If you had elves who can train bulls and other animals to do all sorts of tasks... would bulls be useful as cavalry for war? Would they be useful enough to use a bull instead of a horse, in some circumstances?
- Suicidal chargers? Sure. A big strong animal is good.
- Maneuverability is lacking I'd wager.
- Speed. I think horses are faster.
- Can a bull match a horses capacity to move for long periods of time? That is marching, maneuvering, scouting, charging...etc. And in war the ability to force march or keep fighting the longer is vital. More important that mere damage. And actual armies spent more time moving and camping than fighting.
- Scouting. Does not seem like a particularly good idea to scout with bulls.
- Riding. Would it be comfortable for a couple of hundred/thousands cavalry men to ride on bulls for hours on campaign?
- Now what are cavalry? Scouting, harassing, chasing fleeing enemies, intimidation..etc units. And a horse does all those things well enough.
- For charges speed and maneuverability is good. If you charger a line of pikemen and they don't budge you get the heck out of there and try another section of the army that is weaker. You don't just lodge your unit in the middle of the enemy. Also humans are making most of the killing and you armor the thing to begin with.
- Perhaps there is a reason we stuck to horses or camels for cavalry rules.
- Elephants are another matter. They had a different function altogether on the battlefield.
if you want it to just charge into enemy you can do it by burning their tail or other parts basically scare them to make them panic and stampeding the people in its front (may including yours) without riding it.
but if you want to ride it as cavalry, it have horn that can get hook or tied by rope such as lasso by enemy which may can stop its momentum, it also not as fast as horse (unless in angry mode as far as i read from google, but i guess it not last long just a sudden burst) so maneuverability is poor against other cavalry type, but i believe genetic manipulation may can fix it, just my opinion.
also that horn may can end up stuck with a lot of corpse weighting/dragging or slowing it down, and to remove it, he need to swing forcefully which is not that good for cavalry i guess....... unless the person can design special type of saddle to not get thrown out, but still that action (in attempt to remove the corpse) probably hampering/slowing it movement/momentum too, including disturbing the rider action in attempt to attack its opponent, and can endanger the rider from his own weapon.
unless the rider is so skilled, strong, and fast enough to remove the stuck up corpse, after thinking again this may make the rider develop a tool for that specific reason, but i dont know what kind of tool it be. still i guess it basically to much chore compare to horse.
so you probably need to cut/remove the horn to make it viable.
I'm going to say bulls could make good cavalry for war, as opposed to the answers given so far.
In your setting you mention having elves who are proficient on training animals, I assume they would also be good at selectively breeding them to produce certain traits. All examples of bulls' characteristics we see nowadays aren't a result of optimization for war. Therefore it's very reasonable for your bulls to outperform out modern counterparts in a few desirable measures.
Still, for my comparison to horses, I'll use the numbers available for current bulls, and records of past warhorses:
-Weight: 500-1100 Kg (heaviest recorded 1740 Kg)
-Top speed: 35-40 km/h
-Marching pace: 40 km/day (weightless) 15 km/day (comfortably)
-Weight: 360-450 / 450-540 / 680-910 (Kg) (light/medium/heavy weight respectively)
-Top speed: 20 km/h (for light cavalry charges)
-Marching pace: 30 Km/day
Bare in mind heavy warhorses were meant for carrying artillery and other supplies and it isn't confirmed they whether actually carried knights into battle in the middle ages. The horses that would be used for this would be the medium ones. Why is this relevant, because a horse can carry 20-30% of its weight on top of it. A suit of armor could weight between 20-25 Kg in the middle ages, with horse armor being an additional 23 Kg.
An additional mention about marching pace, knights wouldn't ride their warhorses for everyday marches, they would reserve those for battle.
Okay, so what do we have here. We have a stronger beast, capable of faster charges, while also being heavier so harder to stop and capable of more damage. Cavalry charges were partly used to cause soldiers to scatter and flee, a wall of bulls running towards you at 40 Km/h can be more effective at it that a wall of horses running at 20 Km/h. Also, bulls would carry more momentum, could be more heavily armored, thanks to their extra weight and could use their horns to deflect spears somewhat (especially if your elves are good at training them to do this, plus there can be horns attachments added to make this easier).
Are they disadvantages? Sure, there's less endurance and maneuverability. Those are pretty relevant factors, I'll give you that. Some of this may be overcome with breeding though. Their deficit in maneuverability can be made up with tactics, perhaps your bulls can't retreat as fast. Okay, but maybe they don't need to, or not as quickly, since they are capable of more effective charges and could create more chaos on the enemies front lines.
In addition, the heavier bulls could even carry two armored knights on top. Is this a viable strategy? I don't know. Maybe the one in the back is facing backwards, to defend the rearguard while the bull turns around. Maybe they unmounted when the charge looses momentum creating a stronger front, while the foot army catches up. Maybe elves are nimble enough and well coordinated to make this fighting style work.
Addressing the counterarguments
As for the other issues raised. I don't see corpses getting stuck in the horns as such a big issue. I mean it's not clear to me goring would be all that common, much less goring and then the body remaining there. If this were an issue, the animal could be trained to try to remove the body tilting its head downwards. Worst case scenario you cover the horns so they are more bludgeoning than piercing weapons, a hit would still mess you up, but bodies would no longer get stuck there.
As to bulls being worse at scouting and other cavalry jobs that focus on sustained speed and maneuverability, sure, I can agree to that. But those jobs weren't fulfilled by medium and heavy cavalry. That's the role the bulls play. I'd wager bulls wouldn't be great at archery or siege defense either, but that's not how you approach warfare viability. They don't need to be good a everything, just good at something that you can use.
Another job the bull would be better at: counter cavalry shock tactics. Say you need to transport goods to your army (and this is of special importance to you cause bulls eat more). Your enemy has nimble cavalry that harasses your resource lines. Normal heavy cavalry isn't effective against them cause you lose on speed ot them. Pike-men could be useful but not if they shoot arrows at you and leave without engaging. So what you use to defend your caravans are more bull cavalry. Why? Cause same as the normal heavy cavalry, your knights will be more heavily armored so if they get into melee range is game over for the light cavalry, but the key difference is you bulls can actually catch up to them. Sure they can't keep up with a long chase, but if the attackers get into charge range, good luck. So this way, even if you don't have light cavalry (aside from scouting perhaps), you can still deny some of their advantages for your enemy.
- https://as.com/masdeporte/2008/07/06/polideportivo/1215381892_850215.html (40 km/h speed for bulls)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bull#Characteristics (avg bull weight)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chianina (heaviest bull weight)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle_drives_in_the_United_States (bull marching pace)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horses_in_warfare (horses' cahacteristics)
- https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/23892/what-are-the-capabilities-of-a-warhorse (horses' characteristics) -https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/aams/hd_aams.htm (armor weight)
- https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/horse/how-we-shaped-horses-how-horses-shaped-us/warfare/a-tank-on-legs (horse armor weight)
It was pointed out a horse top speed is actually 90 Km/h and not 20 Km/h as I initially claimed. That number was from wikipedia and corresponds to their maximum charging speeds, it's only this high since: "moving faster resulted in a break in formation and fatigued horses".
That means that light cavarly could probably outrun the bulls chasing them, at least for certain distances. One of the sources claims bulls can maintain this speed for up to 400m, other sources spoke about horses doing faster sprints for only about 200m. So maybe the bulls still have a chance as anti light cavalry units, albeit with a shorter oportunity window.
Additionally, bulls top speed wasn't measured for a mounted bull, or one wearing armor (for obvious reasons), so that's an obvious difference from the horses, that tips the numbers in favor of the bulls. Still, I take this liberty from the bull's lack of selective breeding for combat, and the fact that the weight differences means a rider and armor woulnd't be such a heavy toll for bulls, comparatively.
YAKS: Although yaks like high altitudes, limiting universal usage, it proves the concept that you can select and domesticate a related species for mounts and transports. People have yak fights, so they can be aggressive even after extensive domestication. The Chinese still use yaks for their military to patrol difficult terrain (https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/why-china-s-army-still-rides-yaks-1837046487) Suitably trained and selected for to be like yaks, cattle could be universal mounts, good patrol animals, excellent heavy cavalry (they'll never be as quick as horses) good beasts of burden, and (when all else fails) emergency rations. While yaks must graze, cattle can be fed grain, allowing for more sustained travel in field conditions.
You can train cattle as riding animals, you can train them to pull wagons, you can train them for showjumping. They're sluggish and not particularly agile. As with most animals, uncastrated males tend to be temperamental, with appropriate training they wouldn't be much more dangerous than an equivalent large stallion. The only real reason to use them would be that you couldn't get horses.
Most of the answers given so far have addressed bulls as they currently are.
- Bulls are they currently are are the result of thousands of years of breeding either for meat or just for breeding (dairy cattle).
- Cavalry horses as they currently are are the result of thousands of years of breeding for riding and specifically in some cases, to be cavalry horses.
To make them directly comparable you would have to consider adding at least a couple of centuries of specific breeding to be riding animals along with specific training to cope with the chaos of battle. Elephants have been mentioned, famously they were terrified of burning pigs and more of a danger to their own side once upset.
Given the appropriate centuries of breeding, then yes, there's no reason why you couldn't use cattle in the place of horses for most purposes. However these bulls would look in profile a lot more like modern cavalry horses than modern bulls. Longer in the leg and leaner in the body, probably faster running with more stamina. They could maintain the horns, you'd probably have bred specifically for a horn that wasn't too wide or long so it was less vulnerable to damage or getting stuck.
Depends on the Bull
Domestic horses have a maximum sprinting speed just over twice that of domestic cattle (~55 mph vs ~25mph according to Google) This much lower top speed makes them a poor choice in any of the roles warhorses typically filled. In fact, they are more mobile than domestic cattle in every single way which is why cowboys use them so effectively for herding.
That said, there is a kind of bull that can more or less match paces with a horse and that is the Blue Wildebeest. They have a top speed of ~50mph which means that they are only marginally slower than horses, but fast enough that you generally would not want to push either animal to its full speed unless you are very experienced and have a very well designed saddle and stirrups; so, in practice, this slight max-speed difference won't really come into play.
Since your question is about elves specifically, the wildebeest may be a better mount than horses specifically if your elves are a bit smaller than humans. A wildebeest is a bit too small for humans since they are only about 1/2 the mass of a horse; so, whereas a 120kg armored knight is about optimal for a 550kg horse, a 60kg armored elf would work just fine from a 275kg wildebeest.
Appart from being more "to scale" for them, the wildebeest could give the elves all sorts of tactical advantages like:
- They are shorter; so, they could hiding cavalry behind grasses and shrub lines that would be too low to hide horses in.
- They have two toes; so, they can can maintain thier balance on uneven terrain better than horses allowing them to maneuver and charge over terrain that would stop a horse.
- They are smaller; so, keeping them feed is easier meaning you could breed more of them with the same effort.
- They are more maneuverable which would make them better at all sorts of cavalry things like chasing down zig-zaging routing infantry, skirmishing, and avoiding spike pits or other anti-cavalry traps.
If you had elves who can train bulls and other animals to do all sorts of tasks... would bulls be useful as cavalry for war?
When compared to horses, bulls are:
- Harder to control in harsh situations
- Less agile
- Easier to scare
- More likely to trip on an obstacle
They also have a gait that makes it very uncomfortable to mount them (believe me, I tried).
So, if all you have is bulls, maybe go for it. Otherwise use horses.
Would they be useful enough to use a bull instead of a horse, in some circumstances?
People here in Brazil mount bulls and cows all the time because sometimes that's all you have (I don't know, but I think horses are more expensive nowadays. I'm sure they were so 30 years ago when I used to ride them).
If you are still obsessed with cattle usage in war, it can work as long as the opposing side does not have gunpowder. You might like to read about the battle of Tondibi:
The Songhai battle strategy was poorly thought out, as the plan to send a stampede of 1,000 cattle to break down the Moroccan lines and to cover their infantry (who lacked the technology of gunpowder weapons) failed, with the cattle charge being repelled by the noise of gunfire and the sound of cannons, which caused the cattle to stampede back towards Songhai lines.
Seems like this kind of strategy used to work in ancient times though.