Horses during the middle ages were significantly different from horses today. On the whole, they were much smaller. They were also more central to society since you needed a horse to do almost anything. Different types of horses did develop for different purposes. However, they were not considered “breeds” like they are today.
Instead of differentiating horses by breed, they were often differentiated by use. For example, war horses were often called “chargers.” Sometimes, specific phrases were used like “Spanish horse,” but we don’t know if this was meant for several breeds or one particular breed.
Therefore, the breeds of medieval warhorses are hardly set-in-stone. We often have the historians’ best guess, but these breeds likely wouldn’t have been considered specific breeds during Medieval times.
In this list, we’ll look at a few breeds of horses that may have been used as war horses. Some of these horses weren’t used by the medieval people as war horses but are close descendants of the horses that likely were.
The 8 Medieval War Horse Breeds
1. Mongolian Horse
This is one of the few ancient horse breeds that still exists today relatively unchanged. As the name suggests, this horse breed was developed and ridden by the Mongols for thousands of years, including during the Middle Ages. They were feared war horses and likely used by Genghis Khan as coursers – fast horses used for raids and similar activities.
They have a high level of stamina and are quite robust, making them perfect for the battlefield. However, they are a bit slower than other horse breeds, as they are quite stoat. The Mongols would often bring extra horses in battle so that they could switch out horses as needed.
Today, this Horse still has one of the largest populations, with over 3 million horses spread throughout the world. They are some of the most genetically diverse horses around. In many countries in the area, this Horse is still the primary means of transportation. They are also used as milk horses in some countries.
This horse is one of the most graceful war horses out there. Many nations were used back in the Medieval period and are known as the “royal horses of Europe.” They are well-known for their muscular build and graceful trot.
During the Late Middle Ages, the Spanish war horse began to capture the kings’ hearts and minds and queens across Europe. We don’t know if this was a single breed or just several breeds that came from Spain. However, the Andalusian is descended from the horses – or was perhaps one of the specific Spanish breeds. We know that the king of England Henry VIII loved this breed and readily used them throughout his cavalry.
This breed was recognized officially during the 15th century. However, the ancestors of the breed were around far before that. We don’t know how much this breed has changed from the past, but it is likely similar to how it was in the past.
This breed is well known for being quite docile, so they have likely been used to improve many modern horse breeds and make them more people-pleasing. Today, this horse breed is used as a versatile riding horse. They also appear regularly in historical and fantasy films due to their good looks.
This horse likely didn’t exist back during the Middle Ages. However, their ancestors did. The Shire horse is likely descended from some larger war horses that were around in England. This horse’s ancestors were likely the “English Great Horse,” which was used as a warhorse throughout the Middle Ages.
Henry VIII also loved this warhorse. He sought to raise its overall height and banned the breeding of horses shorter than 15 hands high (hh). That is likely one of the reasons that the horse is so large today. This Horse was used to carry knights in full armor with ease and a suit of armor on the Horse itself.
While gunpowder’s rise largely put-on end to the heavy way horse breed, this horse remained popular due to its versatile nature. It was able to become an essential workhorse in various industries, including farming, forestry, and transportation.
Even though it likely has ancient origins, this horse breed was only recognized in the mid-18th century. They were used throughout World War II, which caused their numbers to decline dramatically. Luckily, they were versatile enough to make a comeback, though they are still considered endangered horses today.
These delicate-looking horses probably aren’t something you’d imagine to be used in war. However, they were likely used prolifically. These horses were likely involved in more war than any other horse breed, though at different times.
The Arabian breed ancestors stretched from Ancient Egypt to Greece to the Ottoman Empire, and they were likely used as war horses for many of these nations. They are agile horses that were used mostly for their speed and endurance. They were perfect for raids and light cavalry charges.
While the use of heavy warhorses eventually fizzled out, the Arabian Horse became even more critical. They were used mainly for their agility and speed during the Late Middle Ages.
The modern-day Arabian breed has likely changed at least slightly from its ancient days, but it is still one of the most popular breeds around. They are versatile due to their high intelligence and endurance.
This is another light cavalry horse, though it was primarily used during the Early Middle Ages. They were well-known for their bravery and graceful movements, making them a boon to have in battle. This breed’s original origins are unknown, though it likely has Arabian, Turkoman, and Mongolian influences.
This breed is quite rare today, but it once numbered in the tens of thousands. Their prowess made them famous outside of their native lands as well. They were quite popular in the 16th century.
The Marwari is now the national Horse of India. It is closely related to several other breeds, including the Kathiawari, which was likely also used as a warhorse.
Owning one of these warhorses hasn’t always been easy. Once upon a time, only the nobility and royalty could afford to own one of these horses. Today, they are used mostly for competitions like dressage and in polo.
This breed is commonly crossed with a Thoroughbred to produce larger, sportier horses. They often take part in shows and religious ceremonies, where they were traditional tack.
This breed is probably as close to an ancient destrier as you’re going to get. This French breed was born for war. We have many paintings of this breed’s ancestors being used as mounts for armored knights, which would make them heavy calvary.
This breed developed on the river lands of Northwestern France, where they were likely to the creation of native horses breeding with Spanish stock. The Percheron lived its days as a warhorse in the High and Late Middle Ages. It has a high amount of natural strength and is considerably large, making it perfect for heavy cavalry.
As the use of armored knights declined, this Horse began to be used for coach pulling, agricultural, and forestry work. As their purpose shifted, they began to get a bit taller as well. They developed more pulling power and became relatively docile.
The Percheron is one of the most popular draft horses in the United States, starting from around the 19th century. Usually, these horses are grey or black today. They are used mostly for draft purposes.
The Barb is a North African breed that is well-known for its hardiness and stamina. This Horse is likely native to Africa, where it was a significant part of the culture. There are cave paintings of this horse breed that date back thousands of years, so this Horse was likely known in the area for a very long time. It has been used since ancient times for warfare, hunting, and work.
When imported, this Horse is sometimes mistaken as an Arabian horse. However, they are quite different when you know what you’re looking for. In ancient times, they were likely commonly confused for the Arabian because the size is similar, and their handlers were often Muslims, similarly to the Arabian.
Today, these horses exist primarily in Morocco, Algeria, Spain, and France. Due to the challenging economic times in North Africa, their numbers there are decreasing steadily. The number of purebred Barbs overall is decreasing as well.
8. Akhal Teke
This breed likely has its roots with the earliest domesticated horses. It was transformed into an athletic and versatile horse that is used for a variety of purposes through selective breeding. They are considered to be one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. They are the only remaining strain of the ancient Turkoman Horse, a breed that originated from the Eastern slopes of central Asia between 3000 and 4000 BCE.
These horses are mostly known for their speed and endurance, which made them great warhorses. They have a distinctive metallic coat, which is why they are also called “Golden Horses.” They have adapted to the severe desert climate that they originated from. Today, the Horse is relatively rare, with only about 6,600 horses known throughout the world. For this reason, they are also costly.
This breed’s exact ancestry is difficult to trace, but it likely dates back to animals living over 3,000 years ago. Horse breeds did not exist then, as horses were identified either by their locality or their type.
This breed is likely related to the Turkoman horse, which is thought the be extinct. However, a related strain of the Akhal Teke in Iran may be the ancient Turkoman horse, though scholars today can not agree on the facts as of yet. The Arabian horse may have also developed out of the breed, though it may have been an ancestor instead. We know they were related; we aren’t sure how.
Many Arabian mares were used to improve this breed in the 14th and 19th centuries, so most are crossbreeds today.
The tribal people in this horse’s native land used to use the Akhal-Teke for raiding. They have often treasured possessions since they were crucial for income and survival. Their owners cherished them for their speed and stamina across the desert, where little water and food were found.
Featured Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay