11
$\begingroup$

Horses are not perfect for war but they are still very good when trained.

How to make a horse better for the following conditions?

  • be stronger in the act of charging infantry and other horseman
  • more resistant against conventional weapons
  • also faster and stronger in any other way you see fit

I know this is slightly opinion-based, but I believe the answers for it to be more effective under these parameters, which can be scientifically answered.

The food requirements are not a consideration in this question.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ A big part of making a question clear is to format it in a way that makes it easy to find the question and the important constraints. If you would like feedback for future questions before posting them on the main site you can try the Sandbox on meta. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Feb 15 '18 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the edit @Secespitus ill be sure to do that in the future. $\endgroup$ – Christopher Void Feb 15 '18 at 21:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is it safe to assume medieval technologies? Question becomes a bit pointless if we are talking more modern times. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 15 '18 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ Yes medieval tech is the requirement $\endgroup$ – Christopher Void Feb 15 '18 at 21:29
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ What you want is a rhino with the temperament of a horse $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 15 '18 at 21:39
7
$\begingroup$

When it comes to a cavalry charge (in medieval eras), the ability to break a line of infantry has more to do with the weight of a horse being thrown at the weight of a man than anything else. So it would reason that a larger horse (taller and heavier) would be able to charge through a line easier.

A horse has a relatively small head and tends to leave it's neck and chest open to attack while at full gallop. A shorter neck and larger head would provide more cover for it's weak spots. In addition, strengthening the neck and skull so that it coud conceivably headbutt would increase it's effectiveness while charging.

A horse doesn't add much advantage after a charge outside of its rider now attacking from the height of a horse. A weapon (such as horns) would allow the horse to have some manner of offensive abilities after the charge was completed.

A horses skin is relatively thin for a creature of its size and doesn't offer much protection vs attacks. Large size creatures tend to be easier targets for ranged weapons (arrows) as well. Giving the horse a thicker hide that could potentially resist arrow fire (piercing) would dramatically increase its ability to stay on the field (especially vs an opponent such as the mongols that would simply shoot and kill the horse and ignore the knight on it).

Fearless. Somewhat like humans, horses are naturally scared creatures (herbivore evolution) and are inclined to run in the presence of danger or unknown (camels, elephants, even snakes will spook a horse). Fortunately horses, like humans, can overcome these instincts through discipline... but a mount that lacks this 'run' attribute would be better as a war mount.

I'm starting to describe a buffalo, though it should be noted that a horses speed and mobility is one of its greatest attributes... many of these changes listed here sacrifice these two attrributes for greater strength and size. Everything is a trade off, these changes would suit a European knight decently well, but would be extremely counter intuitive to a mongol warrior that valued the speed and mobility traits.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ it takes a lot of training to get a horse ot charge a shield wall, to them it looks like charging a solid object which is basically suicide. So you might have ot take that into account. If they were bred from an animal that headbutts as a defense this will be a lot easier. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 15 '18 at 22:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @John - exactly. What makes a horse a superior war mount has less to do with it's physical makeup and more to do with it's relationship with humans. If we could not teach a horse discipline to the degree we have, it'd make a generally poor war mount. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 15 '18 at 22:24
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Now I’m just imagining the armour you could put on a war-buffalo. Or possibly a battle-yak. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Feb 15 '18 at 22:43
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ It sounds like you want a rhino. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Feb 16 '18 at 0:30
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Pachycephalosaurus didn't headbutt it turns out, they skull and spine are completely wrong for it (a round dome is basically the worst shape you could design for headbutting), they probably did something more like giraffe and swung their heads at each other. But yes male to male headbutting would make them instinctively OK with charging a seemingly solid object. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 16 '18 at 6:28
7
$\begingroup$

I imagine something akin to a rhinoceros would be the best war steed. Small enough to easily mount and control (unlike a gigantic elephant). The entire body, head, and neck have evolved for powerful charges, perfect for breaking an enemy line. They can actually run faster than horses, have thicker hides, and can probably carry more. A medieval knight could adorn the rhino's head and horn with armor and spikes to make it even more deadly in a charge. They're probably tough to tame, but I imagine if they were domesticated over many generations, they would be fine.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Damn it...this is exactly what I wanted write....not word by word... $\endgroup$ – Cbm.cbm Feb 16 '18 at 7:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ One thing that needs to be added is that Rhinos are more aggressive then horses! This is in my opinion what makes them ideally suited for charging a line. Horses do not have this option $\endgroup$ – Cbm.cbm Feb 16 '18 at 7:53
  • $\begingroup$ Following on from what @Cbm.cbm says, Rhinos are more aggressive than horses, this is one reason we have domesticated horses and not rhinos - there is a limit to what can and cannot be trained and when you get much bigger than a horse, you start to get into dangerous ground for anyone doing the training. A playful baby rhino could very easily kill you without meaning to in the slightest. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Feb 16 '18 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ If you could ensure the rhino wouldn't turn on it's own troops mid battle, then it'd make a great war mount. Body of a rhino personality of a horse? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 16 '18 at 16:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Twelfth A domesticated Rhino. Although I thing it will be more like a dog personality wise then a horse. As in it would attack on command! $\endgroup$ – Cbm.cbm Feb 17 '18 at 13:58
5
$\begingroup$

If you really really want to have a mount, use elephants instead of horses. Sure, you don't just find elephants anywhere, but an armored elephant is much more dangerous than a horse. Your riders will mostly have one job; to direct the elephant, as you'd likely have to blind the elephant to stop it from being scared. The armor should protect its limbs as it charges, and a flailing armored elephant trunk is no small threat.

If you're asking for raw power, this is as good as it gets. It's slower than a horse by about half, but its significantly stronger and harder to kill, especially when you're limited to medieval technology.

If you don't actually care for having a rider and you just want animals in war, send in some grizzly bears.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The downside to an elephant vs a horse is ultimately found in the horses domestication. While you could train a horse to overcome it's primal fears, you really couldn't train an elephant to and a panicked/rampaging elephant was a major danger to it's own side. Oddly, pigs would defeat elephants more often than not. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_pig "Procopius, in History of the Wars,[6] records that the defenders of Edessa suspended a squealing pig from the walls to frighten away Khosrau's single siege elephant in the sixth century AD." $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 15 '18 at 23:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ if we're trying to go bigger than maybe an Indricotherium or maybe a tyrannosaurus rex. Actually the ideal mount would probably be Cthuhlu. $\endgroup$ – Ethaba Feb 16 '18 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth You say it like it's not possible to train an elephant when it was clearly done in the past. Whether or not the elephant in your example was well trained is another story, but since there is sufficient evidence that elephants could be trained, why are we not assuming that we just have trained elephants? $\endgroup$ – Aify Feb 16 '18 at 6:17
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ the other major downside of elephants is it takes forever to breed them, whereas you can get a new batch of horses in a few years. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 16 '18 at 6:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix You are ignoring the fact that south Asian armies used thousands of elephants at a time in battle and for transportation for a period of over 2,000 years. If the setting is a fantasy medieval European one, even the best such army is likely to halt and take a defensive posture if threatened by a charge by say, 300 war elephants. Thus the threat of a charge by war elephants can keep an otherwise aggressive enemy army pinned down and immobile, without actually charging.. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Feb 16 '18 at 13:11
4
$\begingroup$

Edmontonia , they are big enough to carry a person with no difficulty, heavily armored, the forward facing spikes means we know they liked charging, and since they are extinct you can make up how domesticatable they are. Plus as dinosaurs they will need a lot less water than a horse. enter image description here

or go with an ankylosaur, bigger better armor, and while they would not be as prone not charging they can defend your flanks fairly well since they basically have a giant mace attached to their tail, so getting surrounded would be far less of a problem. biggest downside is sitting on it is going to be tricky, they are very wide animals.

Alternatively Paraceratheriidae gives a wide range of heights of what is basically what you would get if you crossed a horse with a rhino. enter image description here

If you are willing to go entirely fictional just make a very large horse like thing with ankylosaurus armor.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

In order to have a stronger charge and be more resilient to damage my first thoughts are that your mount should be larger with a shorter, thicker neck. I would suggest some sort of bull or ox to fit those criteria as it is already designed with a thicker skull to make it viable for it to charge in self defense and the bulkier more muscled body offers more protection to penetrative attacks.

Of course one of the reasons bulls aren't used for mounts is that they don't have the same endurance as horses and can't maintain charging speed for more than short bursts. If you want to have a faster mount capable of maintaining higher speeds over long term you would want something with longer legs.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ For a small linebreak you need two spaces before hitting Enter. If you instead want a paragraph you need to hit Enter twice. If you only have zero or one space and then hit Enter the result will ignore that you hit Enter in the original markdown. There is a little help bar at the top of the box where you type your answer/question that can help with markdown. Welcome to WorldBuilding by the way! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Feb 15 '18 at 21:32
2
$\begingroup$

I believe that a camel is described as a horse designed by a committee. Which is intended as an insult. But camels are superior to horses in many ways. So camels or more camel-like horses would be a good bet for improved war horses.

Making your war horses more elephant-like, or replacing them with elephants, may also be a good idea.

War elephants have been used for thousand of years. Their use in the Mediterranean during Hellenistic times was a minor sideshow to their use in South Asia. And I have been able to think of a number of different uses for war elephants that might have made them more effective than in real life.

It should be noted that there were different uses for horses in war.

For example, heavy cavalry needed bigger and stronger horses to carry the weight of their riders, their riders's armor, and the horses's own armor, and carry that weight at a gallop.

I can easily imagine that reinforcing heavy cavalry with some camels and some elephants might make them more formidable.

On the other hand, light cavalry needed fast horses, to outrun fleeing enemies when the enemy army broke and to make fast raids and fast scouts. Since light cavalry horses didn't have to carry as much weight as heavy cavalry horses they could be smaller, but they should be as fast as they could be.

It may be noted that in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings orc armies included wolfriders, orcs riding wolves. Most orcs were small, closer to the size of children than men, and the wolves were wargs, bigger and stronger than modern wolves. If your armies include members of different species with different sizes, their cavalry mounts might be members of different species with different sizes.

And a lot of horses, and related animals like mules, were used for other purposes in war. Pulling travois or wheeled vehicles with supplies, for example, or sometimes carrying supplies on packs on their backs, or pulling artillery. As late as World War II when many armies were largely mechanized, there were still millions of horses used for military transportation.

And of course camels and elephants are also useful for military transportation. Some elephants were used for military purposes in World War II, including one that loaded heavy barrels of fuel onto airplanes.

In the US Indian Wars in the American west, the various hostile groups and the US army had different strengths and weaknesses. And sometimes the same difference would be an advantage for the Indians in some situations and and advantage for the army in other situations. The difference between Indian ponies and army horses was an advantage for the Indians in some situations and an advantage for the army in other situations.

So if your fictional armies have need different types of horses for different types of cavalry and for transportation, you should modify the different types of horses for different purposes in different ways and perhaps make them resemble different types of animals, or replace them with several different species of animals.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” ― Henry Ford

Build a Tank.

This is a "think outside of the box answer."

Leonardo da Vinci already designed a tank. So it's entirely plausible. And because you didn't specifically said it had to be an animal that replaced your mount I gave this as answer.

Getting "better" horses which are like more durable, tougher then normal horses just leads to power creep.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Could you expand this answer to show how this is possible with medieval technology? And while a tank is certainly better than a horse this is a pretty drastic frame challenge. It would be nice if you could expand it a bit as it currently reads like a comment. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Feb 16 '18 at 12:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus ok, I expanded the answer, is this better? $\endgroup$ – Pieter B Feb 16 '18 at 13:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, I think this is fine after the edit. (bolded to make it stand out in the review queue) $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Feb 16 '18 at 13:13
0
$\begingroup$

The real problem with the question is "perfect" is rather situational. A Knight in the Middle Ages would actually have several horses, depending on what he was doing, and each one was "perfect" for the task, being bred for it.

Knights would ride Destriers, Rounceys, and Coursers, depending on their role on the battlefield and their personal financial situation (Destriers were larger and more expensive than the others). Even within the various classes of war horses, a Knight or Man at Arms may choose to ride a different class of horse depending on the expected role in battle. Rounceys, based on surviving literature seem to have been fast horses which may have been used for scouting or pursuit tasks, while Destriers were very large and aggressive horses used for shock battle encounters.

enter image description here

Drestier

enter image description here

Courser

enter image description here

Rouncey

When not actually riding into battle, the Knight and most of his train of servants, squires etc. would be on a riding horse like a "Palfrey", due to the more good natured temperament and smooth gait, while various pack horses carried the equipment, food and bedding.

Without a clear understanding of what is different in your world, it is difficult to say why giving a Knight a Rhinoceros, Ankylosaur or Terror Bird would provide an advantage over a bred warhorse. Clearly there could be a reason that a different creature would provide an advantage, but without knowing the reason, there is no way to argue for or against anything other than a horse.

enter image description here

Big enough to ride, but you better have a good reason to do so

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.