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"Medieval Horses No Bigger Than Modern Ponies" Topic

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smithsco10 Jan 2022 6:28 p.m. PST


Every medieval cavalry miniature I've bought had a nice large horse. Some Zvezda sets in 1/72 we're ridiculous. One of the Mongol sets has huge horses and Mongol ponies were small.

Maybe time to change up his our armies look?

raylev310 Jan 2022 8:50 p.m. PST

I agree…the horses we see today are huge compared to those of the medieval period and earlier. However, I believe that making realistic size horses for the period wouldn't be acceptable to today's modern perceptions.

rmaker10 Jan 2022 8:54 p.m. PST

Note that this article only applies to English horses.

42flanker11 Jan 2022 1:02 a.m. PST

Here is the summary from Exeter University

'Medieval warhorses were surprisingly small in stature, study shows'

Porthos11 Jan 2022 5:05 a.m. PST

Look at the medieval dress and harnesses: people were smaller than now. So horses did not need to be as large as now in the movies. The specific warhorse of a knight or man at arms is the destrier. See link below:

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Jan 2022 5:43 a.m. PST

Horses came in many breeds, variants and uses.
Only the largest horses were used as warhorse, and these would make up a very tiny percentage of the total horse population. England, subject of this article, was never in the forefront of horsebreeding (for knightly destriers) and also had a comparatively small number of knights, compared to Europe.
Not finding a lot of large horses in England is what you would expect.

That said, many horses in todays plastic kits are too large. Not to mention the gigantic horses of old GW Imperial Knights (fantasy anyway) the Mongol horses of Fireforge are a fine example of oversizing. Wargames Factory made some nice plump horses back for their Gallic and Roman cavalry, and Victrix has smaller horses for their Numid cavalry, but overall these kits – just as most metal sets that do not depict the creme of knighthood that could afford the few and expensive large destriers – seem to exaggerate the horsesize. Its certainly cheaper eg. for the Perrys to use one horsekit to rule them all, be they ManAtArms or Scourrers, but it does look wrong on a table.

Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2022 5:54 a.m. PST

I don't think that we can dismissthis as "just England" – as the study covers 4th Century – 17th Century, and notes that one of the largest horses is linked to a Norman Site, so we're also looking at horses imported from the continent.


The research team was keen to spell out they did not mean to imply that medieval horse breeders did not put huge amounts of time, effort and money into their work. "In the 13th and 14th century especially the royal stud was an amazing network," said Outram. "They were spending much more money on horses than people."

The next step- to do an analysis of surviving horse armour should lead to a definitive answer. If it would sit well on a 14-15 hands horse, then that's how big the warhorses were.

chrisminiaturefigs11 Jan 2022 7:45 a.m. PST

20thmaine, i think you are on the button regarding analysis of surviving horse armour.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2022 8:49 a.m. PST

"Shoot low, boys. They're riding Shetland ponies." Lewis Grizzard, American humorist (title of one of his books).

evil grin

enfant perdus11 Jan 2022 2:13 p.m. PST

The point in the article about the knacker's yard is also important. A horse with any residual value whatsoever would have been reduced to glue, hide, sinew, etc. That fact didn't change until the early 20C.

I'd be interested to see what the records state. Stud books and even household accounts would give hard data.

Swampster12 Jan 2022 12:51 a.m. PST

"Look at the medieval dress and harnesses: people were smaller than now."

Height wasn't considerably different (though weight is a different matter).
link gives English average of 172-173 cm or around 5' 8'' for most of the medieval period. The 14th century was lower due to climate and various health effects (not only the BD).

These averages are across class – riders would usually be better fed and taller.

By comparison, modern W. Europeans average around 5" 9' – 5' 10" and this is skewed by the increase in height of younger generations.

Steamingdave213 Jan 2022 7:56 a.m. PST

@ swampster

Interesting article, but I wonder whether the samples may have been skewed in terms of "social class". Data on recruits into the British army in WW1 showed a very significant difference between " working class" men and those from higher socio-economic groups; I don't have the data to hand, but, from memory, think "working class" recruits have been around 5 inches shorter on average than those from more privileged backgrounds.
There may well have been similar differences in earlier periods and it is possible that skeletal remains of the wealthy were more likely to have been preserved than those of their poorer contemporaries. There is a nod to this argument in the notes made by the researchers.

dapeters13 Jan 2022 10:43 a.m. PST

This is one of those recurring things about the middle ages that crops up every dozen or so years, like horns on viking helmets. Clydesdale and other powerful horse breeds were more recent products of breeding. In addition to being huge strong animals they were also bred to be docile (I think the term is cold blooded.)

42flanker14 Jan 2022 3:06 a.m. PST

Wasn't the 'Great Horse' as envisaged by most people the later culmination of selective breeding to produce mounts specifically for the joust; too valuable to be exposed to the rigours and hazards of a field campaign?

dapeters14 Jan 2022 10:50 a.m. PST

For tilting I would think you want a horse with a steady ride (gate?)a large horse is going to bounce you all over the place.

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Jan 2022 3:04 a.m. PST

A large horse makes a better show, and that is one of the main points of tournaments.

42flanker21 Jan 2022 11:19 a.m. PST

A large horse and trained to the task.

gregmita222 Jan 2022 4:49 p.m. PST

Not only were military horses a minority of all horses, even among military horses, there were distinctions with only the heavy cavalry having the largest and most powerful.
This sounds like yet another case of a fairly professional and nuanced, if too general, study being twisted via irresponsible journalism. At least this Guardian article is a bit better, pointing out some of the issues with the "small horse" claim. Some other online articles I've seen had photoshops of knights on Shetland ponies!

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