuirassiers would be the first adress for the young aristocrats.

But this pure guesswork by me. Only a look in the regimental lists would bring light into this.

But there is something else I remember:In discussion about trotters and galloper Daniel S. mentioned, as I recall, that cuirassiers most of the time in a trott. Given less experienced riders this would make sense as the troopers would not know their horses as much and partially would ride injured animals because they overstressed them, even if they could ride in the gallop.

Cavaliers on the other hand would know the limits of their animals and as such could estimate the outcome of a charge at the gallop. That's at least my theory.

Having more information about that would be great!

Thank you for the information about the rest/ride/lead cycles by the way!

jwebster Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2020 1:38 p.m. PST

Lots of good stuff guys, I'm really learning

@Not so lucky General
The limited number of charges thing in a game thing – it covers at least a day. That's the big difference – people can rest and be ready to go again, horses not so much. There are numerous accounts of charges later in battles being carried out at the trot. The number of charges possible during a battle would depend on the previous condition of the horses, how well fed and rested, the terrain and the duration and intensity of previous charges

@Grelber thanks for the information – the WW1 march is a great example, I didn't know about those kinds of numbers

I think horsemanship might be more important over the long, than the short term. Getting a horse to a battle ready to charge requires more knowledge than staying in the saddle. Horses are quite finicky about food and can get lame with any kind of neglect + saddle sores + other stuff

One thing I have been wondering about recently is how many cavalry charges were full out during the earlier part of the 18th Century. From what I know of the Napoleonic wars, if an infantry unit couldn't form a square in time, they were toast, but I haven't heard about squares being a critical formation in earlier wars. As always, of course, I don't know what I don't know


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