What Kind Of Horses Did Knights Ride?

We have all see the impressive horses depicted in fantasy and history movies, but what kind of horses did knights ride in real-life history. Throughout history, you will see different types of war horses. The type for the time depends on the needs of the rider and tactics.

Let’s take a look at the horses that played a large, but sometimes uncredited role in history.

Horses In The Middle Ages

Owning a horse in the Middle Ages came with status and respect. The wealthier the person, the higher quality horse they had. Owning more than one horse was for only the upper classes and nobility, as they cost a lot to buy and maintain.

A writer in the Middle Ages, Jordanus Ruffus, eloquently describes how important the horse was at this time, saying “No animal is nobler than the horse, since it is by horses that princes, magnates, and knights are separated from lesser people and because a lord cannot fittingly be seen among private citizens except through the mediation of a horse.”

Horses In The Middle Ages

During this period insulting or physically attacking a man’s horse was one of the most serious offenses against a person. This act was a symbol of emasculation.

Medieval Horses – What Kind Of Horses Did Knights Ride

The people of the time did not refer to horses by breed but went by type. There are three main types of horses at this time. The one with the lowest status is the horse that did farm work and was not ridden. 

The middle-status horse is the rouncy, a horse that lower-ranking knights and squires would ride. The most valuable horse is the Great Horse, one of which is the Destrier. Another type of horse for this time is the Palfrey.

The Palfrey was just as valuable and costly as a Destrier, but it did not usually go to war with knights. Instead, this horse was the main ride of wealthy ladies of the time as a pleasure mount. 

Around the 8th-century, horses were much smaller than you would expect. From this period until the 14th-century efforts took place to develop a larger, stronger warhorse. The Destrier in the 14th century finally meets the criteria for a large, able warhorse.

Knights Horses

During the Middle Ages, knights wore heavy armor. They needed a horse strong enough to carry this extra weight over a long distance. The general name for all Medieval warhorses is the Charger.

The higher the status and the richer the knight, the more horses he owned. A rich knight would own several different types of horses, each with a purpose.

Destrier

The Destrier and other horses that met the criteria for a high-class warhorse fall under the Charger category. To get an idea of what these horses looked like, study the modern draft horse. Not only did the Destrier have to carry an armored knight, but it also had its own metal protection. 

The majority of Destrier warhorses were stallions. The natural aggression of the stallion and instinct to fight was a great benefit to the knights. The Destrier’s main purpose was to carry the knight into battle.

Even though you might think that the Destrier is a very large, tall horse, it was actually shorter than you think. Even though it was taller than the average horse of the time, a knight still had to have to ability to get back on quickly during the battle without assistance.

Destrier Warhorse

The estimate is that a Destrier stood between 15 and 16 hands tall. These horses have special training to make them effective on the battlefield. They could respond to instructions without cues from the hands, bite, kick, and trample opponents at their rider’s command.

When moving across vast distances, the knight would often ride another type of horse. This was a way to keep the Destrier fresh and ready for fighting.

Courser

Another type of warhorse for the time is the Courser. The Courser is a lighter, quicker horse than the Destrier. These horses did not have to carry an armored rider and were the first choice when there was a need for quick attacks or raids.

Due to its ability to travel quickly, it was also the preferred mount for messengers. Knights that could not afford a Destrier, would often choose a Courser for battle. It made an excellent alternative because of its agility, strength, and speed.

Palfrey

The Palfrey costs just as much as Destrier to buy. It was a very comfortable ride, which made it a favorite mount for noblewomen. The main purpose of this horse was pleasure riding, hunting, and carrying a knight when moving between battle locations.

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Rouncy

A wealthy knight would own several rouncys. He would provide these horses as mounts for his squires and other men that fought under his command. It was also the type of horse the poorest knights would ride into battle.

In addition to riding, the rouncy would work as a packhorse for the calvary. 

This brings the total to what kind of horses did knights ride to four different types.

Type Of Horse Armor

Warhorses also wore armor to provide them with some protection in battle. This armor has several parts, and different materials were in use.

The three main materials in use for horse armor during the Middle Ages are steel, boiled leather, and padded cloth. The trapper is a cover made with leather or cloth, that covered the entire horse and sometimes would even reach the ground.

Type Of Horse Armor

A special piece of armor known as the chamfron protected the horse’s face. This piece uses a combination of metal and leather. It often included horns.

The flanchards sat on the sides of the horse to protect the flanks. Over the haunches, you would see the crupper and, for the neck, the criniere, a set of metal plates.

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Conclusion

Since the horse of the Middle Ages was such a symbol of status, a knight wanted to have the best one he could afford. This also includes the armor for himself and his horse. It represents the knight’s importance, so the better the horse and armor, the more respect he got.

To answer the question of what kind of horses did knights ride, you see he had several types for different purposes. What qualities do you think a warhorse needs? Let us know in the comments.

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