Medieval Horses - Breeds and Types

Question: I collect Breyer models and also participate in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). I'm familiar with the three types of horses used in the middle ages: Destrier (larger horse ridden by knights in battle), Palfrey (A smaller horse with an ambling, comfortable gate -- basically a travel horse) and Courser (A "Hot Blooded" horse used for carrying messages, etc, wherever speed was necessary.) My question is, if I were looking for modern breeds to embody these three types of horse, which would I use? I know the Friesan was used and other French draft breeds, but I'd like to know which might look the best. I'm especially curious about the palfrey as it was described as a long bodied, short legged horse. The courser seems pretty obvious -- and Arab or barb cross would do I expect.

ANSWER: Destriers--weren't usually as large as most of us think. The full armor of the late 16th century required the bigger Great Horse (equivalent to today's modern draft). These horses were also more for tourneys and jousting at that point.

The destrier of choice was what we know as the Spanish Andalusian. One of my resource books equates the typical medieval destrier as a stallion about the size of a modern heavy hunter. Deep chested, heavier boned, yet quick on its feet. Don't believe the nonsense about stallions being unmanageable. A well trained horse is a well trained horse. My first show horse, which I started showing at age 10, was a 10 year old Arabian stallion. He was a perfect gentleman. Back on track...William the Conqueror rode an Andalus stallion at Hastings. They were the Cadillac of destriers.

Flemish horses, as well as other European (Italy, France, and Spain, mostly) war-horses, were the most prized. Modern equivalents would be Trakehners, Holsteiners, and other Olympic level dressage and jumper horses.

Palfreys were the riding horses. The knights wouldn't generally ride their destriers from battle to battle, but rather a horse with a smoother gait. Arabians were popular. So were horses of Barb descent. They covered a lot of ground and had good endurance, for which Arabs are particularly noted. Palfreys were the sports car of the horse world.

The courser was used for speed. Modern equivalents would be Thoroughbreds. Arabs were most likely also used, again for their endurance.

There's a fourth type as well, the rouncy or sumpter horse, which carried the baggage. Usually smaller and heavier, not well suited for riding long distances, yet with good endurance. Modern equivalents would probably be small cobs. If palfreys were the sports car equivalent, rounceys were the bicycle.

Actually, horses of color (pinto or palomino) were more prevalent in the Middle Ages because there were no stud books. Bedoiuns (Arabs) were the only ones who were prejudiced (and extremely so) against horses of color within the Arabian breed. It is said that a Bedouin would not let a pinto or palomino type into his camp for fear it would corrupt the breed. Arabians have the purest lineage of any breed. I've seen 16th century portraits of pinto Andalusians, which was pretty interesting.








Maintained by Kayla Westra
©Copyright 1997-2008