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"Study: Medieval Warhorses Were No More Than Pony-Sized" Topic

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Tango0104 Mar 2022 8:54 p.m. PST

… by Modern Standards

"Popular culture presents a deep-rooted perception of medieval warhorses as massive and powerful mounts, but medieval textual and iconographic evidence remains highly debated. In new research, archaeologists from the University of Exeter and elsewhere analyzed the zooarchaeological dataset of English horse bones from 171 unique archaeological sites dating between 300 and 1650 CE. The results show that breeding and training of warhorses was influenced by a combination of biological and cultural factors, as well as behavioral characteristics of the horses themselves such as temperament.

Depictions of medieval warhorses in films and popular media frequently portray massive mounts on the scale of Shire horses, some 17 to 18 hands high.

However, the evidence suggests that horses of 16 and even 15 hands were very rare indeed, even at the height of the Royal stud network during the 13th and 14th centuries, and that animals of this size would have been seen as very large by medieval people…"
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian04 Mar 2022 9:44 p.m. PST

And medieval knights were the size of hobbits. grin

LaserGrenadier Supporting Member of TMP05 Mar 2022 6:15 a.m. PST

In the 1200's and 1300's knights were not yet wearing full plate armor nor protecting their mounts with plate armor protection. So maybe they bred larger horses when they needed them, in the late 1400's. You can't judge historical accuracy from Hollywood movies.

marmont1814 Sponsoring Member of TMP05 Mar 2022 9:29 a.m. PST

the horses if you research it where in proportion to the average mans height, horses have got bigger and so have men Romans 5'4", horse of the time horses 14 hands, medieval 5'6" and horses 15 hands. better diets , care etc

rvandusen Supporting Member of TMP05 Mar 2022 12:58 p.m. PST

Hobbits riding large hounds with buckets over their heads wielding billiards ques, trashcan lids, and dull carving knives.

Tango0105 Mar 2022 2:53 p.m. PST



Berggeit10 Apr 2022 11:10 a.m. PST

I am just going to dump here a reply I gave on another forum.

TL: DR – Nothing really changed in my eyes…

So I read the scientific article and haven't read any of the news articles on the subject. The paper studied 1964 horses from the Late Roman period up to the Post-Medieval period, the horses were found on 171 sites. The article does say warhorses were smaller than in "popular perception". Not 17 and 18hh but maximumly 15 to 16hh, which would have been tall for a Medieval person. But it does not explicitly state that the warhorses of the Medieval period were ponies.

A large part of the discussion goes on about the difficulties of the research on (Medieval) warhorses. How it is difficult to determine the activity of a horse from a full skeleton and more research is necessary to determine the activity of horses through measuring of bones. It also notes that most specimens that have been used for this paper were single bones (depending on the bone, a bone can say a lot. If you have a bunch of front legs (metacarpus) of B.tauros, you can determine for example which are bulls, cows and oxen).

It also discusses the context. When you find a horse in a military context, like a castle, it does not necessarily mean that the horse in question is a warhorse. There is only one mass grave with horses associated with a battlefield in England. It contained dismembered horses, which is not odd for the Medieval period as horses, even warhorses, were post-mortem processed for valuable goods. (I am familiar with horse burials of the Merovingian period, but these were normal cemeteries).

The article also mentions how warhorses would only form a small selection of horses in the Medieval period.


(Ameen et al. 2021, p.1250, fig.2)

Ameen, Carly, et al. "In search of the ‘great horse': A zooarchaeological assessment of horses from England (AD 300–1650)." International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 31.6 (2021): 1247-1257.

So with that out of the way, what is my interpretation. For starters, what is the big deal? In my eyes, it is more a confirmation of expectation. Medieval warhorses were smaller than modern-day horses.

Because the research mostly looked at induvial bones, rather than individual animals, I wonder about the estimated individuals overall. To me, it seems the actual number of individuals could be lower than the 1964 specimen but that's the challenge with zooarchaeology. Thoughts there are some methods to give a suggestion it was not discussed here. It did discuss however the possibility of some misidentifying with donkeys, mules and hinnies.

It should also be noted that the sites came all from the UK, mostly from South and central England. Thus it does not have to reflect the regions on the continent. Consider cultural and biological influences.

It could also be interesting to measure surviving horse armour, as by definition it would tell us something about warhorses.

Regardless I recommend everyone to read the scientific article for themselves and draw up their own conclusions. The article should be freely accessible through Google Scholar.

Heedless Horseman28 May 2022 5:14 p.m. PST

I recall being amazed at the small size of 'SOME' C15 armour… possibly for juveniles in UK 'Borders'.
Border horse were 'pony' size… 'Light Horse'.
Not everybody was Henry VIII!

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