Jousting: From Medieval Times To Full Metal Jousting Part Three

A Knight And His Horse


An integral part of a knight’s accoutrement was his horse. During battle combat and jousting tournaments the horse was a teammate. A horse became more than a tool for winning in the lists or in the field. The horse was a valuable member. He or she was a necessity, much prized and one part of the knight’s chances of becoming not just another casualty.

Types of Horses

During the Middle Ages, the ideal horse tended to be heavier and larger. Small horses such as ponies were not considered appropriate mounts during specific times of history. Four kinds of horses were in common usage during Medieval times. These were the Destrier, the Palfry (used for general riding purposes often the term referred to a lady’s horse), the Courser and the Rouncy (all-purpose horse). The most common horse employed in jousting and combat jousting were the Destrier and the Courser.

The Destrier

This horse ranked among the most expensive possessions of a knight. Well-trained, well bred and beautifully turned out, this type of horse was the perfect warhorse. It arrived in England along with William the Conqueror. The destrier was fast and agile, not as heavy as today’s work horses but capable of bearing heavy weights.

In warfare, a knight that had the money might choose a Destrier. In all likelihood, it would be a stallion. The aggressiveness attributed to an unaltered male made it the choice.

Yet, Destriers are actually rare on the battlefield. In fact, this horse might appear more frequently in a jousting match due to the expense and the basic requirements for a joust horse. Today, this particular type of horse is no longer in existence. Several breeds resemble the original Destriers including the Percheron and the Andalusian horse. Modern attempts to recreate the breed have crossed Clydesdales and Quarterhorses. This provides the horses with the size, the ability to bear weight and agility.

The Courser

A Courser is a light, strong and fast horse. While expensive, it did not cost as much as a Destrier. A knight might ride a Courser in hard battles, where speed and strength needed to prevail. The derivation of the name, according to respected author Ann Hyland could be either from the Old French for “to run” – cours, or form the Italian word for battle horse corsiero.

Horse Armor

In the field – whether battle or jousting, a horse wore protection. The origins of this are not known. While William the Conqueror employed horses in the Battle of Hastings, the Bayeux Tapestry does not show the horses wearing any form of protection. However, by the 12th century, horse appear in their own battle garb. This is a natural progression as horses were a live weapon, taught to stamp on the enemy, charge them remorselessly, kick them, etc. They also acted as a means of protection between the rider and the opponent. If a horse was brought down, death or capture by the enemy forces could follow. In fact, capturing a horse might be just as beneficial as taking prisoner its rider. The saddle, barding (armour) and other forms of equipment made the horse a valuable asset that extended beyond the obvious worth of the horse. By the time of Philip the Fair of France (Philip VI, 1268-1314), an ordinance was put into place requiring everyone who held an estate of at least 500 livres rental to ensure each horse of a man-at-arms be supplied with a couvert de couvertures de fer or de couverture pourpointe. In England, by 1278, the horses are wearing parchment crests affixed using rivets. Mention is made of these in the Roll of Purchases of Windsor Park Tournament for that year.

The Armour

Armour for a horse generally comprised both leather and steel. Protective armour coated the head, neck, chest and body. A padded cloth extended from beneath the saddle to swathe the rear of the animal. Acting as both decorative and war weapon, were the spikes on his head in addition to a mask. In jousting, the protective mask was called a chanfron (Shaffron).

A horse may also sport a textile trapper. This was often, like other additions to armour, more for display. This cloth was light but also could prevent chafing of the horse. In jousting, a caparison or ornamental cloth draped the horse’s body. Covered with heraldic symbols, it clearly indicated who the owner of the horse was.

The tail was also protected. Its root was covered with a Gardequeue or tubular plate. This often took the shape of mythological creatures including a dragon. It also could be in the form of a dolphin. An inside lining of cotton or linen made sure the horse was not irritated by the metal. If, instead, the owner chose cuirbouilli (boiled leather), it gave him greater scope for decorative flourishes. These bindings were painted and gilded.

A high-backed saddle helped provide both leverage for a rider during a charge on the field or in a joust. It also helped a rider retain his seat if struck a blow from a lance.

Today’s Mounts and Equipment

Today, a jouster looks for certain characteristics when selecting a horse. They look for:

  • Size
  • A smooth gait
  • Level-headedness
  • Steadiness

The selected horses tend to be of the workhorse or draft horse variety – Belgian, Percheron and Shire. The horses wear protection for their flanks, head and chest. To do so, they wear a Shaffron Cameron, crupper and peytral.

Conclusion

Horse were an integral part of warfare in the Middle Ages. In Jousting, whether individual or tournament, combat or entertainment, horse were part of a horse-rider team. Both needed to be on their mark if they were to win and/or stay alive. To further ensure these goals were met, horses received training and wore protective devices.

Today, the Jousters of Full Metal Jousting and comparable groups continue the tradition. They choose their horse, put on their armour and are prepared to dance in battle once again.

Sources to consider:

Clark, John (ed.). The Medieval Horse and its equipment, c.1150-c.1450., Series: Medieval finds from excavations in London:5., London, HMSO, 1995.

Davis, R. The Medieval Warhorse.London: Thames and Hudson, 1989.

Hyland, Ann. The Horse in the Middle Ages Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1999.

Hyland, Ann The Warhorse 1250-1600. Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998.


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Comments 3 comments

Patty Kenyon profile image

Patty Kenyon 4 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

Interesting!!! I love reading about history!!!


Diane Ward 4 years ago

I love this series of articles!


V.Weagle 3 years ago

The horse's fabric cover was on top of a layer of something like straw, which gave some protection to the horse. The fabric cover was called a "hort" (spelling?).

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