Destrier War Horse

The Destrier was a stocky and powerful horse that was used by knights in wars, tournaments, and jousting competitions during medieval times.

knight warhorse destrier 1

The destrier was a specific breed or type of horse that was highly prized as a war horse during the medieval period. It was known for its strength, size, and ability to carry a fully armored knight into battle.

The destrier was often of a heavy or large build, typically standing around 15 to 16 hands high. While there is some debate among historians about whether the destrier was a distinct breed or a specialized type within existing breeds, it is generally considered as a unique breed of horse specifically bred and trained for combat purposes.


Destrier The War Horse

The Destrier was a specific type of horse used in medieval times. It was typically used as a warhorse and during jousting competitions

Destrier Name

The name “Destrier” comes from a Latin word that means “right-sided”. Different researchers have variously interpreted this. Some are of the view that the knights who jousted or fought on top of a Destrier were usually right-handed, so the horses were given a name that meant this accordingly.

A different view makes more sense which holds that Destrier horses were probably trained to lead with their right foot in charging during wars and tournaments, and this specific aspect of the horse’s gait was referred to in its name. Some sources state that the Destrier was so-named because a knight’s squire led the horse with his right hand.

Destrier Horse in a Tournament

Destrier Horse in a Tournament

Destrier The War Horse Characteristics

A destrier was trained from the earliest days of his life and was highly preferred in all matters related to combat. A Destrier could easily sprint, stop, turn around and make other movements as required by the rider with perfect ease and speed. Because of their training, Destrier horses had strong hind legs, letting them shift their weight and make rapid movements easily.

middle ages tournament Knights

Traditional Qualities of a Destrier

A number of extant sources from the medieval ages elaborate on the specific features which made a Destrier so desirable. These sources define a good Destrier to have a strong bone but a brief back, a neck that rose and arched elegantly, and a strong loin.

Moreover, a Destrier had a strong jaw and a broad face so that there was a goodly width of space between the eyes. Many breeds of horses had such traits but the particular training of a Destrier honed and harnessed these traits, making them perfectly suited for combat and tourneys.

Destrier War Horse Tournaments

Destrier War Horse Tournaments

Destrier as the Battle Horse

Given its specific set of skills in being agile, strong, and swift, a Destrier horse was highly preferred in battles and tournaments. For other horse-related tasks such as carriage riding, bag lifting, and practice riding, other types of horses were typically used.

Destriers were reserved specifically for tournaments and battles. This allowed the trainers to spend a lot of time with Destriers, perfecting them for combat situations. On the other hand, this allowed the Destrier horses to avoid menial tasks and be perfectly fit and strong for use when the occasion arose.

Jousting Knights

Two knights clash in a Jousting contest, they are fully decked in their family’s colors.

Size of a Destrier War Horse

Medieval sources offer many exaggerated accounts of the overall size of a typical Destrier horse. Recent research and archaeological evidence provide definite data on this front. According to recent research, warhorses such as Destriers probably ranged from 14 to 15 hands in height.

Drawing from the proof of medieval horse armours, other researchers have confirmed this, further elaborating that at a maximum, the height of a Destrier probably rose to 16 hands. The size of a Destrier, then, was not unusual compared to regular riding horses, and the Destrier stood apart only on account of its agility, strength, and intelligence.

German Horse Armour

German Armour the Chamfron Head Armour

Price of a Destrier War Horse

The price details regarding a typical Destrier horse, as provided in different medieval sources, are a key indicator of the worth of this specific type of warhorse. According to the medieval Salic law, for example, the price of a typical mare was 3 solidi but that of a Destrier was as much as 12 solidi.

So a 7th-century Destrier was valued at four times the price of a regular mare. This disparity increased even further in later times. A 13th-century source, for example, reveals that the price of a single Destrier as used by the knights was seven times that of a usual horse.

Destrier use in England

According to medieval sources, the Destrier horse was not found in England until the 11th century. It was William The Conqueror who brought this specific type of horse with him to England and from this time onwards, the breed became popular with the richest knights who could afford to purchase it.

William The Conqueror

William The Conqueror

The mares used by the Moors in medieval times and the stallions more popular in Europe were considered equally capable war horses, almost comparable to the Destrier.

Destrier War Training

A Destrier horse was typically quite intelligent, being able to understand his rider’s commands and respond to them accordingly.

Horse Armour

War Horse Armour

For instance, a Destrier was trained to inflict damage and injury on the enemy on the battlefield and a Destrier was trained to spot and sense an enemy for this purpose. It could bite or kick on the command of its rider and usually moved with extraordinary agility by making use of its very powerful hindquarters.

Destrier The War Horse Summary

The Destrier was a specific type of horse used in medieval times. It was typically used as a warhorse and during jousting competitions. A Destrier was extensively trained for these purposes and was never used for other tasks such as regular riding or in hauling carriages.

Typically, a Destrier rose to a height of 14 to 16 hands, had a short back but a very strong hindquarter, and was very agile. It was able to move rapidly and respond to a knight’s commands by putting its weight on its hindquarters.

Two Knights clash in joust

Compared to regular horses, Destriers were highly valued in medieval times and were esteemed at many times the value of a normal horse. Moreover, they were fairly rare and only a few knights used them during wars. Towards the 17th century, this specific type of horse became extinct.