Ancient Roman Horse Equipment (and Medieval eqp.)

Subotai
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<font face="Book Antiqua">Greetings All,

From <u>Greece and Rome at War</u>, page 224 and pertaining to the Republican period:

"Cavalry had always been the weakest link in the Roman army and many battles were lost as a direct result of this. Hannibal's Spanish, Celtic and African cavalry were the key to his victories at Trebbia and Cannae, driving the Roman and Italian cavalry right off the field of battle and leaving the flanks open to a devastating attack by his pikemen. Although Scipio made great use of the Numidians - the key factor in his victory over Hannibal - the Romans continued to field armies with an inadequate cavalry arm. As the cavalry was part of the legion it had to be drawn, in the main, from inferior Italian sources. In the 2nd century BC the Romans made the momentous decision to abolish the legionary cavalry and employ instead foreign horsemen, raised in the areas of operation and led by their own chiefs or Roman commanders <i><b>(praefecti equitum)</b></i>, just as the Carthaginians had done."

A lot of this changed again in the early empire. By the late empire the Romans had adopted the heavily armored cavalry as mentioned earlier....

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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Subotai</i>
<br />

This heavy cavalry could not have been possible without the development of larger and heavier horses in central Asia - not an area we normally associate with heavy enough horses to carry an armored rider. The first planned horse breeding work being done was by the Medes and Assyrians. It took a while to catch on.


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I'm far from an expert on this (which is an interesting historical period), but I've generally seen the heavy horses of the Medieval period cited as improved descendants of the large horses of Northern Europe. This is not to say the same types of horse would not have been in Asia, but generally these horses are regarded as having been native to northern Europe, extending out into what is today Russia. While native to the northern regions, the basic type was improved out of existance during the Medieval period, and they're legacy is to be found in the "draft" breeds of today. However, those breeds are much improved through the introduction of various other bloodlines, and the horses look quite a bit different, apparently, from what their more primitive ancestors looked like. Even some Arab blood was used to improve some of the heavy breeds, which shows how much attention has really gone into them.

FWIW, Roman historians have reported in at least one instance that one of the German tribes along the Rhine were avid horsemen, which is not how we would generally conceive of them. That the Romans noted it in this instance would suggest it was certainly true, as, while Roman historians were inclined to exaggerate, they would have been unlikely to fabricate such an item. I've quoted it here before, and will try to find it if I have the chance. It'd be intersting to know how these Germanic tribesmen were mounted at that time. Also, by noting this, I do not wish to suggest that Germanic tribes were mounted to the extent of other peoples of antiquity, like the Huns or Arabs, as that certainly would not be true.

On stirrups, there's some interesting discussions on that elsewhere on the forum which I'll bump up when I get the chance. The Romans certainly did not use stirrups, and its always fun to point out the error of using them in films depicting them. On stirrups themselves, I suspect that they're one of those items, that Holscher's First Law of History may apply to, which is that Everything was around earlier than you think it was. But that certainly isn't evidence of anything, and I'll bump that thread up when I find it.

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<font face="Book Antiqua">Greetings All,

With reference to large Asian horses. We know the Medes bred the Nisaean charger as early as the 7th century BC. We know the Massagetaes [from what is today northern Iran], bred or acquired large horses from the Medes in the 6th century BC and we know the Sarmatians in the 3rd century BC used heavy armored cavalry on large horses to destroy the Scythian state. These large horses were used all over Asia Minor by the Persian Empire.

The Parthians had a breeding program which produced Nisaean chargers under the kingship of Mithridates II [124 - 87 BC] on which they mounted their heavies, the cataphractii, who were armed with long lances and protected by mail or scale armor as were the horses.

The Romans were destroyed at Carrhae by 1,000 Parthian cataphractii and 8,000 horse archers. Hmm 39,000 defeated by 9,000 on open ground in broad daylight. Pretty good generalship. Mobility and firepower, what a combo...

But I digress.

The Goths who defeated the Romans at Adrianople were a Germanic tribe. The missing piece of information - why we are confused by Germans being expert horsemen is that they were a nomadic tribe [like the Ostrogoths and Vandals], who originated on the central steppes of Eurasia and were driven west by the rising power of the Hsing Nu - later known as the Huns.

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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Subotai</i>
<br /><font face="Book Antiqua">Greetings All,

With reference to large Asian horses. We know the Medes bred the Nisaean charger as early as the 7th century BC. We know the Massagetaes [from what is today northern Iran], bred or acquired large horses from the Medes in the 6th century BC and we know the Sarmatians in the 3rd century BC used heavy armored cavalry on large horses to destroy the Scythian state. These large horses were used all over Asia Minor by the Persian Empire.

The Parthians had a breeding program which produced Nisaean chargers under the kingship of Mithridates II [124 - 87 BC] on which they mounted their heavies, the cataphractii, who were armed with long lances and protected by mail or scale armor as were the horses.

But I digress.

The Goths who defeated the Romans at Adrianople were a Germanic tribe. The missing piece of information - why we are confused by Germans being expert horsemen is that they were a nomadic tribe [like the Ostrogoths and Vandals], who originated on the central steppes of Eurasia and were driven west by the rising power of the Hsing Nu - later known as the Huns.

<i><b>Terroriferi delende est</b></i>,</font id="Book Antiqua">
Jeffrey S. Wall
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[/quote]

That may very well be correct. Even so, however, it's still raise the question of the origins of the horses of chivalry. I'm far from an expert on it, but previously I've always seen the ancestors of these horses cited as the native forest horses of Northern Europe, which extended out east on to the plains of what is now European Russia.

That indeed gets to your next point, that the Germans had occupied European Russia, which is quite true. They extended East some distance, and in actuality where put under pressure by the Slavs, at first, who were fleeing the advancing Asian peoples of the Steppes. They put pressure on the Slavs, and in turn the Slavs put pressure on the Germanic tribes, who started moving West.

However, an added factor of that, it seems to me, is that the Germanic peoples did, I believe, already extend into Northern Europe. They were fairly spread out. Then, of course, there were Celtic tribes that were on both sides of the Rhine, and extended up into parts of what is now Northern Europe as well.

Anyhow, I'm not disputing the use of armor with horses Jeff mentions, indeed it'd be foolish of me to do so as I don't know anything about it. Very intersting, and I hope we read more. What I wonder is, or think is likely the case, is that the heavy breeds associated with Medieval Chivalry had their origins with the heavy forest horses of Northern Europe, which themselves extended into the area which is now European Russia. By extension, I wonder what the modern descendants, if any, of the Asian horses mentioned by Jeff are.

On a side note, it is often noted how heavy armor is. But that's a bit deceptive. Medieval armor at least was heavy, but not debilitatingly heavy to the extent so often believed. As a topical example of that, the History channel show I mentioned in the Italian cavalry thread went into armor manufacture to great extent and was very intersting, and actually showed the host rolling off the back of a horse and springing to his feet with no difficulty. I wouldn't normally cite tv, but this did seem well done.



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Perhaps this gives a fairly representative view on the origin of modern draft breeds. This is from the University of Oklahoma's breed database, and is specifically from the text on the Belgian Draft Horse. I've more or less picked it out at random because I like Belgian draft horses:


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Belgium lies in the very center of that area of western Europe which gave rise to the large black horses known as Flemish horses and were referred to as the "great horses" by medieval writers. They are the horses that carried armored knights into battle. Such horses were known to exist in that part of Europe in the time of Caesar. They provided the genetic material from which nearly all the modern draft breeds were fashioned.
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See http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/horses/

I think the significance here is that it basically cites the conventional view. All modern draft horses are descendants of the Flemish horses, a breed now lost to history. The Flemish horse was the "great horse" of Medieval times, and were the horse of chivalry. But they date back to Ancient times. They were in use in antiquity, but form the basic stock which made up the Medieval Military Horse in Europe. That horse, of course, was not bred for speed or agility, but for carrying capacity and shock.

On this, it should be noted that it is likely that the Great Horse of aniquity, as it was known in ancient times, was a large powerful horse, but we shouldn't take that to mean it looked like a Clydesdale. Draft horses have actually gotten bigger since horse farming declined. And all draft breeds have seen the infusion of blood from other breeds.




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Here's one on the Friesian horse, also a descendant of the Flemish Horse. This gives the Linnaean classification for it, Equus robustus.

http://www.imh.org/imh/bw/friesian.html

I did not realize until now that the heavy coldblooded European horse had been classified as a separate species in this fashion. That would be somewhat in error by the rules of strict speciation classification, as the fact that it will cross with other horses and produce viable offspring defeats the separate classification. But what a descriptive name it had. None the less, the horses of antiquity have been classified into four seperate species, all of which have contributed to the modern horse, Equus caballus. Apparnently the light Arabian horse has been classed as a seperate species, Equus agillus, and the Tarpan and Steppe horses have their own speicies classifications. Other than Arabians, it would be an open question as to whether any other horse breed would deserve to be regarded as a member of a species under the Linnean classification, as breed improvement has been long on going. Anyhow, Equus robustus is no longer around, but is instead represented by the draft breeds today.

And more on it:

http://horsecare.stablemade.com/_articles/robustus.htm

It should, perhaps, be noted that the first use of the large coldblooded European horse was not to ride it, but to eat it. This is the horse, as the above link mentions, that shows up on cave drawings. It was a game animal for early Europeans.


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I am afraid that the idea that the Friesian is somehow the last bulwark of the Great Horse or yore is very flawed indeed.

The Friesian as we know it, is barely its real breed. By 1930's the Breed had less than 13 breeding stallions in its line. This led to the dutch to try to re-fire the line by massive input of Oldenburg stallions. Even now the line still throws up true BAY friesians.

The best you can say about this breed is that it is very baroque in appearance but that has come due to a need for the dutch to produce a good looking funeral horse.

The only true extant War Horse (in my opinion) a horse that has not been sodded about with, is the Percheron. Even in the Andalusian we can see the blood of this breed beating in the larger Brida type of the Andalusian Breed. How could this be? Simple, the Vandals took the large horse of Perch into this region as their mount of choice. The very name Andalusia is a shortened original name of (V)andal- lusia. As such if we want to look to something of the type then this is the breed not the VERY NEW breed called Friesian
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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by steenie</i>
<br />I am afraid that the idea that the Friesian is somehow the last bulwark of the Great Horse or yore is very flawed indeed.

The Friesian as we know it, is barely its real breed. By 1930's the Breed had less than 13 breeding stallions in its line. This led to the dutch to try to re-fire the line by massive input of Oldenburg stallions. Even now the line still throws up true BAY friesians.

The best you can say about this breed is that it is very baroque in appearance but that has come due to a need for the dutch to produce a good looking funeral horse.

The only true extant War Horse (in my opinion) a horse that has not been sodded about with, is the Percheron. Even in the Andalusian we can see the blood of this breed beating in the larger Brida type of the Andalusian Breed. How could this be? Simple, the Vandals took the large horse of Perch into this region as their mount of choice. The very name Andalusia is a shortened original name of (V)andal- lusia. As such if we want to look to something of the type then this is the breed not the VERY NEW breed called Friesian
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Knowing nothing at all about Friesian's, I didn't mean to suggest they are a throwback to the Great Horse. Not at all. Apparently they are less of an breed with such lineange that I would have imagined, but I don't know anything about them.

Rather, I only wanted to show that the knights horse has lineage back to the Great Horse, and by extentsion so do the modern Draft Breeds.

Percherons, for what it is worth, share the same characteristic of having had blood of other breeds introduced into them, so they are not a pure undeluted representative of the coldblooded Forest Horses of antiquity either. The introduction of Arab blood into the Percheron line is well established. This is the subject of an earlier thread here. I'm far from an expert on the draft breeds, (or any breeds), but this is, I'm afraid, simply typical for them. In the Middle Ages the advantages of introducing other bloodlines into the heavy horse was widely apparent, and there wasn't any interest, of course, in preserving the old Flemish type heavy horse if they could be improved. Now people would have a fit if a distinct type was being crossbred out of existance, but at the time only the advantages could be seen. And there must have been some, as the practice was so universal the Great Horse of antiquity, that is the Flemish horse, ceased to exist.

That would raise the question, of course, as to which breed is closest to it. I suspect, without knowing, that it might be a question that can't be answered, as the basic types of European draft horses are probably all equal contenders for the most part. Hard to say, I would guess. But perhaps not.

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You are so right about the Percheron. But if you think that the horse of the forest was all that the Horse of Perch was in the medieaval period then you are wrong and I am sure you did not mean that. Also I am stupid in translation so who knows lol.

I have written a book on this very subject of baroque horse types and their breeding for purpose, but do u think i can get the bloody thing published??? lol
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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by steenie</i>
<br />You are so right about the Percheron. But if you think that the horse of the forest was all that the Horse of Perch was in the medieaval period then you are wrong and I am sure you did not mean that. Also I am stupid in translation so who knows lol.

I have written a book on this very subject of baroque horse types and their breeding for purpose, but do u think i can get the bloody thing published??? lol

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Oh no, I didn't mean that either. Indeed, it's wise to keep in mind that we are discussing a very long period of time here. But, I didn't mean to suggest that at all.

Have you tried to get it published recently? It sounds like a very intersting topic and I wish it would get published. Horses of this period make for a very interesting topic, but the topic seems overlooked.

On the Percheron, here's the University of Oklahoma's text, the URL for which is set forth above:

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The exact origins of the Percheron have been lost over time. Some believe they are descendants of the original horses found in the region during the Ice Age, others that he is closely related to the Boulonnais horse used in the Roman invasion of Brittany. Still others believe the breed is from Abd el Rahman's Arab stallions or part of the horses used by the invading Moors at the battle of Poitiers which were divided among the victorious French forces. Regardless of these ancient beginnings it is known that at two points in history the native mares of the Le Perche region of France were mated with Arab stallions, first during the eighth century and later during the Middle Ages. By the time of the crusades the Percheron was widely recognized as outstanding for his substance and soundness, as well as for his characteristic beauty and style.

By the 17th century horses produced in Le Perche had attained widespread notoriety and were in demand for many different uses. The Percheron of this time showed less scale and was probably more active. He stood from 15 to 16 hands high.

In the early 19th century the French government established a stud at Le Pin for the development of army mounts. In 1823, a horse named Jean Le Blanc was foaled in Le Perche and all of today's Percheron bloodlines trace directly to this horse.

Percherons were first imported to the United States in 1839, by Edward Harris of Moorestown, New Jersey. The stallions, Normandy and Louis Napoleon, were imported to Ohio in 1851. Louis Napolean was later sold into Illinois and wound up in the hands of the Dunham family who were instrumental in forming the Percheron Association.

Thousands of Percherons were imported to America in the last half of the 19th century, and importations continued up until World War II. The Percheron quickly became the favorite of both the American farmer and the teamster who moved freight on the nations city streets. The Percheron was so popular that by 1930, the government census showed that there were three times as many registered Percherons as the other four draft breeds combined.

Following World War II, the invention of the modern farm tractor nearly made the breed extinct. As America modernized and mechanized, the Percheron was all but forgotten. However, a handful of farmers, including many Amish, dedicated to the preservation of the breed, kept it alive through the next twenty years of the draft horse depression.

The 1960's, saw a renaissance in the draft horse business as Americans rediscovered it's usefulness. Percherons are now back on small farms and working in the forest. Thousands of Percherons are used for recreation such as hayrides, sleighrides and parades.

Percherons are shown in competition hitching and halter classes at many state and county fairs across the country. Percherons are used in advertising and promotion of other businesses. They are a common sight on many streets as the carriage business flourishes in many of our larger cities
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On the heavy breeds, one thing that I wonder is the extent to which their present conformation reflects agricultural use.

They're intersting in the story of the horse as they started off as wild big horses, which were game animals. At some point somebody started domesticating them, presumably for transportation. Later, they were bred for war. At some point, they started to be used for agricultural draft horses.

That's a lot of different influences over a 10,000 year period or so, with only the last couple of thousand reflecting domestic use. That use in war lead to breeding efforts can't be doubted. More recently, show use has effected their appearance. It's an intersting example of adaption to various purposes over time.

As a complete aside, with all the modern study on whipping up extinct or rare animals from near relatives (such as the current talk of whether or not you can make a Test Tube Mammoth with an elephant as the serrogate mother), I'm surprised somebody doesn't try to work backwards and come up with examples of the extinct species of modern horses.

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I was wondering if anyone was interested in recreating the Naragansett Pacer. It was one of the first American horse types and I think Standardbred, Morgan and Canadian Horse genes owe something to this long-gone breed.

Tarpans have already been recreated, as I mentioned in another active thread.

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Interesting question, Monique. I have long wondered why they lost popularity, when other pacing and ambling breeds stayed around. They were once immensely popular. If you will recall, the girls (or one of them at least) in "Last Of The Mohecans," started the adventure mounted on Naragensetts.

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I don't know about Standardbreds, but Saddlebreds are a breed developed from the Naragensett Pacer. Indeed, they seem to have pretty much taken up where the Naragensett left off.

I've also wondered about why the Naragensett disappeared, but would note it seems to be associated in some ways with the appearance of the Saddlebred. I'm not sure what we can deduce from that, but it seems to be the case.

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I am not an expert on this either, but will risk a few observations on the earlier threads:

1) The OU information is not completely accepted;

2) Some historians believe that the modern Percheron is much newer a breed than suggested here. Their thought is that they were created by crossing the great horses of Perch with the Arabians sent to the King of France by the Bey (in the same shipment of horses that brought the Godolphin Arabian to Europe);

3) The knights of yore were small people for the most part, yet in the old illustrations, they are pretty large relative to their mounts, which suggests that the mounts were pretty small by today's standards.

4) The ancient fossil record of equines is very incomplete and much in dispute. I have looked at the dog-sized fossils at Harvard -- not that I am remotely qualified draw any conclusions personally-- and have traced down through the presumptive family tree, but many leaps of faith are made. In the end, we do not know the origins or development of the various ancient races or why they are different, but different they are.

Wonderful topic, altoghther -- full of mysteries and clues.

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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Joseph Sullivan</i>
<br />
2) Some historians believe that the modern Percheron is much newer a breed than suggested here. Their thought is that they were created by crossing the great horses of Perch with the Arabians sent to the King of France by the Bey (in the same shipment of horses that brought the Godolphin Arabian to Europe);
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Indeed, you posted some first rate information on that in some thread, but I couldn't find it. But that information seemed well established. It seems to me that whatever thread that was had some other texts that were posted to it which supported your statement here.

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3) The knights of yore were small people for the most part, yet in the old illustrations, they are pretty large relative to their mounts, which suggests that the mounts were pretty small by today's standards.

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It is well worth remembering that the massive draft horse of today is itself somewhat more of a recent phenominon that we might suspect. Indeed, the horse farming community has been bemoaning the fact that draft horses today are bred for show, rather than work, quite often. One of the things they note about that is that they are getting larger.

The height of the knights over time notwithstanding (it seems to me that the archeological records supports the view that people in the Middle Ages were generally shorter than today, but started off taller at the beginning of it, compared to themselves, than they were at the middle of it, and then they started gaining stature again), I somewhat wonder to what extent true bulk and size maybe somewhat impact by argicultrual use. After all, farmers were not necessarily riding their plow horses, so a really big plow horse is less of a pain than a really tall and big saddle horse. I'm only 5'7" tall and everyone I ride with is tall, and I can really appreciate how shorter folks don't always envy mounting up on a really tall horse.



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Actually, I read somewhere that when horses were used for real work, that very tall draft animals were undesirable because of inefficiencies caused by the steep angle of the shafts.

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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Joseph Sullivan</i>
<br />Actually, I read somewhere that when horses were used for real work, that very tall draft animals were undesirable because of inefficiencies caused by the steep angle of the shafts.

J

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I believe that would be quite correct, and mirrors the comments made by current horse farmers. I wondered if the horses hadn't gotten somewhat bigger when they started being used for farming, but the super huge draft horse is a recent phenominon.

Having said that, in reflecting on it, your point is well taken, and the comments of the modern draft horse farmers speak for themselves. The horses have always been stout, but they haven't always been as downright big as some of them are now.

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Actually, at least in some parts of Europe where equines are seen as food as well, the increase in size of draft horses is a recent acquisition coming from the mechanization of agricoltural industry. The process of mechanization made draft horses obsolete and their residual reason of being was as meat animals, therefore, starting from the already taller horses available, the selection went in direction bigger and taller in order to raise the "live weight". This process, although preserving some interesting races otherwise doomed to extintion, did'nt preserve the best characteristics of them. In very recent times, when the interest on draft horses and "general purpoise" horses came back for leisure and to some extent also for rediscovering the function of draft animals in certain peculiar agricoltural works, a lot of "reverse engineering" was required to recover characteristics "other than good weight increase" in former draft or "general saddle" breeds (TPR and Murgese come to mind if speaking of Italian breeds, but I guess similar considerations can be made on french and other south-european breeds)

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steenie

What do you call a knight of yore and how do u define small?

Henry Vlll was well over 6 foot tall. His tournament armour would hold a man of 16 stone fighting (that equates for you americans to 224 lbs) or in metric 100 kg. This means, with his full horse harness he would weigh twice this at 200kg. If we accept General Smith of the Royal Army Veterinary Corp circa 1900, that a horse should not carry more than 20% of its total body weight, we have a horse to carry King Harry weighing in at 1 metric tonne. We must also accept this large animal must be also nimble. Must reach 25 mph in 4 strides and turn on a sixpence to re-engage. Therefore the horse could not have been just a short squat thing but a horse of height and puissance.
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