Quirks & Quarks

Medieval knights rode pony-sized war-horses into battle

Archeologists in England examined the remains of hundreds of medieval warhorses and found they were about the size of a modern pony, despite the load they carried into battle.

Archeological evidence shows the war horses were at least 20cm shorter than a modern police horse

These modern armoured knights are jousting on horses that are much larger than they would have been in Medieval times (Michael Warwick / Shutterstock)

New research by archeologists in the U.K. suggests our image of the giant, robust medieval horse carrying an armoured knight into battle is wrong. They conclude in a new study that medieval war-horses were really about the size of modern-day ponies.

The team, led by Alan Outram, an archeologist from The University of Exeter, studied horse bones from over 100 sites around England, dating from AD 300 to 1650. They revealed that horses during the medieval period were generally about 14 hands, or slightly more than 140 centimetres at the shoulder.

Kate Kanne from the University of Exeter measuring some Medieval horse bones from an archaeological site in Goltho, Lincolnshire (Oliver Ceighton)

The largest horses would have been 15 or 16 hands, but they were rare. Today a typical horse, used by the police for example, is closer to 18 hands. So medieval war-horses are about as tall as a modern pony. 

Even though medieval war-horses were small in stature, Outram said they were bred to be robust, with the temperament to do battle, carrying an armoured warrior, and were often heavily armoured themselves. 

Horse bones from over 100 sites in England were measured as part of the study (Oliver Creighton)

Click the link above to listen to Bob McDonald's interview with archeologist Alan Outram.

Produced and written by Mark Crawley