Medieval warhorses are often depicted in popular media as huge, powerful creatures, but as a new study published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology (Ameen et al.; https://doi.org/10.1002/oa.3038) shows, medieval horses were often no larger than modern-day ponies.
The researchers examined English horse remains dating to between AD 300 and 1650, from 171 archaeological sites, creating the largest-ever zooarchaeological dataset of medieval English horse bones (1,964 in total). Their analysis showed that these animals often stood at a height of less than 14.2 hands (4ft 10in), with larger horses being rarer.
Researcher Helene Benkert, from the University of Exeter, said: ‘Neither size nor limb-bone robusticity alone are enough to identify warhorses confidently in the archaeological record. Historic records don’t give the specific criteria which defined a warhorse; it is much more likely that throughout the medieval period, at different times, different conformations of horses were desirable in response to changing battlefield tactics and cultural preferences.’