Horses used by British knights of that era were ‘not as big’ as depicted in movies and books
While medieval warhorses in Britain were widely described as giant steeds, new research suggests that most mounts from that era were the size of modern ponies — and their stature myths have been promoted in movies and books.
This learn, published in the International Journal of Bone Archaeology, found that the charger used by the British knight was less than 14.2 hands (about 57 inches) tall.
An ancient “hand” unit of measurement, used exclusively for horses, to measure the height of a horse from the ground to the top of the shoulder. By modern standards, only animals above that benchmark are classified as “horses.”
A team of archaeologists and historians has analysed around 2,000 skeletal remains from 171 different historic sites across the UK, including castles and medieval horse burial grounds dating from the 4th to 17th centuries. The researchers also looked at historical records as well as fictional accounts of the era.
The study found that horses standing between 15 and 16 hands, roughly the size of modern racing and showjumping horses, “It’s very rare indeed.” Even in the royal stables of the 13th and 14th centuries, these animals were apparently considered “very large”. However, fictional depictions of this period often used animals with up to 18 hands (about 72 inches) to depict these mounts.
One of the largest remains the team found was a 15-handed horse from the Norman period of the 11th and 12th centuries. Its height would have made the animal about the size of today’s small light horses.
“As it turns out, things are not as they are usually portrayed. In popular culture, war horses are often portrayed as the size of a shire horse [a large load-pulling breed]. It’s really not like that,” University of Exeter archaeologist Alan Outram told the Guardian.
Study shows war horses are not for “Original size” alone, but for a mixture of biological and cultural factors, as well as behavioral traits such as “temperament.” While there may be large specimens, Outram said the army also needs smaller horses for long-distance raids and for transporting equipment.
The researchers note that it wasn’t until the late Middle Ages that the average height of horses approached that of modern draft animals.
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