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This topic contains 5 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by Guy Farrish Guy Farrish 7 months, 2 weeks ago.

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    The accepted wisdom is that horses will cringe at charging bodies of armed men: see the squares charged by the French cavalry at Waterloo.

    Mike Loades, in his book, “Swords & Swordsmen” writes:

    ‘Don’t believe in that nonsense about horses not wanting to trample people. It depends on the horse.

    I rode a wonderfully brave polo pony : a fiery & courageous mare who baulked at nothing. Polo ponies in general are trained to use their body mass and fearlessly barge into other ponies on the field and ride them off. Hard contact is second nature to them.

    I marshalled a a shieldwall, but two ranks thick, and sure enough, we smashed through the lines, opening up a gap & putting them in disorder. I got everyone to then form at six ranks deep. My horse snorted & stamped in anticipation of another assault. we cannoned into the first rank, crashed into the second but then we were surrounded & I was ignominiously hauled from the saddle….’

    I think he makes a good point here. A lot depends on the horse & with some experience, I can testify a number are a bit “psychopathic”.  Much depends upon the depth & resolution of those in the formation that’s charged.





    Phil Dutré
    Phil Dutré

    Are you questioning whether cavalry can break an infantry square (the historical record shows it was an unusual event)? Or are you questioning (one of) the usual rationale for explaining so?

    • This reply was modified 7 months, 2 weeks ago by Phil Dutré Phil Dutré.
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish

    I think you can train horses to be aggressive (intact males can often naturally be like this) but whether they will break a formed body of men is another thing.  As you say, if the unit has pointy things to jab at/into the horses and doesn’t lose courage, it  seems to have usually seen off the horses. It’s the courage to stand fast when you can feel the ground moving as the horses approach that is key.

    I presume Loades didn’t have his shieldwall stick sharpened steel pike/spear heads into the horse’s face or chest as it approached? Which is why I normally have doubts about what such re-enactment experiments can teach us. The pain, terror, and in humans, fear of death is missing. What wins out between a horse trained to lash out and kick with steel shod hooves, and a solid wall of sharpened steel points aimed at its eyes, nose and chest and double handed swords and axes lopping its legs off? I’m hoping that no-one is going to do the experiment to find out.




    The mounted police train their horses to push into groups of people, which is more or less what you’re talking about, albeit not at a charge and usually without lethal weapons in use on either side. Apparently some take to it more readily than others.

    Ivan Sorensen
    Ivan Sorensen

    as suggested, there’s two things right?

    First: CAN a horse be induced to charge a line of men?
    As Ochoin, I’ve often suspected that it must definitely be possible and that the “Horses won’t charge formed bodies” thing was a bit too generalized.

    Second: Is that the reason horses don’t break squares?
    The impression I’ve gotten is that it has more to do with density.
    A single horse man is facing potentially 4 melee opponents and 2 opponents who will fire at him as he approaches (assuming 3 ranks deep and a horse is as wide as 2 infantry men).

    Nordic Weasel Games

    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish

    I am sure you can get a horse to charge a line of men.

    I would be fairly sure that you can train a horse to physically crash into a line of men.

    The difficult bit I think is the battle of psychological will between the riders of the charging horses and the standing line of men. (and to some extent what both are armed with, which will no doubt feed into their resolve).

    If the line is confident (or sufficiently threatened by their own officers/ncos) in their ability to deter the horse, the riders will probably not fancy their chances in a full tilt impact. It is only when the line wavers and opens up gaps as people cower or run that the charge goes all the way in.

    If the riders slow in the face of resolution then the charge breaks down into a stand off/prodding with sharp sticks and the horse instincts kick in as much as anything. Getting several inches of sharp steel in the face and chest is going to result in a bit of  bucking and thrashing about and unhorsing of riders. But I wonder how often it got to that if the resolve of the line/square was good?

    As for horse not liking to trample/stand on living things (which is where this idea comes from I think) its is true horses will shy at quite small creatures under their hooves if they see the thing. On the other hand national hunt jockeys wouldn’t get kicked so frequently when they fall if horses always avoided people on the ground.  (But that is a very different thing from crashing into a standing person).

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