Summary of Horse History Meeting, 7 July 2020, held during vIMC 2020

watering horses before tournament, London, British Library, MS Additional 122228, fol. 150r

For the last five years, equestrian history sessions have had their presence during the International Medieval Congress in Leeds. Over the course of these years, fascinating projects were discussed and initiated. The recently published volume The Horse in Premodern European Culture is largely based on the papers presented at IMC 2016 and 2017. Likewise, in 2019 a book series was launched, dedicated exclusively to the history of horses and horsemanship, Rewriting Equestrian History, published by Trivent Medieval. My own book, Practical Horsemanship in Medieval Arthurian Romance (2019), which started the series, is to a considerable extent based on the material I presented at the IMC. One of the less direct outcomes is the establishment of the Equine History Collective, whose founder, Kathryn Boniface, was among our speakers in 2016.

The situation with Covid-19 has unfortunately affected our possibility to meet in person and discuss our work and plans over a cup of coffee or a pint of the IMC ale. Some of the authors had to withdraw their papers, and our ability to socialize in person was restricted, too. Skype call is a poour substitute to an informal chat, but we did our best, and it was certainly well attended, with about 50 people joining the call from all over the world.

Below is the summary of our informal discussion.

Theme for horse history meeting at IMC 2021:

The main strain of IMC 2021, so it was decided we can join this theme. We can include the widest understanding of climates, including literary and political climates, etc.

The theme for the Round Table was voted to be breeding

It was also suggested that the next and future IMCs could incorporate horse-related fringe events, both involving real horses and more theoretical ones.

  • In particular, it was suggested that a demonstration/spectator event could take place either at the Royal Armouries, which have a tilt yard, or the Harrogate Riding Centre, which rents out its arena for events. Jurg and Jack Gassmans volunteered to bring two horses, and they also have insurance for performances with horses. Anastasija Ropa has contacted the IMC with initial enquiry, and, if they agree to consider such event in principle, Emma Herbert-Davies promised to contact the Royal Armouries and the Harrogate Riding Centre with further enquiries.
  • Hylke Hettema suggested a visit to the horse and donkey sanctuary near Leeds, which can be a nice informal excursion before/ during/ after the IMC. I am not sure we need to contact the IMC to make it an organized event, a group of us can just do an informal visit, if there are enough people interested.
  • For events/workshops not involving real horses, it was suggested to hold a meeting where practitioners could share videos where they work with their horses, and these can be discussed during the meeting.
  • Another possibility is a workshop about making armour for horses, saddles, how to measure your horse, how to construct saddles, possibly also about bits and bit work and measurements.
  • Another idea for a workshop is the complexities of depiction vs. ‘reality’ of medieval horsemanship in manuscript illustrations and other depictions

Future conferences

An online conference Historical Practices in Horsemanship and Equestrian Sports will take place on 24-27 August, organized by Anastasija Ropa and Timothy Dawson and hosted by the Latvian Academy of Sport Education. The registration will open in late July / early August.

It was agreed that it would be useful to hold a regular annual/biannual horse history conference in Europe (for those researchers who would find it difficult to attend the Equine History Conference in the USA, for more information see their website Again, Emma Herbert-Davies, who is a student at the University of Leeds, offered to contact the university if the next conference is to be organized in Leeds. This would be distinct from the IMC, and it can potentially encompass other historical period (antiquity, early modern, maybe even modern). Participation in such an event can be cheaper, and it can incorporate practical equestrian activities, with excursion(s) to stables, or with some participants bringing their own horses, depending on the hosting institution and facilities available. Anastasija Ropa suggests she can explore the possibility of organizing such a conference in future, either at the Latvian Academy of Sport Education (in which case the focus will be on historical equestrian sports) or elsewhere in Latvia. It is possible to organize such a conference elsewhere in Europe, too, e.g., in France.

If possible, the preferred format would be a non-virtual conference, but hybrid or virtual formats can be considered, depending on the world situation.

There was also a suggestion that horse history papers presented at IMC 2020 can be shared in some format to those who could not attend the IMC sessions. The papers can be shared via Google Drive, social media, or they can be gathered as podcasts/videos, with a link shared on the page of the Re-writing Equestrian History series. It depends on what the speakers will agree to do.

Publication information

During the call, the following publications were mentioned:

The Horse in Premodern European Culture, edited by Anastasija Ropa and Timothy Dawson, 2020,

Current and planned publications in Rewriting Equestrian History Series: for the publications and outstanding calls for papers, see

Anastasija Ropa and Timothy Dawson are currently editing a volume that includes contributions presented at IMC 2018, which was commissioned by Brill.

For further information about the above, pm Anastasija Ropa


There was a lively discussion of early horse training practices and horse equipment, saddles and bits.

Jurg Gassmann shared an interesting example of grooms watering horses which they ride bareback and in snaffles/halters: Before the Tournament,, Folio f.150r

Karen Campbell shared information about a Facebook group, Horses: Proper Bits and Bitting Techniques, which does bitting demonstrations using a horse skeleton and tongue to demonstrate different bit and bridle pressures.

John Clark describes the use of a hinged curb bit replica during an episode of the TV show Time Team in his chapter in The Horse in Premodern European Culture – for further information, you would need to go to the chapter itself.

Arne Koets and Diana Krischke have reconstructed and experimented with a good few historical bits and saddles, and there is also a FB group “Medieval Horse Equipment 1100-1530”.

We also discussed historical techniques of horse breaking, with Rufus starting horses in a bridle with no saddle, while 16-17 c. authors recommend a saddle and cavesson. Today, horses are started in bridle and saddle, though in some disciplines horses are started in a halter and breaking pad (reference by Karen Campbell).

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Horses in Medieval India: Imports and local breeding

In his travels, Marco Polo notes one peculiarity of India, and this is related to horse breeding in the country:

another strange thing to be told is that there is no possibility of breeding horses in this country, as hath often been proved by trial. For even when a great blood-mare here has been covered by a great blood-horse, the produce is nothing but a wretched wry-legged weed, not fit to ride.[1]

While this note may be one of Marco Polo’s ways of highlighting the exoticism of this far-away land, research by twentieth-century scholars tended to stress the region’s reliance on horse imports from Persia and Arabia. Indeed, a number of studies have accumulated evidence of horse trade in medieval India from the twelfth century onwards. Simon Digby, in his influential War-horse and Elephant, says as much, and the assumption has gone largely unquestioned since.[2] Irfan Habib is careful in stating that “better horses for cavalry use were largely imported,” but he goes on state that “India was not a country where good horses could be bred, or good-breeds, once imported, protected from decay.”[3] On the other hand, Nazer Aziz Anjum claimed that while “north India got horses through inland as well as oceanic routes, south India mostly depended on the ocean.”[4]

Thus, it has been widely accepted as a fact that medieval and early modern India relied on horse import from the distant Arabic peninsula, Persia and Iran, without inquiring into the reasons and rationale for importing apparently huge quantities of horses via sea routes, a process that must have been complicated, expensive, and prone to lead to the waste of a considerable number of horses. Even today, horses do not always fare well during sea voyages: they can suffer injuries to their limbs, be weakened due to sea sickness, inferior quality of feed and water, succumb to infectious disease or colic. Thus, a wholesale import of horses would have been a very expensive business, making the horse an elite animal, accessible only to the wealthiest and most noble members of the Indian society.

The import of horses by land into the north of India would have been an equally complicated and expensive affair. The so-called “Khorasan-India Road” connected “the Silk and the Fur Roads to the maritime Spice Route,” and was approximately 730 km long.[5] Khorasan was a region in Iran, famous for its horses. The road was long, and, although it had pastures and studs on the way, it would take a long time to transport the horses along this route. In reality, the Khorasan-India road was used to import horses not only from Khorasan but also from other regions in Asia, including Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, etc. Ali Bahrani Pour claims that, “according to their breed and use, horses had been sorted out into four main categories: warhorses (Turkish, Qipchaq tribes’ breed of Cumania), horses for routine riding (from the Badgheis region), racehorses (Arabians), and ceremonial horses (a pure Arabian breed).”[6] Still, it the appellation of Arabians is clearly anachronistic, as the concept of the breed did not exist in the medieval period, neither was the Arabian breed consolidated as such at that point. It is also hard to see how the distinction would be applied consistently throughout the period considered by Pour (13th to 17th centuries).

Much of the evidence for horse trade in India comes from writings by foreign travelers, such as Marco Polo in the twelfth century, or the fourteenth-century Arabic writer Ibn Battuta.[7] The latter notes, for instance, that the best warhorses were imported by sea from the regions of Yemen, Oman and Fars. However, other medieval Arabic authors confirm that horses were used for transport, albeit it seems that these were the less elite, locally bred specimen, called tattu.[8]

In fact, there is no lack of evidence both from the later medieval and the early modern periods that there existed a range of local breeds in India. Many of these local breeds were praised by the authors for their hardiness and endurance, although implicitly they were inferior to the imported horses. In the case of one breed, the legend has it that it originated from a number of horses from Arabia, which came from a shipwrecked ship and multiplied. This account, tracing the descent of a local breed to a limited number of imported (and implicitly superior) ancestors is not unique to India. The English Thoroughbred traces its descent to three Arabian sires, although recently the role of indigenous British horses in the formation of the breed has been reevaluated, especially with the help of the DNA analysis. No such work has been recently conducted for Indian indigenous breeds, so the proportion of imported blood from Arabian and Persian sires remains to be determined.

What these references to local breeds show, however, is that, contrary to Marco Polo’s statement that a locally bred horse in India was “not fit to ride,” indigenous horses were not only used for riding but also highly valued for their specific qualities, such as their endurance and ability to cover difficult terrains. Perhaps, we should view Marco Polo’s and Ibn Battuta’s statements about the superiority of imported horses and inferiority of locally bred specimen with a pinch of salt and inquire into the reasons for which these two authors wanted to highlight the difference between the two types of horses. Was owning and riding an imported horse a mark of status? Was it one more way to promote one’s belonging to a higher social class, as different from the lower-class people who had to ride locally bred ponies? By associating themselves with foreign, imported horses, their riders would not only appear superior by their ability to afford more expensive, imported goods (who, moreover, would require specialized foods), but could also possibly claim their affinity to imported cultural values.

On the whole, while there is no question any longer that horses are indigenous to India rather than imported, the question remains why India seems to have relied so largely on horse imports rather than local breeding and what was the exact role of imported horses in forming the Indian cavalry.

[1] Marco Polo, The Book Ser Marco Polo , the Venetian, Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East , translated and edited, with notes by Colonel Henry Yule, third edition, revised throughout in the light of recent discoveries by Henri Cordier (of Paris) London, 1903, vol. II, 342.

[2] Simon Digby, War-Horse and Elephant in the Delhi Sultanate (Oxford, 1971).

[3] Irfan Habib, Economic History of Medieval India, 1200-1500 (Delhi, Chennai, Chandigarh: Centre for Studies in Civilization, 2011), 61.

[4] Nazer Aziz Anjum, “Horse Trade in Medieval South India,” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 73 (2012): 295-303, at 296.

[5] Ali Bahrani Pour, “The Trade in Horses Between Khorasan and India in the 13th-17th Centuries,” 124.

[6] Pour, 124, referring to Mazaheri 1993, I, pp. 36-39.

[7] Ibn Battuta, The Travels oflbn Battuta, A.D. 1325-1354, transi, with revision and notes from the Arabic text by Ç. Defremery & B.R. Sanguini, by H.A.R. Gibb, New Delhi, 1993, vol. 2.

[8] Barani, Tārīkh-i Fīrozshānī, 313, reference in Habib, 62.

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CFP: Historical Practices in Horsemanship and Equestrian Sports

Online conference. 28-29 August 2020

This conference is devoted to discussing historical practices of horsemanship and equestrian sports, their emergence and evolution over centuries and into the present day. The conference is open to papers from all historical periods, and In particular, we encourage the speakers to consider the links between historical and current practices in horsemanship and to inquire into possible tendencies and future developments in equestrian sports.

We understand the word sport in the broadest sense, to include the connotations of play, leisurely and cultural activities, which are not necessarily practiced with a practical outcome in mind. On the other hand, equestrian sports often developed and were justified with a certain end in mind, for instance, as military practice.

Possible research strands include, but are not limited to, the following issues:

  • Origins and evolution of equestrian sports
  • Social practices related to horsemanship
  • Reciprocity in horse and human relations; horses as athletes
  • Revival and survival of traditional equestrian sports and practices
  • Horse care and breeding
  • Approaches to training horses and riders
  • Preparation and use of horses in warfare
  • Equipment for horses and riders

All disciplines and approaches are welcome, and we are open to a variety of presentation formats. If you have a proposal that seems to fall outside the suggested themes, we will be happy to discuss it.

Please submit your title, an abstract of 250-300 words and a short biography (50 words) or CV to Anastasija Ropa (Latvian Academy of Sport Education, and Timothy Dawson ( by 1 July 2020. You will be notified about the outcome of your application on 10 July.

A volume of articles based on selected papers will be published in the Rewriting Equestrian History Series by Trivent Medieval. Please indicate in your application if you would like your paper to be considered for publication. The papers presented at the conference will be 15-20 minutes long, but longer treatment is possible in the published article.

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Where to find a two-headed horse?

Where would you find a two-headed horse, in case you need one for gentle riding? If you are thinking about some kind of monster, perhaps the Apocalyptic kind of creature poulating the margins of an Apocalypse manuscript, think again… You need a horse for quiet riding for your dad, and he has specified that one head should look east, and the other west…

Queen Mary psalter, f 133v

The hero of a Kalmyk folktale, an honest and well-meaning but somewhat thickheaded son of a local ruler was issued with just this order one day. The ingenious lad went to the herd and, unsurprisingly, failed to find the steed that would match the above description. Knowing that his father would be furious if he returned empty-handed, the poor lad devised a plan: catching two horses, he tied them tail to tail and brought to his father’s yurt.

It must have been a feet of bravery and hard work, as I would imagine the horses would hardly submit to this kind of treatment without mounting in fierce resistance.

In vain!

The boy was in for a whipping by his enraged father. Not a word of explanation followed.

What is worse, when the poor guy returned, crying, to his own yurt, he was met by his beautiful and clever wife. This was not the first time she saw her husband crawl back home bloody and tearful, and she instantly demanded, without any compassion, what foolishness he has done this time. The poor young man told about it all: his father’s order, his own execution thereof and the outcome.

If he had hoped to receive consolation from his beloved, he was sorely mistaken. Instead of wiping away his blood and tears, she scolded him, calling him a fool and regretting she had ever married such an idiot. “Surely,” cried the clever girl, “you must have realized that a two-headed horse, with one head looking east and the other west, is a mare about to be delivered of a foal! These mares are reputed for their soft gait, and it would be perfect for gentle riding!”

Reading this story, I could not but sympathize with the poor hard-headed boy who always gets it wrong and is ever in for a beating from his dad and a scolding from his wife. The tale is about the “wise daughter-in-law,” and she is a brave personality indeed. However, I do not any affection for her, because of the way she always berates her good-for-nothing hard-working husband. I rather expected she would make him cleverer, that the guy would grow out of his foolishness, like the French Sir Perceval or the Russian Ivan the Fool, but no, the Kalmyk story is very realistic in this respect. A fool will always remain a fool. And the wise girl ends up conquering a neighboring tribe.

One thing I am still wondering about is whether a mare that is about to deliver a foal is really that extraordinarily soft-gaited. I have never ridden one, but the Kalmyks certainly knew their horses, so it must be true.

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What to do if attacked by a knight. An opportunist Saracen’s advice

Obviously, medieval knights have developed a very particular ethos as regards proper and improper chivalric behaviour. But what was one to do if actually confronted by someone wielding a heavy spear, once your own spear is lost, broken, or nowhere to be found? And you have only a small recurve bow at your saddle?

For the sixth-century pre-Islamic poet ‘Antarah this was never a question. In one of the poems, ascribed to ‘Antarah by the early grammarians, the warrior poet siezes a bow and lodges an arrow squarely in his opponent’s body:

I skewered a warrior

on my spear, and a Bajlī

welcomed my arrow.

(‘Antarah ibn Shaddād, War Songs, trans. James E. Montgomery, 47)

Elsewhere, though, ‘Antarah ridicules an enemy who was too cowardly for a face-to-face combat and shot an arrow at him:

The night my men

set up camp

between the peak

and the pass

he shot an arrow

at me and

its iron flange

sliced me to

the quick

(‘Antarah ibn Shaddād, 101)

But, from a medieval chivalric perspective, horseback archery was an opportunistic as well as a very dangerous thing. Perhaps to underplay the dangerous consequences of such Saracen tactics as shooting arrows from the back of a swift and agile horse, medieval artists would often depict Saracens in a variety of awkward situations: falling from horseback or fleeing a charging knight, as on a fourteenth-century ivory casket from France.

Aachen, Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, KK 998. Knight on horseback charging with a spear; bearded man on horseback with a bow.
Aachen, Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, KK 998. Knight on horseback charging with a spear; bearded man on horseback with a bow.

The ivory carving shows the scene in amazing detail, and 3D, something that is, of course, impossible for manuscript images or frescoes. Moreover, ivory carvings are generally well-preserved, in difference from statues and carved images in stone. While I am sceptical whether this image represents with historical accuracy a particular class or ethnic group of fourteenth-century horseback archers, it certainly shows medieval western attitudes to horseback archery as something as lowly as to be done when retreating, as different from the glorious attack launched by a knight clad in mail. I would also note that the archery is barefooted, as different from the knight whose legs are hosed in mail, with sharp spurs attached. The saddles are different, too: the knight sits in a saddle with a high back arch, encasing his buttocks, while the archer’s saddle has a lower back arch.

I am not a specialist in Gothic ivories, so there may be details that evade my untrained eye. But they seem to be a rich source for studying medieval equestrian culture. The above image is from the online database of Gothic ivories, which has an abundant collection of equestrian images – with a simple search for “horse”, I hit 715 images in 165 objects, which is amazing.

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in working with the cavesson, and in beginning to work young horses, a pupil will learn more secrets than well-trained horses will show him, because the latter are experienced. But the young ones, who cannot forget their liberty all at once, show their humor and their mettle by their actions and their ignorance, from which one should know how to profit to make them useful for man or to correct them, to create other habits using appropriate rules

(sieur de Lugny, from Frédéric Magnin, ed. Une école d’équitation à la fin de la Renaissance. Le traité inédit du sieur de Lugny (1597). A.H.C.E., 2019)

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Open Access Resources for Horse History

Unexpectedly, I find that Covid-19 has been good for scholarship. Although many people complain that libraries, archives and museums are closed, and conferences cancelled, still others have noted a rise in their productivity. Being locked up in their residence, without the need to spend hours travelling to their workplaces, libraries or archives, people have started writing up whatever they have been putting off writing. The fact that many publishers and libraries have given open access to their resourcs during the lock-up (basically to mid- or late May) means one does not have to go anywhere. People have also been very generous, sharing the information about open sources provided by their libraries, as well as sharing and scanning their articles for other who were looking for particular references: new groups dedicated to exchanging sources have been opened on Facebook and H-net.

For years, I have been working as independent scholar, or as a scholar attached to an institution with very limited subscriptions to humanity resources, so for me the new open access I a scholarly paradise. It has encouraged me to seek out the studies I have been planning to read for years but could not, because I could not afford buying hard copies or e-books (in some cases, these were not available as e-books). I have also found some resources that are already in open access but I never realized they were out there.

Here is my provisional list of French open access publications related to horse history and animal studies. As these are in open access already, they will remain available after the end of Covid-19 lock-up.

Studies dedicated to equestrian history

14889-225x270-1LORANS, Elisabeth (dir.). Le cheval au Moyen Âge. Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Tours : Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2017 (généré le 07 avril 2020). Disponible sur Internet : <;. ISBN : 9782869066373. DOI :

The volume takes its readers on a tour of medieval horse history, from the late antiquity to the early modern period and beyond. It concentrates on western Europe, especially France.


Le cheval dans le monde médiéval. Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Aix-en-Provence : Presses universitaires de Provence, 1992 (généré le 08 avril 2020). Disponible sur Internet : <;. ISBN : 9782821836068. DOI :

This is an older volume, and some studies are in need of updating to reflect new work, such as the study on women’s sidesaddle, but it is still a very useful reference source. The majority of the articles focus on medieval literary texts, and the geographic focus is, again, western Europe.


10858-225x270-1LEROY DU CARDONNOY, Éric (dir.) ; VIAL, Céline (dir.). Les chevaux : de l’imaginaire universel aux enjeux prospectifs pour les territoires. Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Caen : Presses universitaires de Caen, 2017 (généré le 07 avril 2020). Disponible sur Internet : <;. ISBN : 9782841338641. DOI :

Although the volume begins with the early modern period, the first two article would be of use for someone working on the hinge of medieval and early modern cultures:

  1. Philiep Bossier, Le traité de l’art du cheval de Cesare Fiaschi (1556) et sa postérité en France (Cesare Fiaschi’s Treatise on Bridling, Training and Shoeing Horses (1556) and Its Legacy in France)
  2. Marie-Louise von Plessen, Danser avec les chevaux. L’histoire du carrousel : ballets et jeux équestres dans les cours européennes à l’époque baroque (Dancing with Horses. The History of the Carrousel: Equestrian Ballets and Games in the European Courts in the Baroque Period)

Animal studies (with some horse-related material)

BESSEYRE, Marianne (dir.) ; LE POGAM, Pierre-Yves (dir.) ; et MEUNIER, Florian (dir.). L’animal symbole. Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Paris : Éditions du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 2019 (généré le 07 avril 2020). Disponible sur Internet : <;. ISBN : 9782735508839. DOI :

DALLA BERNARDINA, Sergio (dir.). De la bête au non-humain : perspectives et controverses autour de la condition animale. Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Paris : Éditions du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 2020 (généré le 07 avril 2020). Disponible sur Internet : <;. ISBN : 9782735508853. DOI :


Medieval bestiaries include information about fantastic, exotic and familiar animals, including horses. Check the index terms to see the results for “cheval”.

4535-225x270-1VOISENET, Jacques. Bestiaire chrétien : L’imagerie animale des auteurs du Haut Moyen Âge (Ve-XIe siècles). Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Toulouse : Presses universitaires du Midi, 1994 (généré le 07 avril 2020). Disponible sur Internet : <;. ISBN : 9782810708383. DOI :

It is also worth checking other publications by Jacques Voisinet. Some of his articles are in open access journals and volumes and, while not primarily about horses, they do mention equids among other animals.

15235-225x270-1LE NAN, Frédérique (dir.) ; TRIVISANI-MOREAU, Isabelle (dir.). Bestiaires : Mélanges en l’honneur d’Arlette Bouloumié – Cahier XXXVI. Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Angers : Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2014 (généré le 07 avril 2020). Disponible sur Internet : <;. ISBN : 9782753547841. DOI :

This is a collected volume, with many of the articles discussing the use of bestiary in medieval texts.


Other studies

12783-225x270-1CARRAZ, Damien (dir.) ; DEHOUX, Esther (dir.). Images et ornements autour des ordres militaires au Moyen Âge : Culture visuelle et culte des saints (France, Espagne du Nord, Italie). Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Toulouse : Presses universitaires du Midi, 2016 (généré le 07 avril 2020). Disponible sur Internet : <;. ISBN : 9782810708741. DOI :

This study is not about horses or animals per se, but, since horses were crucial for medieval warfare, it is worth checking. Also, many patron saints of medieval military orders were portrayed on horseback, especially St George, who is the subject of Esther Dehoux’s article “Vaincre le dragon. Saint Georges et les Templiers“.


562-225x270-1It is worth checking this monograph about Arabic geography, especially the section about animals: Chapitre V. Les bêtes et le bestiaire.

MIQUEL, André. La géographie humaine du monde musulman jusqu’au milieu du 11e siècle. Tome 3 : Le milieu naturel. Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Paris : Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2002 (généré le 08 avril 2020). Disponible sur Internet : <;. ISBN : 9782713225611. DOI :
This is the third volume in the series. Having checked the previous volumes, I found that horses are mentioned in a number of functions in volume 2, part 2:
MIQUEL, André. La géographie humaine du monde musulman jusqu’au milieu du 11e siècle. Tome 2. Volume 2 : Géographie arabe et représentation du monde : la terre et l’étranger. Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Paris : Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2001 (généré le 09 avril 2020). Disponible sur Internet : <;. ISBN : 9782713225604. DOI :
The index shows that horses are mentioned in a variety of functions, such as breeding, wild horses, horses as tributes and gifts, and across different geographic regions (Africa, Byzantium, Russia, Turkey, etc.)
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A star-fronted mare


Esmeralde, Arpil 2019 – my star-fronted  mare

While most noble riders in medieval Europe would despise anyone reduced to riding a mare, mares were ridden in the nomadic societies throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

The poem of “Jostled by Horses” legendary sixth-century warrior and poet of clan ‘Abs, ‘Antarah ibn Shaddād, is eloquent with praise of his valiant mare:

Jostled by horses

I aimed my mare’s star-front toward

a rider skewered

in a thicket of spears

James E. Montgomery and Richard Sieburth explain that “A horse with a ‘star-front’ is a thoroughbred with a blaze on its front, a sign of prime stock”. Ibn Shaddād should have been breeding from it – by European standards – but no, he rode it, unashamedly, boastfully, into battle!

The bottom line is that, of course, mares make as good fighters as stallions, so Ibn Shaddād knew what he was doing.

Some people prefer riding stallions, and some people prefer geldings, while I love mares (both my horses, accidentally, are mares). Still, a good horseman would not discriminate but would judge each horse on its merits. In yet another war song, “An enemy squadron attacked”, the poet describes his tribesmen as perfect horsemen, who are good training horses of both genders: they are “steadfast men, trainers / of sleek stallions and lean mares”.

I wonder, though, if under certain circumstances the tribes of the Arabian peninsula would prefer horses of one sex rather than the other, as Ibn Shaddād writes “Bring on the warriors / brandishing their spears / on A‘waj stallions” in his poem of ruin and destruction entitled “Antelopes sprinted right and left”?

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The Best Breed of the North

Speculating on the origins of the Galloway horse is a process that is fraught with the issues besetting any contemporary breed enthusiast, since the whole concept of a “breed” is a very modern one and it probably did not cause medieval horse breeders any sleepless nights. A good horse was a good horse, valued for purpose rather than ancestry, and described by gait, or height, or even color or size, but principally by function.

Miriam Bibby, ‘The (Galloway) Horse and His Boy: Le Roman Des Aventures De Fregus and “The Best Breed in the North”?’

in The Horse in Premodern European Culture, ed. A. Ropa and T. Dawson

What do Fregus, Robert the Bruce, and Shakespeare’s Pistol have in common? These disparate individuals, who are either completely fictional (as Talbot’s characters) or partially fictionalized (Fregus is based on a an actual Scottish ruler, but was turned into the title hero of an Arthurian romance by Guillaume le Clerc, while Robert the Bruce, arguably, became the protagonist of Scottish myth-making effort under the skillful pen of Barbour) share one important element. All of them rode – and valued – what has been known as the best breed of the north, the Galloway horse.


Of course, it was not a breed in Fregus’s lifetime, and the formation of horse breeds was in its infancy when Talbot was writing his plays, but Galloway nags were already famed for their hardiness, endurance, and, most of all, their speed. These little horses (possibly even ponies, by modern standard), became extinct in the nineteenth century, and have been forgotten by most of the world. Yet, as Miriam Bibby notes, there is genetic evidence that the Galloways stand at the origin of the English Thoroughbred, the fastest horse in the world. Although most documentary evidence concerns the three foundation sires of the English Thoroughbred, all three Arabians, the mares should not be neglected. What is more, recent genetic analysis shows that the speed gene in the Thoroughbred does not originate from the Arabian genetic material but from the local one.

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Cutting the Stallion’s Tail: A Very Strange Crime that Might Have Occurred in Medieval Wales

the stallion hywel ddaInspired by Edgar Rops, “The Horse in Welsh and Anglo-Saxon Law,”

from The Horse in Premodern European Culture,

ed. by Anastasija Ropa and Timothy Dawson

Owain was neither thief nor coward, and he certainly did not want to appear like one. He did not disguise himself, but, early in the morning, went to the town of Caernarfon in his usual dress, found the inn where Ian was lodging, and asked to be taken to the stable and be shown the horse. Owain’s calm, resolute appearance did the job: no one asked him a single question or protested against the ungodly hour at which he arrived. He walked in with confidence, holding the edges of his cloak with his right hand, to avoid it being soiled in contact with the posts – or was there another reason?..

It was a big, powerful stallion, standing thirteen and a half hands, with slender neck and legs, a wide chest, intelligent eyes and sleek, silver-grey coat. Its long flaxen tail swept the over the straw that lay in the stall.

Owain examined it from all angles, appreciating its magnificence, and commented wryly, standing by the horse’s rump: “A pity that such a noble animal is in the possession of an ignoble beast!”

Then, swiftly taking hold of the stallion’s tail with his left hand, he produced large shears from under his cloak and took away a portion of the stallion’s shining tail, cutting into the flesh at the dock.

Taken by surprise, the horse reared. The flaxen halter, to which the ropes securing the stallion to one of the posts were tied, broke, and the stallion was free momentarily. It reared and bucked, and the servants, taken by surprise, failed to catch it at once.

In the commotion, Owain walked out of the stable, as calm as he had walked in, leaving the shears on the floor and quietly smiling to himself.

He was equally serene when, two months later, he was summoned to the court, tried, and charged with paying the full cost of the stallion to his enemy. “He was not worthy of riding it. Such a noble animal dominated by the rascal,” muttered Owain. “At least now it’s mine. And so I am avenged…”

He named it Drudlwyd, the courageous grey, in honour of the legendary courser from the island of Prydein. Still, he did not dare ride the stallion, whichnot only because it was shameful to ride a mutilated steed, but also because Owain knew that this stallion had but one rider, like King Alexander’s Bucephalus. He let it out with his herd of mares, in a little glen among the mountains, not far from the place where St Melangel’s chapel stood. There the stallion with the cut tail ran freely, engendering silver-grey foals that would be free of all mutilation, shame, and treachery. Owain felt that he had fared well, not only avenging his family’s shame, but also gaining a prize sire for his horses, all for a sum of money which, albeit large, was not too much for what he had achieved by cutting the stallion’s tail and thus making it unfit as a nobleman’s mount.


As we read in the article by Edgar Rops “The Horse in Welsh and Anglo-Saxon Law,” medieval Welsh law is unique in having elaborate provision for horses and horse-related offences. The clauses were designed to ensure that a customer buying a horse is not cheated and that a person would be compensated for cases when a horse would be damaged or lose its value through a third-party intervention, as in the fanciful episode imagined above. All names and circumstances are entirely fictional, but the crime of cutting a horse’s tail to make the horse lose its value as a mount to render it unfit to carry a noble person is one of the crime mentioned in the Welsh law. So are the provisions, the perpetrator paying the compensation to the person whose horse was damaged (the horse’s statutory price, rather than its market value) and taking the tailless horse.

The unprecedented detail to which the Welsh legislators went in detailing the crimes and remedies for equine-related offences testifies to the importance of the horse in the Welsh society.

The Welsh law co-existed with another, completed different legal system that was practiced across the Welsh border but was much less detailed or well-organized, the Anglo-Saxon law. The two systems were roughly contemporary in their origin and development, yet the Anglo-Saxons, much as they seemed to have valued their equines, appear to have been much less careful in organizing the legal system of compensations and fines for equine-related offences. In his article, Edgar outlines the differences between the two systems and the reasons for the different treatment of horses under the Welsh and the Anglo-Saxon laws. His argument is illustrated with a range of examples, some of them amusing, others shocking, still others making one stop and think about the societies that went to such length in regulating their lives and the destinies of their livestock. With no extant court records, it is hard to know how and whether these laws were implemented, yet it is surely stimulating to think about the contexts and situations that could have provoked application of these laws. Contemporary literature could provide some answers, and it would be very interesting to read Welsh and Anglo-Saxon literature with the knowledge of the legal systems that operated in the societies that produced the literature. Still, one must be careful to distinguish between fact and fiction, as literature does not always reflect reality faithfully.

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