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Horses in Warfare


war_horsesHorses have been used in warfare from as early as 4000 BC and ending only in the last hundred years in the Western world; they are still used frequently in third world countries. A variety of horses, including mules and donkeys, have been used in warfare for an equal number of different purposes. Type varied with purpose, which some horses being used for reconnaissance, others for calvary charges or raiding, and still others for communication and supply. Though they have been phased out for combat in the western world, many countries still maintain small units for mounted police, mountain search and rescue, and small military units for ceremonial and educational purposes.

Horses were divided up by type: light weight, medium weight, heavy weight and other. Each designation had a special purpose in battle and certain breeds were more likely to end up in a specific group.

Light horses, such as Arabians, Barb and Akahl-Teke were used in areas that required speed, endurance and agility. They often ranged in size from 12 to 15 hands and weighed between 800-1000 pounds. The riders of these horses often used light weight tack to help maintain speed and carried relatively light weapons including bows, spears, javelins and eventually rifles. The light horse was the horse used most to pull chariots, be involved in raids and in light cavalry.

Medium weight horses were developed as the weight of weaponry increased and horses were required to carry heavier loads such as a chariot with two people or a knight in full metal armor. They were also needed to pull supply wagons and larger artillery pieces. They ranged in size from 14.2 to 16 hands and in weight from 1000 to 1200 pounds and were quite agile in combat though they lacked the speed and endurance of light horses.

Heavy horses were the ancestors of what we see in our draft horses today. They weighed between 1500 and 2000 pounds and pulled heavy loads, with a disposition that kept them calm under fire.

In addition, donkeys and mules were also used. Donkeys most commonly as pack animals, as they are still used today. Mules were used as pack animals, to pull wagons and on occasion for riding. Though they have a better disposition for hauling supplies over difficult terrain, they were not used to pull artillery in the field as they were easily frightened and became significantly less cooperative.


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