So, using the background of the main question here, if a peasant could own a horse, possibly multiple, how would an army with access to that many horse be like? Would their army become entirely mounted? I would imagine that an entirely cavalry based army may not work out too well, considering how a braced spear is extremely effective against cavalry, and that spears are extremely cheap and effective.

I would like to see answers talk about when an entirely cavalry army fights another entirely cavalry army, as well as when an entirely cavalry army fights a more standard army. As well as discuss about what a regular army might develop to counter an entirely cavalry army.

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    $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_Empire $\endgroup$
    – ckersch
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ Any archery ability involved in this, or just men on horseback with spears? Also...what tech level are we on? Stirrups are a big thing...in 700ish AD (battle of tours) there was a big difference between arabic cavalry that were heavy and could stay mounted due to the stirrups they used vs the light Frankish cavalry without the stirrups and couldn't be anything beyond light cavalry. $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ 3 questions about horses for everyone, everywhere, and nobody has still mentioned the issues with stepping into horsesh1t each other step... $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 23:06
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    $\begingroup$ One issue not explored is the sort of terrain this is taking place in. Only the Steppe or American Prairies or South American Pampas have the resources, terrain and climate for large scale use of horses as being suggested. Even the North German plains could not support a population of horses like that, which is why the historic "horse peoples" were the Mongols from the Steppe and the American Indians. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 20:53

9 Answers 9


There's quite a few factors here...other people had mentioned the differences between work and riding horses, so I'll assume these peasants have access to riding horses.

First thing of note is fighting horseback is not a simple task...it takes practice to ride and even more practice to effectively wield a weapon on horseback (like bracing yourself to avoid the force of your attack pushing you off your own mount). One of the biggest differences between knights and peasants is the number of hours each has available to practice mounted combat...peasants are in the fields and don't have much time to practice these skills. An unskilled man on horseback would make a better show of themselves unmounted and fighting from the ground.

Next note is you don't make mention of tech level much here. Early riders were generally lightly equipped and on horse back mostly for the speed of it, not for the fighting advantage. Heavy Cavalry came along with advances in the stirrup, allowing for the rider to remain mounted despite the heavy armour and forces being put on him. There is also a big difference between a lance that can be effectively used in a charge vs wielding a spear on horse back (which is more like stabbing at things from horseback than it is a lance). Lances are exceedingly effective vs other cavalry and a force that lacks the lance is at a heavy disadvantage.

And another note...people that are riding from birth tend to make good horse archers. (golden horde reference, it was said a mongol warrior was born on horseback...while not quite true, many children were riding horses by the ages of 3-4 apparently). Horses don't have much protection from arrows and depend on their speed to avoid them...if the archers are also mounted, then this speed can be countered. Horse archers can be quite destructive.

And one more...one of the advantages to an all cavalry force is you are extremely fast moving and mobile. One of the more interesting portions of a cavalry vs cavalry battle gets down to the actual engagement. Infantry need time to form and are slower moving...it creates the giant standoffs with both sides lining up. In Cav vs Cav armies, this isn't quite true and it's quite possible for one force to attack the other before it's fully prepared and in it's formations. The actual engagement of 2 cav armies can be an important chess match that wins (or loses) the battle before it even starts.

It's hard to make anything beyond pretty broad generalizations now as I'm unsure the tech level these men are fighting at. I assume peasants on horse back are simply wielding spears and not really able to effectively use them as lances...so as with most battles, any cavalry on cavalry fighting will come down to which side has the training. A 'knight', someone well trained for war both in a tactical sense such as using a lance and in a discipline sense such as riding in formation and not fleeing in panic at the first sight of blood, will always have a great advantage. In a battle like this, the morale and training of an army will win the battle.

I think there are only 3 or 4 documented battles of forces with heavy cavalry losing to an infantry only enemy...properly trained and equipped cavalry have little difficulty plowing over people on foot. Spears, terrain, a little luck and a lot of discipline is the only real defense to it.

Spears - You need a way of bracing them...a cavalry charge is at it's most dangerous from trampling...you have a heavy horse charging full speed at a not so heavy human. Even if the human has a spear, the most it's going to do is a slight stab before being pushed a side. The spear must be braced and have little room to move for it to be effective.

Terrain - trees are effective horse stopper, open terrain usually ends up in a win for the cavalry. Infantry that have had time to fortify can dig out holes and have places for their spears to be braced.

Discipline - There's a horde of 500 cavalry charging straight towards your position...there you are with a few hundred others holding a spear and watching the oncoming charge. Do you flee or do you hold your ground?

add a comment:

In a world like this, fortifications become exceedingly important and effective. Even wooden stockade like walls that a person could easily climb over but the horse can't jump, you are having the effect of dismounting a troop that is better off on horseback. Heh, even wooden posts close enough together that a person could squeeze through but their horse couldn't makes a semi effective wall.

Gunpowder can be a heavy invention in this world...instead of training peasants to use spears and potentially lances which can take many hours of training to accomplish, a peasant can be given a musket like weapon with little training beyond how to point, fire, and reload...put them on horseback and they can quickly engage and disengage. Not a professional fighting force by any means, but the ability to fire the weapon then run off on their light horse to a place they can reload then repeat gives the peasant a weapon and tactic that can be used with little training.

Guns themselves won't eliminate how effective cavalry are until the advent of rapid fire (machine guns and the sort). After machine guns come around, cavalry generally use their horses to travel, but dismount for actual battle...horses in a machine gun battle is messy.


Late medieval tactics:

I missed your tech range...a simple cheap spear is not a weapon in the late medieval times. Warfare in late medieval times had advanced to the point where if you weren't prepared for war, you weren't going to succeed...having a spear is not a valid defence.

Cavalry are by no means the end all in a military campaign...though there was a time where they could be, the development of heavy armor and huge pikes and halberds began skewing the battle in favor of the infantry. It's one thing for a charging horse to meet a bunch of spears being held by the weight of a man and a completely different thing for a charging horse to meet a 10 foot long iron pike wall fully braced and designed to impale. You get a bit of a loop...cavalry > sword and shield infantry > pikemen/halberds > cavalry and so on.

To give you an idea of what they were up against...Spanish lancers and Germanic knights became the tanks of the medieval world. The riders were so heavily armored that if they were knocked off their horse, they would be unable to stand back up without the help of a few aides. Cheap spears were pretty much ineffective against troops like this and you required specialized tools (mancatcher) to fight this. English, French, Italian (Venetian), Flemish, and a few others all followed these lines.

That said...one of the key improvements you would see here is army mobility...not too different from the later cavalry...riding a horse on the campaign trail and dismounting for a fight is a completely legitimate tactic.

  • $\begingroup$ The tech levels are mentioned in another question, which this question references. Either ways, it is late medieval tech levels $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ @grimmsdottir - the way you mentioned 'spears are cheap' made me think early medieval at best. Late Medieval includes pikeman and halberds and other such weaponry which is a step beyond 'cheap spear' (in the same way a broadsword is a step above 'rusty butter knife')...honestly I thought you were almost in the roman / dark ages with the way it was worded. $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ >The riders were so heavily armored that if they were knocked off their horse, they would be unable to stand back up without the help of a few aides. I don't know if that's true or just apocrypha? Modern Recreations of the Armor seem to allow for a fair degree of mobility. Modern Lancing competitions usually allow the rider to get up on his own. $\endgroup$
    – knowads
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth In the late middle ages, were mass blocks of conscripts still used? I have a probably Hollywood/video game influenced image that, while obviously unprepared conscripts don't make the battle, they provided some bulk for the army. Going around fighting other conscripts, and acting as a tactical speedbump for the professional soldiers. Is it possible that the fact that they all happen to own a horse would result in other tech being developed? Or perhaps they'd just be used as mounted infantry... $\endgroup$
    – Zwuwdz
    Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ @zwuwdz - I'm pretty sure the answer here is yes, though I'd need some research time to give examples...I'd suspect they'd be more of a last resort to throw them in combat, but a good general can have other uses. Tactical speed bump or screen / deception are obvious uses (a row of peasants infront of trained professionals could be deceiving). Remember it comes down to training...swords shields armour and horses take training to be effective. Crossbowmen or musketmen were often drawn from conscript ranks as they took relatively little training. Erm.continued... $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 2:02

As Magic-Mouse mentioned, it depend what kind of horses they have. If farmer uses horses mainly as farm animal, they are not trained for war. And peasants are usually not trained to ride horses for warfare either.

Nomad horses are always on the move either to hunt, protect from natural predators, protect form other tribes or simply to keep their herds in check. It is a light cavalry that is more suited for combat. The reason all their army is on horse is because that's how they live, they have no foot army.

Cavalry vs cavalry: cavalry is best used against infantry. Against another cavalry, they lose their advantage: speed, higher position, greater force of impact.

Cavalry vs infantry:

TLDR: The effectiveness of the cavalry depend on the weapons available and the military tactics used by each side.

Against the cavalry, a normal infantry doesn't stand a chance. As for spears, it depend what the cavalry is using. If both are using spears, the cavalry still has some advantages. To counter that, the cavalry might resort at using more ranged weapons, keeping a safe distance until the enemy rank are in disorder. But then the enemy would try to use longbow and crossbow in order to take down as many horseman as possible before they can charge. To counter this, the cavalry used heavy armor, triangle formation to minimize lost and increase the devastation of the charge. The idea is still the same: break the enemy ranks.

Eventually, both will try to use mix tactics. Using ranged weapons to keep the enemy at bay while keeping spear units to discourage a direct charge. With gunpowder, the role of cavalry changes but stay important. Most early gun infantry were vulnerable because their weapons were slow and inaccurate. They needed to be defended. The formation name is ''Pike and shot'' gunmans protected by pikemens in a square formation. It's not necessary to have firearms to use this tactic, they can use any ranged weapon. crossbow are effective even against a heavy knight. Horsemen also used guns to counter this tactic.

The advantage of using firearms is the increased range it gives. Mounted units can fire and move away to recharge safely. The increase in range and firepower and eventually the development of artillery meant that it became increasingly difficult to charge the enemy.Giving a decisive advantage at the infantry. Even if the cavalry was still used, it was for very specific maneuvers. A direct charge was a synonym of a suicide by the early 19th century.


Even if farmers have few horses, and ride them to war, it does not mean they are as effective warriors as nomads. Again, read about Genghis Khan and Golden Horde.

Nomads have multiple horses per warrior, so they are able to move much faster (riding different horse every day, and let it rest other days, run run without load). Nomads are also much superior riders, able to run faster, farther, with more flexible maneuvers. Nomads train these maneuvers even in peace time all year - on big hunts, and when attacking nearly defenseless peasant villages during "autumn harvest".

Also, because of extra horses, they are able to perform fake moves, when multiple groups of horses are attacking from different sides, but only one group has riders - others are just extra horses with few herders. So nomad's army looks 5 times bigger from distance than it's real man-power. And when your enemy flees in panic, is easier to destroy. Read about Battle of Mohi which would be a disaster for Europe and Europe was saved only because Mongols have to return back after death of current Khan to vote for next (so they were never defeated militarily).

Mongol Empire was the largest land empire in history (had bigger territory than Roman Empire).


  • Peasants DO NOT have many horses: horses need a lot of food, so nomad has to move to fresh grass quite often, it will not work for a farmer.
  • Farmers are not nomads. They are NOT skilled riders. Heavy horses for field work are not good fit for long rides.
  • Nomads' horses were used to survive on harsh food: even small branches if needed. Farmers' horses are fed grains. Which is a problem in war - harder to live off what is available. Supply wagons are slow, especially if there are no roads.
  • Farmers do NOT spend hours riding and hunting - they are busy on fields.
  • Shooting bow while riding is hard to master - and requires special (shorter) recurved bow, instead of simple longbow used by peasants.

More edits: Nomads were trained in complicated tactics:

  • "wheel attack": Instead of line charge, they run in a circle, shooting 1-2 arrows when close, and ride away, to make space for others to attack. So they were harder to hit (moving sideways) and spending most of time out of the range of defenders' arrows. This would occupy defender attention while different force attacks from flank or rear
  • groups of riderless horses makes fake moves to create more confusion. Far away so lack of riders is not noted, but close enough to make potential threat and to prevent defender's reserves to be deployed to fend of other real attacks
  • Feigned retreat - when small party attacked and retreated, luring opponent to pursue them into an ambush.
  • $\begingroup$ Since the Mongols had multiple horses per warrior, one might argue that their effectiveness is actually an argument in favor of the poster's proposition. Any culture where the peasants have lots of horses will have access to lots of horses for military use, and lots of skilled riders. $\endgroup$
    – papidave
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ For peasants, it does not make sense to have many horses (they will just consume extra grains), breeds of horses for heavy field work are not good for long swift rides, and peasants are NOT skilled riders and hunters. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 14:51

First you got 3 kinds of horses, Work horses (Coldblooded), Riding horses (Warmblooded) and warhorses, the last can be both, Coldblooded for heavy armored cavalry and warmblooded for light and fast cavalry.

The difference is the training, since horses are "fleeing animals?", afraid of blood and reacts to loud noises along with the tendency to run in the same direction as other horses.

The most likely scenario that will happen if a farmer rides his horse to war would be that the horse would be scared at the first sound or smell of blood and drag all the other farmhorses away from the battle in fear and panic. Most likely trample some of the farmers.


The big problem with an all cavalry army is that the supply line requirements would be huge. Instead of needing enough food and water to support 200 pounds of human per soldier, you would need enough food and water to support 2200 pounds of human and horse per soldier.

For all practical purposes this would mean that the cavalry army would be limited to a couple dozen miles from abundant fresh water sources at all time, would pretty much be limited to fertile plains where there were abundant grazing resources, and would have to be constantly on the move as grazing resources were exhausted in any one place.

Against such a force, one attractive tactic might be to ambush the army at attractive watering holes like African top predators go after herd animals in the savanna.

Another defensive tactic might be to start a grass fire that engulfs thousands of acres which would deny food to the horses in the vicinity of your defensive position while making the land more fertile for farming in later years. And, with the grass burned away, if it rained, it would all turn to mud which would be very slow going for a large all cavalry army.

Yet another defense tactic would be to sow weeds that are poisonous to horses, like Russian knap weed, far and wide in the vicinity of the position that you want to defend, killing the horses in a force that wants to meet its heavy logistics load through grazing.

Someone engaging an all cavalry army would also be attracted to deploying any stimulus that could spook the horses, causing the entire lot of them to act like a panicked herd instead of individually managed cool headed war horses. Sudden noises, skunks, fire, or a pack of wolves, for example, could all fit that bill.

  • $\begingroup$ Mongol army was able to live off what was available. Hardy steppe horses could feed on branches, warriors were skilled hunters. Supply lines was NOT a problem for them. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ The Mongol army accepted pretty low standards of conquest, which explains why their reign was relatively brief and their rule left only slight lasting genetic and cultural impacts on the territories that they ruled. Also forests, jungles, mountains and relatively technologically advanced European and Middle Eastern defenders were each sufficient to repel their advances. The places the ruled were basically steppes and plains. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 22:26

Having every peasant own a horse and be able to ride doesn't make them into a mounted warrior any more than normal peasants being able to walk allows them to be foot soldiers.

They are still lacking training, weapons, and armor and the skill and desire to use them. This also applies to their horses.


Spears would really wipe out peasant cavalry. Long spears (aka pikes) are very cheap and easy to make if you have good deciduous forests and have properly disciplined infantry.

Peasants could not afford heavy armor for their horses, nor could they afford the proper time to train their draft horses into warhorses.

On the other hand, if they were a nomadic tribe that used composite bows for hunting, they would be capable of conquering the known world, so long as their khan does not die without a clear line of succession.


If they used a strong strategy and had skilled-enough horse archers, they could potentially take over the entire continent, or more. The Mongol Empire is a famous example of such.

  • $\begingroup$ Everybody already know about Mongolia and this doesn't really answer the: '' I would like to see answers talk about when an entirely cavalry army fights another entirely cavalry army, as well as when an entirely cavalry army fights a more standard army. As well as discuss about what a regular army might develop to counter an entirely cavalry army.'' $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 1:53

As the Battle of the Golden Spurs shows cavalry isn't always superior to infantry. A lot depends on the terrain and the morale of the troops involved.

And the horsemanship skills are important, too. In eastern Europe there have been cases where invading heavy cavalry was successfully repelled by light cavalry using hit-and-run tactics.*

A fully mounted force with tactical strong leaders and good riding skills could be very successful. But on the other hand a leadership lacking in tactical understanding and/or poor riding ability can mean leading men and horses to a slaughter.

As others have written an example for good tactics combined with strong riding skills were the Mongols.

*I can't find something about it at the moment but in summer the light cavalry made hit-and-run bow attacks throughout the hot day forcing the invading knights to wear their heavy armor all day. At sundown they stopped those attacks and the knights, sweaty and exhausted removed their armor. The temperatures dropped rapidly during the night and after several days most of the knights had pneumonia and the survivors had to retreat.

Another attempt was made at a colder time. Again the light cavalry attacked and withdrew. When the knights gave chase the light riders fled across a frozen river where the ice was strong enough for their light horses but not for the heavy cavalry of the knights. Some drowned, the rest, again, had to retreat.


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