“The Battle-Ready Warhorses of Medieval Times: Their Role and Armor on the Battlefield”

Horses played a crucial role in medieval warfare, particularly among the European knights who dominated the battlefield during this period. Cavalry units were an essential component of most medieval armies, and horses were used in a variety of ways to support their operations.

“The horse was more than just a means of transportation; it was the foundation of the medieval knight’s power and prestige.”

Richard Kaeuper, historian and professor at the University of Rochester.
Battle of Bannockburn
The Battle of Bannockburn

Stock Charges – Breaking up Enemy Lines

One of the primary functions of cavalry was to charge the enemy lines and break through their formations. Knights would ride their horses at full speed towards the enemy, using their lances to skewer enemy soldiers or knock them over with the force of the impact.

Medieval Cavalry Shields of the KnightsTemplars

This tactic was known as a “shock charge” and was intended to break the morale of the enemy troops and create confusion and disorder in their ranks.

In addition to shock charges, cavalry units were also used to conduct reconnaissance missions, pursue fleeing enemies, and protect the flanks and rear of the army. Horses were also used to transport troops and supplies, particularly in the early stages of a battle when the lines were still forming up.


Destrier – The War Horse

The type of horse used in medieval warfare was typically a large, powerful breed such as the destrier or war horse. These horses were trained from a young age to tolerate the noise and chaos of battle and to respond to their rider’s commands without hesitation.

“The warhorse was the key to the success of medieval cavalry. Without them, knights were simply men on foot.”

Kelly DeVries, historian and professor at Loyola University Maryland.

The use of horses in medieval warfare was not without its risks, however. Horses were vulnerable to missile fire, particularly arrows and javelins, and could be injured or killed by well-placed strikes.

In addition, if a horse became separated from its rider or fell in battle, it could become a dangerous obstacle on the field, potentially causing injury or death to nearby soldiers.

“Medieval warhorses were bred and trained to withstand the rigors of battle, and their strength and speed were critical to a knight’s success on the battlefield.”

Christopher Gravett, historian and author specializing in medieval warfare.

How Were War Horses Trained?

Training horses for battle was a long and complex process, and it began when the horse was still a foal. Horses that were to be used in battle were typically of a specific breed, such as the destrier or war horse, which were large and powerful animals that were able to carry a fully armored knight.

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The first step in training a war horse was to accustom it to human contact and handling. This involved regular grooming, feeding, and handling by its owner or trainer, who would gradually introduce it to new experiences and stimuli to help it become more comfortable and confident.

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As the horse matured, it would be introduced to more advanced training techniques. One of the most important aspects of training a war horse was teaching it to remain calm in the face of loud noises and sudden movements, such as those that would be encountered on the battlefield. This involved exposing the horse to a variety of sounds and objects, such as trumpets, drums, flags, and other horses.

“The relationship between a knight and his warhorse was one of the most important in medieval society, as it embodied ideals of loyalty, courage, and chivalry.”

Susan Crane, historian and professor at the University of Arizona.

Once the horse was comfortable with these stimuli, it would be trained to charge towards a target, such as a dummy or a shield, while carrying a rider. The rider would use a variety of techniques to encourage the horse to charge forward, such as using spurs or a whip, and the horse would be rewarded with treats or praise for successfully completing the exercise.

Medieval Quintain
The Quintain was used by knights to practice using their Lance weapons

Over time, the horse would be trained to carry a rider in full armor, and to perform more advanced maneuvers such as turning, stopping, and starting on command. The goal was to create a horse that was not only obedient and fearless, but also able to respond quickly and accurately to its rider’s commands in the heat of battle.

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In summary, training horses for battle involved a gradual and patient process of familiarization and desensitization to the stimuli of war, as well as the development of obedience and responsiveness to its rider’s commands.

Amor of the Warhorse

A warhorse was a valuable asset on the medieval battlefield, and it was typically armored to protect both itself and its rider. The armor worn by a warhorse was designed to protect it from blows and projectiles, and to make it more intimidating to the enemy.

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The most common type of armor worn by warhorses was plate armor, which consisted of overlapping metal plates that were fastened to a leather or cloth base. The armor covered the horse’s neck, chest, and shoulders, as well as its rump and hindquarters. The plates were often decorated with intricate designs or the coat of arms of the horse’s owner.

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“Warhorses were not only a tool of war, but also a symbol of wealth and status, as owning a well-trained and well-armored horse was a sign of a knight’s power and prestige.”

John Beeler, historian and author of “Warfare in Feudal Europe, 730-1200.”

The head of the horse was also protected by armor, typically in the form of a metal helmet known as a chanfron. The chanfron covered the horse’s forehead, ears, and nose, and sometimes included a spike or crest that extended above the horse’s head to make it look more imposing.

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In addition to plate armor, warhorses also wore other types of protective gear. Leg armor, known as greaves or horse boots, were worn to protect the horse’s legs from blows and cuts, and sometimes included spikes or studs to deter attackers. The horse’s tail was also often wrapped in a protective covering to prevent it from being cut off by an enemy.

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Overall, the armor worn by a warhorse was designed to make it both more resilient and more fearsome on the battlefield. It was a testament to the importance of the horse as a symbol of wealth, power, and military might in the medieval period.


In conclusion, warhorses played a crucial role in medieval warfare, providing mobility and a powerful charge that could break enemy lines. These horses were specially trained for battle, with riders using various techniques to control them in the chaos of combat.

To protect these valuable animals, they were outfitted with a range of armor parts, including plate armor, chanfron, crinet, peytral, flanchards, croupiere, greaves or horse boots, and tail defense.

Despite the dangers they faced on the battlefield, warhorses were highly respected and admired for their bravery and loyalty, and they remain a symbol of the power and prestige of medieval knights and their armies.