The Heavy Horse

    Coincidentally with the disintegration of the Roman Empire, several factors combined to bring the workhorse into being. The first was the introduction of heavier horses. The brawny draft horse was developed from horses introduced into Europe by the Germanic tribes of the north, where breeds tend to be heavier than those from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The next factor was the introduction into Europe of the shoulder collar. Exactly when this invention immigrated from China is not clear. A variety of harnessing methods had been in use to hitch horses to carts and chariots in ancient times, but the shoulder collar (also called the horsecollar) is far and away the most efficient.

photo courtesy of 

    The horsecollar enabled farmers to take advantage of the horse’s greater speed and strength. With the horse, they could cultivate bigger fields and pull heavier loads to market.

    Although mounted cavalry had been firmly established in European military campaigns for 1500 years, it was still limited in its usefulness. The situation changed completely when the stirrup reached the West by the 8th century. Its introduction caused a revolution in social organization. Because the stirrup enabled a heavily armored man to thrust with a lance or hack with his sword, the mounted soldier became far more deadly than he was in earlier times. The "Great Horse" needed for a metal-plated rider replaced the light chariot and unarmored cavalry horse and at the same time opened new opportunities for using horses. The mounted knight was so vital to medieval warfare that a landowner's position on the feudal ladder was measured by how many armored and mounted men he could supply his lord. In exchange for his lord's protection, the vassal pledged himself, or money or land sufficient to support a mounted fighting man. The feudal system was born.

photo 1999-2006 Melinda Maidens


A completely outfitted Medieval warhorse might be required to carry more than 200 pounds. This  included the horse’s armor and the weight of the armored knight, including shield and lance.


16th century knights on parade
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City


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