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

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP08 Apr 2022 8:51 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…"

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42flanker08 Apr 2022 9:35 p.m. PST

5th March 2022

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

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP08 Apr 2022 10:19 p.m. PST

But… I LOVED horses….! (smile)


Augustus09 Apr 2022 6:31 a.m. PST

They actually rode big dogs, not horses. The occasional donkey for lords was possible.

In very rare cases, they rode imported ostriches, but often the ostrich would eat the rider.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP09 Apr 2022 8:52 a.m. PST

I also read about this in the latest issue of "Medieval Warfare" magazine.


Stryderg09 Apr 2022 11:18 a.m. PST

Makes sense, though. It would take a LOT of metal and work to armor up modern version of a ginormous war horse. Ponies would much easier to clad in chain mail, plate, suspension systems, etc.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP09 Apr 2022 3:25 p.m. PST



Thresher0109 Apr 2022 3:53 p.m. PST

I am under the impression that Italian "warhorses" from the late medieval/early renaissance period were larger.

I think the French ones were too.

Not 100% sure about that, but that is the impression I have.

Tgerritsen Supporting Member of TMP10 Apr 2022 1:14 a.m. PST

Seeing that Ponies are up to 14.2 hands or 58" at their backs, and are known to be stronger than full horses for their size, this makes sense.

My wife owns a 14 hands pony and you'd likely call it a horse if you didn't know better. She rides all the time and amongst a group of full horses you'd not think her much smaller or stand out in the group.

Berggeit10 Apr 2022 11:09 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.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP11 Apr 2022 3:30 p.m. PST



Erzherzog Johann20 Apr 2022 1:29 p.m. PST

The obvious thing to do would be to simply measure mediaeval horse armour. That way, although it would be a smaller sample, you could be certain that every horse in the sample was a warhorse.

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