The horse was an integral and essential component of medieval existence. Horses were needed for tournaments, for hunting, for pleasure, for travel, for transport and haulage, for agricultural work, and for war.
|Ladies in hunting|
In the early Middle Ages, the horse was primarily a luxurious method of travel. By the 11th century, however, horses had begun to share some of the burdens of the plow with oxen. In the 12th century, horses begun to play a more prominent role in the transport of goods; by the 13th century, horses were pulling carts, an important vehicle for road transport. Horses developed a social hierarchy as is reflected in the extensive vocabulary used to distinguish between types of horses according to purpose and quality. The noblest of the horses was undoubtedly, the destrier, the medieval warhorse.
The islamic conquests of Iberia and Sicily brought desirable breeds to the West, where the indigenous breeds tended to be small ponies. The Moors introduced Spain to the Barb, the Turkmene, and the Arabian; they also used indigenous breeds, such as Andalusian. This blend of breeds has a profound effect on the development of the warhorse in western Europe.
|Farming horse in medieval time|
Quality horses were regulary imported from Spain, Lombardy, and the Low Countries for the purpose of breeding warhorses. The numbers of mounted infantry grew in the 8th and 9th centuries, and calvary came to have a major role in medieval warfare. Developments in warfare practice demanded specific developments in the horse – mainly larger horses able to support armor and sustain blows – which had to be bred and maintained.
In late 9th century, France’s and England’s programs of warhorse acquisition and breeding were undertaken and continued into the era of the Hundred Year’s War. High-quality horses were imported from other countries; large horse-fairs emerged, serving to improve and distribute the animals. English and French kings imposed export restrictions in what became, in essence, a medieval arms race. The Great Horse of Middle Ages, which stood around 15 hands (5 feet) high, was a result of careful breeding and maintenance. It became recognized for its stamina, strength, and fierce temperament.
The attentive breeding of warhorses had an impact on the quality of horses used for other purposes. By the 13th century, horses had become affordable and available to all classes of medieval society. In England, for example, prices of horses ranged from 2 shillings, 6 pence (8 days wages) for a peasant work horse, to 3 pounds for a riding horse (180 days), to a 100 pounds (6,000 days) or more for a destrier.
|Picture showing ladies riding horses a side|
Because of changes in military tactics, the decline in breeding activity, the sale of many horses abroad, and the destruction of studs and stock in wars, there was a dire shortage of horses by the close of 15th century, especially in England. The revival of conscientious horse breeding to meet new military demands had to wait until the 16th century and the reign of Henry VIII.