Thursday, March 20, 2014

What a Medieval Horse Wears, or, All Dressed Up and Stuck in the Middle Ages

In my last blog, I described the different horse breeds which were popular during medieval times. These included the powerful drestrier, courser and rouncey and others.

So now we know the different types of breeds, what about their tack and gear. As with any item used in the past or today, the gear is designed for the purpose or goal it is meant to perform.

I first will visit farming and the use of horses. As I described in my last blog, horses were used in farming during medieval times, but not to their full potential. The yoke is a wooden frame placed over the heads and necks of draft animals. This is suited for large animals such as the ox, but choked a horse and limited its potential. When the horse collar made its way to Europe from China, it revolutionized farming and allowed the horse to be used more frequently. So depending on which period of time you are discussing, horses might have been fitted with a yoke or a horse collar.

Equestrian technology advanced during the medieval times. Much equipment for the horse was invented, or borrowed from other cultures, and this equipment made the horse more valuable in society.

Nailed horseshoes was a big development in the history of the horse. Having horseshoes allowed the horse to be used longer during one day and extended the range of the horse.

Stirrups were another major invention during this time. Being in combat it was essential that a mounted soldier could keep his balance or easily get back up onto his horse if he was dismounted.

A rich knight wanted to be noticed, the same could be said for his horse. A caparison was a cloth covering the horse. Sometimes it was simply used as padding between the saddle and the animals back; other times it was a large cloth which was elaborately decorated.

Caparisons were also part of the horse’s barding. Barding was simply armor for a horse. Like the knight, armor for a horse first was a practical protection from the enemy’s weapons. Later, it became decorative a sign of the knight’s wealth and prominence.

There were several major sections of the barding. A champron was designed to protect the horses face, similar to the knight’s helmet. The criniere or manefair was armor for the horse’s neck. The peytral was armor designed to protect the chest of the horse, while the croupier protected its rear section. All this armor made the horse a formable fighting machine.

Like all warfare, it came down to offensive and defensive advancements. The more the horse became a formable fighting machine, the more defenses and tactics were created to counteract them. Once, the horse was vulnerable to these defenses, more advanced armament was added to them, and again, it became an impressive offensive weapon. There was an arms race going on during the middle ages, and the horse was sometimes at the center of it.

The medieval period was a period of conflict. Horses were a major part of life during that period; so it became a part of that conflict.

Next Time: Medieval Trivia

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