"In search of the great horse" 14.2hh max for medieval warhorses

Cortez

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Is there any evidence on the breeding of palfreys?
They are always referred to as a 'type' but were gaited and very valuable .
Oh yes, forgot about the palfrey - ladies horse, and very smooth to ride due to the lateral gait. Lots came from Spain, where they were a speciality, but plenty bred in England too. The gaited breeds in America are descendants of European bred horses that were taken to the Americas but stopped being bred in Europe (except in Iceland) as they became unfashionable after the 18c.
 

littleshetland

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The "less than" height was 13h. There were no Shire/Clydesdale type tall heavy horses at all before the 18c, although there were heavier "punch" type horses used for ploughing and heavy draught work. Some of the horse varieties were: the "grete" horses, coursers, rouncies, stotts, jacas, and so on, all of different types and utility. Henry VIII was 6' and rode mostly Spanish or Neopolitan horses (he didn't get really fat until his jousting days were over BTW).
Can you imagine how valuable a horse of 15hh and above would've been!
 
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As a horse-mad kiddie I remember being shown the Bayeaux Tapestry many light-years ago now, and my keen little "pony eye" of those days picked up the fact then that these ponies must have been TINY!

Exmoor ponies in particular have always had the reputation of being tough hardy little creatures who would carry an Exmoor farmer out hunting all day, and I've seen video footage of Mongolian ponies which are still used for both pack work and for riding, and they're tiny!
 

SEL

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Adding to this: genetic evidence shows that Icelandics, like Shetlands and Fjords, are pretty far removed from Spanish/Arabian blood. They're closer to Przewalski's horses and (I presume) Mongolian ponies. The below image is from Lucy Allen and Wallner et al (2017)'s works.

View attachment 85644


Then Prystupa (2011) found that: 1) Icelandics are closer related to Mongolian ponies than Norwegian Fjords, 2) the rare E haplogroup (only 3% of the world's equine population have it) was the most common haplogroup in the Eriskay, Dales, and Kerry Bog, and also quite common in the Shetland, Icelandic and Fjord (35%, 8%, and 8% respectively), 3) today's E haplogroup dates back as far as the Bronze age in Siberia.

You can find these studies on the Eriskay Pony Society website - I very much recommend a read.
That is fascinating - I'm geeking out on the genetics now! https://eriskaypony.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/owners_report.pdf
 

Keith_Beef

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Oh yes, forgot about the palfrey - ladies horse, and very smooth to ride due to the lateral gait. Lots came from Spain, where they were a speciality, but plenty bred in England too. The gaited breeds in America are descendants of European bred horses that were taken to the Americas but stopped being bred in Europe (except in Iceland) as they became unfashionable after the 18c.
I thought that a palfrey was also the horse that a knight or a mounted man at arms would ride for travelling, while the destrier was the horse he would ride for battle or in tournament.
 

Orangehorse

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What about the hobby?

Dr Deb Bennett wrote an interesting book called The Conquerors about the old European horse breeds taken to the Americas, and why the gaited breeds are still there but not bred in Europe, apart from the Icelandic ponies.

Any pony up to about 15 hh is capable of carrying a lot of weight, Dr. Deb said that ponies are "over engineered" for their size, hence ponies remain sound, and the larger the horse the less sound it will be. Until people wanted a horse for hunting and jumping and racing, there was no need for a larger horse.
 

scruffyponies

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I read an interesting report which discussed the use of ponies vs horses in the Boer war. The english thoroughbred hunter types fared quite badly, and the writer (contemporary, experienced and knowledgable) thought it better to have a soldier mounted on a beast of around 14hh, or even smaller, which would do the same job on half the feed and remain sound.
 

stangs

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As regards the Boer War, originally only horses expected to reach 15hh were purchased. They bought from various Commonwealth countries; like SP says, the English horses seriously struggled. The Argentine horses were, upon arrival, "very soft, unused to eating oats, and many with sore backs"; horses from North America were better liked. They also used oxen to pull guns, ranging 13-15hh, which were "plucky enough up to a point, but if they lose heart they sulk and lie down".

Some officers used their polo ponies as chargers successfully, which led to one expert saying "what is wanted is a good strong, well made, hardy polo pony type, an Irish Hunter in miniature, but which need not be fast enough to play an International polo game.”

^ taken from Horses and Saddlery by Major G.Tylden (one of my very favourite books in my collection).
 

Zuzan

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Does anyone know anything about the "Celestial Horses" ? and whether they are related to Turkoman / Akhal-Teke
 

Cortez

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I thought that a palfrey was also the horse that a knight or a mounted man at arms would ride for travelling, while the destrier was the horse he would ride for battle or in tournament.
Well I'm sure some knights rode palfreys, but generally a rouncy or similar type of non-jousting horse was used for travelling with the very expensive grete horse or destrier being saved for special purposes. Palfreys are very much for gentlewomen though, with their soft paces being ideal for the ladies who sat sideways in a sort of basket saddle with a platform for their feet rather than a stirrup.

Re the Celestial Horses, nobody knows, but it is highly likely they were from the Altai region. Contemporary pictorial and sculptural representations and skeletal finds hint at a sturdier build than the Akhal Teke.
 

Cortez

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What about the hobby?

Dr Deb Bennett wrote an interesting book called The Conquerors about the old European horse breeds taken to the Americas, and why the gaited breeds are still there but not bred in Europe, apart from the Icelandic ponies.

Any pony up to about 15 hh is capable of carrying a lot of weight, Dr. Deb said that ponies are "over engineered" for their size, hence ponies remain sound, and the larger the horse the less sound it will be. Until people wanted a horse for hunting and jumping and racing, there was no need for a larger horse.
The Hobby is conjectured (by me, in an article what I wrote) to be the mount of the Irish Hobelar soldier, and quite possibly the root of what we now call an Irish Cob (hobelars are sometimes written cobelars with a soft "ch").
 

Cloball

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Very much enjoying the discussion 😁
Mongolian ponies are hard as nails but they weren't as tiny as I was expecting a solid 12.2-14hh. A Mongolian saddle is also very tall so your feet don't hang around their knees.
 

Cortez

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Ooh what is a celestial horse? Brilliant name!

I am enjoying this thread hugely, though have little of use to contribute.
The Celestial Horse is what the Chinese emperors sent their ambassadors far and wide to purchase, said to be huge (i.e. over 13h :)), to move as if floating on a bird's back, and to sweat blood.
 

stangs

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Does anyone know anything about the "Celestial Horses" ? and whether they are related to Turkoman / Akhal-Teke
Of course, linguistic evidence isn't much use here but the word 汗血马 ("blood sweat horse") is still used in Mandarin today to refer to Akhal Teke horses. The horses were also known as 龙马 ("dragon horse") - and I can think of quite a few times I've heard Akhal Tekes referred to as dragon horses in English (here on this forum too). If you read traditional Chinese literature, the descriptions of said horses do sound like the Akhal Teke, but of course the writers were comparing these horses to your common little pony.
 

palo1

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I seem to remember horse skulls at Vindolanda coming from 14handers-they weren’t necessarily Roman cavalry horses though.

Romans did not use stirrups either, smaller horses would have made cavalry mounts a bit easier 😉
Mmm, stirrups were a huge innovation and really changed the shape of mounted warfare. It is a fascinating subject.
 

palo1

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The "less than" height was 13h. There were no Shire/Clydesdale type tall heavy horses at all before the 18c, although there were heavier "punch" type horses used for ploughing and heavy draught work. Some of the horse varieties were: the "grete" horses, coursers, rouncies, stotts, jacas, and so on, all of different types and utility. Henry VIII was 6' and rode mostly Spanish or Neopolitan horses (he didn't get really fat until his jousting days were over BTW).
It is quite ironic really as Henry Tudor conquered England (and Wales) I guess thanks to the Welsh ponies that they used (not likely to be very big). I think they were termed 'rouncies'. Its a charming word for a charming pony!
 

TheOldTrout

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In the museum of London, there's the skeleton of a Roman army horse. It was the size of a pony, 12 or 13 hh as far as I remember (which isn't very far). The notes by the skeleton said that one of the native British breeds (Exmoor I *think*) was descended from the horses that came with the Roman army.
 

Zuzan

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Ooh what is a celestial horse? Brilliant name! .. .


The thing I find puzzling is the images for the Celestial horses all seem to have quite high set on necks.. whereas all the horses / ponies I've seen from central asia seem to have quite different conformation .. also the tail appears to be much higher set on
 
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Mmm, stirrups were a huge innovation and really changed the shape of mounted warfare. It is a fascinating subject.
apparently meant that higher poundage bows could be used in mounted archery according to Mike Loades -I am reliably informed that drawing. 60lb+ bow wouldn’t be possible without stirrups. I couldn’t do it on the ground mind.
 
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