@ “How good was horse armour? You hear a lot about how effective armour for men was, but how well-protected were their mounts?”
Horse armor was as effective as its human counterpart, often being made of the same materials and in the same way. It transcends time and culture, appearing in the ancient world,
to the renaissance,
and showing up all over where domesticated horses were used.
When we examine actual battlefield examples of horse armor, however, we can see that it isn’t as covering as armor for the men who rode them. It would seem medieval armorers never worked out a way (or simply never desired to spend the time) to make a fully encompassing suit for a horse that would still allow it full range of motion.
It’s plain to see that they armored the most vulnerable portions of the horse’s body while still allowing the animal to maintain full rage of motion.
Thus the chest, face, and neck were most thoroughly armored, while the legs remained largely exposed to allow the horse to run at full gallop.
So the portions of the horse that would have been covered would have been equally as protected as the portions of the rider that were covered, but given the limits of the horse’s anatomy and medieval metallurgy, much of the horse had to be left exposed.
Manufactured by A. Pestillat in Paris, France c.1856~70. Steel with brass exterior plates, Brunswick star medallion with the Imperial eagle crest. Officer cuirasses and backplates were noticeably more form-fitting and crimped at the waist than trooper models, making them about 43% fancier. Very few cavalry units in Europe still wore plate armor, but France hung on to it until World War I with increasingly diminishing returns.
“I though nothing could surprise me, having been sent to serve in a mortar unit after studying in an artillery school, but to be sent to the cavalry! (…) I was impressed with the origin, traditions, and titles of my new unit. Nevertheless, I thought cavalry had no place in modern warfare and decided to leave the unit immediately after receiving my next wound. Later, however, my opinion radically changed, and I always returned to the cavalry after recovering from wounds.
It is important to say a word about our battle horses. They were real soldiers like us and well understood what they had to do, either on the march or during a charge. We did not need to strike them with whips: they themselves knew from the situation when they had to gallop forward at breakneck speed, without paying attention to firing and explosions all around. Each rider loved and respected his battle-tested horse, which in many cases saved his skin. A battle-tried horse was much more valuable to us than the best racing thoroughbred that had never seen action. Battle-tried horses never got scared under fire and were capable of fulfilling any task on the battlefield.
I must say such sabre charges did not happen often, and in most battles the riders fought on foot, using horses only as a means of transportation. When we encountered strong German resistance, we would get off our horses and fight as infantry, while the grooms (there were about ten per squadron) would gather our horses and take them to a safe spot. It was only if the Germans panicked and fled that we charged with sabres. During two years of fighting in a cavalry regiment, I only saw some five charges.”
- Ivan Yakushin, officer in the 5th Guards Cavalry Division
Armour and Equipment of a Turkish Heavy Cavalryman dated Late 15th Century on display at the Royal Armouries in Leeds
Mail and plate armour for man and horse became the standard type of equipment for the heavy cavalry under the Timurids (1370-1506) and under the Ottoman Empire. These soldiers were armed with a bow, sword and sometimes a lance making them a versatile unit and they formed the main component of most medieval Islamic armies.
They were similar to Eastern Roman or Byzantine Imperial Cataphracts and were often referred to Spahis or Ghazi. Ghazi translates to “Strive, Aspire, or Carry Out.” The related word Ghazawan “To carry out a military expedition” is derived from this root.
A Shaffron and Crinet which must have belonged to a fabulous full armor, attributed to Desiderius Helmschmid and Jörg Sorg, made in Augsburg, Germany, ca. 1555-1560,
housed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.