Warhorse

By Rob Morgan

I was responding to one of Jim Rohrer’s comments on skirmishing, and it suddenly crossed my mind that as well as men having traits and characteristics, skills and disabilities, horses possess them as well! Where horses are concerned there’s only one author to go to, Ann Hyland. She’s written a number of outstanding books which deal with horses through the ages, not merely as cavalry mounts, but in all of the ways which man has found use for them. Rather than ‘review’ each or any of them, I’ll consider some of the ways in which I consider reading her work is of value to the wargamer.

Ann Hyland has written….

  • The Medieval Warhorse. From Byzantium to the Crusades.
  • Training the Roman Cavalry.
  • The Warhorse 1250-1600.
  • The Horse in the Middle Ages.
  • The Horse in the Ancient World.
  • The Warhorse in the Modern Era: 1600-1865.
  • The Warhorse in the Modern Era: The Boer War to the Second Millennium.

These are fascinating books, and provide cross-period  material which many wargamers often overlook. Each is a splendid combination of technical knowledge, equine understanding and detailed explanation of how horses act, with and against man. Each title is superbly illustrated, contains anecdotes, often little known facts and detail and is supported by an array of bibliographical references to warfare and horsemanship. I can’t recommend Hyland’s work enough.

When you ride into battle or combat, or skirmish, the magnificent animal carrying you (or maybe the only four-legged creature you can find) is an equal part of that fight. Right up to very modern times, to World War II, and in a few cases beyond, horses, from Charger to Destrier, Courser, Rouncey, Pack-Horse and team horse, provide the common element in war.

The horse played a major role in Rome’s destruction, and in the vast, dramatic conquests of Mongols and Avars. The horse developed Islam’s conquests, Crusaders mounted blitzkrieg, Chevauchees and the huge campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars, enabled the efficient raids of the American Civil War, and were always, even when the armoured fighting vehicle appeared, an essential part of warfare. And of course, there were more horses involved in Operation Barbarossa than in Bonaparte’s Russian escapade of 1812.

I’m always surprised by the points that Ann Hyland reminds us of. In Medieval Europe and beyond, stallions predominated. Islam used them as front-line shock heavies, while in the East and nomadic cultures they rode mares and geldings. ‘Stallions saw other stallions as the enemy, not the riders.’ Trained riders executing rapid movements incited them to compete aggressively in individual combats after the initial charge. The horse was a weapon. The horse’s confidence in his rider was essential, but took long, hard work to develop. Islamic treatises insisted that a rider needed to build horse confidence and should be judicious in using his weapons to achieve that dominance. In all her works, Ann Hyland also considers aspects of weaponry, the methods of horse archery and lance and swordsmanship, for example.

Loose formations meant that horses could easily shy, hence the popularity of the close, massed charge. Hyland reminds us that ‘degrees of courage in horses differ,’ and that ‘routs were not always due solely to human weakness.’ Fractious horses, hard to control, could bolt easily. In some ways, morale applied as much to mounts as to men!

This collection of studies provides a sound basis for understanding how in skirmish or battle a horse operates, not in a neutral way, but with or possibly even against his rider, as combat unfolds. Fascinating and valuable books each one, and utterly comprehensive.

Recommended.

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1 Response to Warhorse

  1. Rich Barbuto says:

    Rob, simply fascinating! In my rule writing or rule application, it never occurred to me to consider horse quality when assigning ‘value’ to mounted formations. Cavalry units on campaign acquired horses wherever they could find them as casualties among their trained mounts grew. Thus, the entire unit’s quality varied with the changing quality of the mounts. Rob, thanks for putting us on to this important factor and to Hyland’s work.

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