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"Cavalry endurance in combat" Topic

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Elenderil10 Oct 2021 11:12 a.m. PST

I'm looking for a source of statistics on how cavalry's endurance and capability degrades over the course of combat. I'm specifically interested in pike and shot period data but anything I can extrapolate from would be useful.

I'm looking to formulate some rough and ready rules on how quickly horses would become blown and so be at a disadvantage in combat, pursuit and general movement.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP10 Oct 2021 1:19 p.m. PST

Not sure about stats but for SYW/Napoleonic heavy cavalry as I recall they would be good for about two charges a day – after which they weren't much use for pursuit/etc until the next day

HMS Exeter10 Oct 2021 5:10 p.m. PST

This is probably one of those situations where existing rules sets have already done your hard work. Submit a new post for people's recommendations for best pike and shot rules with most accurate cav movement/fatigue.

Napoleonic cav was used differently, with different exertion demands, so don't use those.

UshCha10 Oct 2021 7:06 p.m. PST

Elenderil much may depend on how well fed the hores were and their quality. A young lady came into work one day and if I recall she was proud that here horse had done 10 miles in 2 hrs. This seemed somewhat limited as I could walk as fast (at the time) and said so. She replied that her horse was not fed on oats so race horse performance was not possible for a pure grass fed horse.

emckinney10 Oct 2021 11:30 p.m. PST

And how willing you are to push the horse past the point of pain, possibly to injury or death. I doubt she was willing to risk a horse she loves.

Brien Miller over on CSW does reenactments where they're trying to figure out exactly what drills and tactics were. Starts with simple things like spacing between horses!

Thresher0110 Oct 2021 11:50 p.m. PST

Presumably you are talking about horse cav, since armored is limited by fuel availability.

Then of course, we need to know if the horses are armored or unarmored, and if their riders are too?

It would be nice to have some data on how many charges and/or withdrawals they can make, movement into combat, pursuit after melee combat, etc..

RittervonBek11 Oct 2021 4:25 a.m. PST

If I recall correctly the Konig Krieg rules have a useful feature that cavalry which charge and win melees always suffer at least one figure lost as a consequence. This I think is an accurate portrayal of the chaos and damage even victory can bring to the winning side.

jurgenation Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2021 4:44 a.m. PST

I agree w/ two charge or melee rule then fall back to reform.

skipper John11 Oct 2021 5:49 a.m. PST

Wait. What? I know they have charged 3 turns in a row BUT, look at them… they still look fine! These little guys never tire.
And I've always felt that the better they are painted should ad some plusses to the dice too!

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2021 12:01 p.m. PST

For a game it all depends how far detailed is your system. Most are not detailed down enough to truly get the variety and granulity of cavalry combat.
Second, get out of your head films. Entirely. Maybe you can keep the 1936 Balaklava charge, done by real cavalry.

Cavalry attacks most of the time run only a few 100m. Most of the time think more of cats fighting. If Europeans, without the shouts.
See Kriegspiel 1824 for speed, fatigue etc.. Short threats, dashes, mostly trotting, trying to save the breath of the horses and above all, dense line formation.
Unless you go in minute details, you cannot say 1 ,2, 3 attacks. Do the ennemy fold when you came to trot, when you started gallop, when you came closer and closer full of iron determination, weary of you going to charge?
It might be best having dice deliver various results. If the defeated falls back far, he might have more chances of blown horses. Hence the neccessity of you second line.

Stoppage Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2021 12:45 p.m. PST

think more of cats fighting


Thresher0112 Oct 2021 2:40 p.m. PST

For the medieval period (Crecy, Poitiers, Aginchourt), as well as for the Early Italian Wars (1490 – 1525/30, or so), and periods in between, I'm thinking the following rules:

- first charge is "free";

- then, spend a turn or two withdrawing and reforming (depends upon the time-length of your rules – probably should be two separate actions in most rules, e.g., withdraw on one turn, turn 180 degrees and reform ranks on the second turn, and charge once again on the third turn), and lose 1/6th of your force (one cavalryman/cav. stand lost for every 6 rolled on 1D6 for tactical games – if rolling for the entire formation, lose it on a die roll of 6 instead and NO charge occurs);

- withdraw and reform again as above, and lose 1/3rd of your force (one lost for every 5 or 6 rolled) – also check your morale rules to see if you can pass that, since you've now suffered about 50% losses, depending upon your skill at rolling dice. Proceed with another charge, if passing the morale check, or break off is not;

- as above, but now lose a further 50% of your force (one cavalryman lost for every 4 – 6 rolled on 1D6), and survivors can once again attack if passing a morale check. If not, then the final charge does not occur. No further charging attempts by this cavalry force during this battle.

Thresher0112 Oct 2021 2:49 p.m. PST

Perhaps, to account for fake charges, break off before contact, then wheel, withdraw, and reform as above.

No losses to the cav. for the first feint charge, but opponents must conduct a morale check against it, and must break formation if they fail. They are then more vulnerable to attack by subsequent charges by the cavalry – adjust your rules accordingly, but perhaps 2X losses, or if that is too difficult to determine, conduct 2 attacks on them instead of just 1, when the cavalry attack again for real.

Use the aforementioned convention for Cav. losses, less 1/6 for the first real charge after the feint, e.g.:

- no losses for the 2nd charge (1st real one), instead of the 1/6th mentioned (since the first one was a feint), since the enemy is unformed and not really able to oppose the cavalry effectively;

- 1/6th losses for the 2nd "real charge";

- and 1/3rd losses for the 3rd "real charge", etc..

Elenderil13 Oct 2021 8:34 a.m. PST

The statistics I do have suggest a horse in good condition can carry up to 30% of their body weight. That should be enough to cover the weight of a Light horseman and kit and probably a Harquebussier but a cuirassier would be at the limit I suspect. I have a provisional rule in mind to allow a first period of high activity (say a charge, melee, evade or pursuit) then for each additional period of high activity a random chance for the horses to become blown. That chance increases each additional turn of high activity. Does that sound about right as a starting point?

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP13 Oct 2021 12:32 p.m. PST


Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP13 Oct 2021 7:19 p.m. PST

This issue all depends on the scale. If you are thinking of a regiment or a brigade, then you have to take into account the cavalry commander will husband his squadrons, so his unit will never be fully 'blown.' I've read where cavalrymen write about their horses being 'half-blown' and needing a respite. You see the French cavalry at Waterloo "repeatedly" attack over a two hour period. In waves, so horses were continually given a chance to rest.

A 'blown' horse, was a useless horse, and not something any commander wanted on the battlefield, so seeing cavalry units 'blown' means the combat was long and desperate, or badly handled, or the horses were in very bad shape to begin with. All these situations can be represented, but having horses blown/useless after two attacks seems far too severe for what I have read, even down to the squadron level. Having worked on a cattle ranch, horses can trot and cantor many miles before ever coming close to being blown. Gallops were only the last 50 yards of a charge. The flurry of combat didn't last all that long.

There are discussions on husbanding horse strength on a battlefield in several books on the cavalry.

Elenderil14 Oct 2021 1:31 p.m. PST

Thanks McLaddie good detailed input, exactly the kind of thing I needed. Im dealing with ECW squadrons of around 150 to 300 in size.

Can you point me in the direction of the books you suggested (title and ISBN if known).

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2021 10:45 a.m. PST


Below are several sources on cavalry. I can provide others. What is interesting in all of them is this: Blown horses are rarely if ever discussed. You would think that if horses were so fragile, that one or two charges rendered them useless for the day, that it would be a critical issue. A blown horse, is an exhausted horse, 'blowing' heavily, out of breath. The real danger, and why cavalrymen paid attention to that 'blowing' was horses would run until they literally dropped, injuring themselves or simply dying.

Like many historical instances, I *think* that when blown horses are mentioned, it is because it is an extreme case rather than the expected norm. It's an indication [literary device?] of the severity of the combat.

Certainly, a cavalry charge and melee combat was an emotional experience for the horse, adding to their possible exhaustion or just refusing to move in a panicked funk, trembling. All of which, cavalrymen usually attempted to mitigate. The examples of cavalry charging and just continuing until stopped by exhaustion or the enemy, like the heavy brigade's charge at Waterloo [common British action] could well find horses blown at the end of the charge, but that is why it was frowned on… getting the horses rested after that did require time.

Emanual von Warnery. Remarks on Cavalry1798


Warney also has a chapter on what he sees as the differences in cavalry from the previous two centuries, 15th and 16th. I find this comment interesting as well as an example of how the qualities of horses are mentioned in passing. Horses were known by everyone as the main means of transportation.

"I quite agree with you [another cavalry officer] that the strength and lasting qualities of the horse make the cavalry soldier formidable, and that, therefore, the animal should nt be made to carry any unnecessary weight, which must always diminish and detract from those qualities in a greater or less degree: this is not my opinion alone, but the prevailing one in this service. * * *
[italics mine]

Cavalry Journal Vol. XXIX #119-121

"Battlefield Experience Data" #120 page 215
"A Cavalry Charge #121" page 266

Interestingly enough, the articles are by WWI veterans, the cavalry charge is by Russian troops. The Journal has many, many articles from the Napoleonic period.

Cavalry, It's History and Tactics E. L. Captain Nolan 1860



Napoleonistyka Cavalry Tactics.

Captain C. Parquin, Napoleon's Victories From the Personal Memoirs of Capt. C. Parquin of the Imperial Guard, page 70. The French cavalry charge at Eylau:

The charge broke both Russian lines reaching the Russian reserve. The Guard cavalry under Marshal Bessieres was following Murat and in turn broke this line. The true mettle of the French cavalry was now shown as the Russians courageously reformed ranks behind them. Exhausted after having charged a distance of 2,500 yards, the French formed a single column and charged back the way they came, through the Russian infantry and the artillery batteries to reform behind the center; 1,500 horsemen did not return.
[Italics mine]

The horses charged 2,500 yards, or a mile and a half… probably at a gallop or in melee situations, and yet the horses were able to ‘charge back' that same distance.

All of these books are available for free on google Brack, Light Cavalry Outposts 1876

F. W. von Bismarck, Lectures on the Tactics of Cavalry 1827

There are several manuals from the period in English for British cavalry:

Instuctions and Regulations for the Formations and Movement of the Cavalry. 1801

The Light Horse Drill 1802

Manual for Volunteer Corps of Cavalry 1803
L. Neville, A Treatise on the Discipline of Light Cavalry With Annexed Plates 1796

Dezydery Chlapowski, Memoirs of a Polish Lancer The author describes various cavalry encounters, many illuminating, such as the French heavy cavalry standing to receive Austrian Lancers' charges [more than one instance of this.] and how Cossacks dealt with heavy cavalry. He gives descriptions of several charges during his tenure as a cavalry officer.

What you will find is scant mention of horses being 'blown' or so exhausted that they are useless or needing extensive rest after combat. As I said, if totally exhausted horses were such a critical issue on the battlefield, you would think it would have been dealt with extensively, rather than hardly mentioned at all.

Hope that helps.

Elenderil16 Oct 2021 12:47 p.m. PST

Thanks everyone and especially McLaddie's list of useful sources. I have done some digging at this end too with regards to ECW actions. What strikes me is that in most cases cavalry units ran out of time rather than becoming to tired to continue. For example at Marston Moor Goring's wing fought against Fairfax's wing, broke them, pursued, rallied and reformed before going into a second action against Cromwell's wing who had come around the rear of the Royalist infantry to face them. They lost that fight.

Cromwell's wing charged Byron's wing then Rupert's reserve before breaking them and moving to face and beat Goring. So at least three fights there. I need a rethink about the impact of periods of high activity!

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2021 3:24 p.m. PST

Yes. It all depends on what the military men considered the typical endurance of a horse or unit of cavalry. For instance, Scharnhorst in his Officers' Handbook, gives what he believes are realistic expectations for horses at different distances and paces. It should be in the ballpark, even though ECW battlefields tended to be smaller and cavalry charges all-or-nothing actions… no waves or squadrons in reserves. I know Cromwell did use multiple units of horse to defeat a wing by taking the edge off the opponent's cavalry with one strike and then hitting them with fresh cavalry. This was simply institutionalized in the squadron system on the continent. Just my opinion here.

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