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It's a fairly common trope in fantasy worlds/stories that dwarves don't use cavalry.

But is there any real reason why?

Off the top of my head the two most likely ones seem to be:

  1. Their size. Except children ride horses, and jockeys tend to be quite short. And elephants have been used as mounts (though I'm not sure they were ever genuinely used in battle). It might be more of an issue in battle I suppose where having assistance to mount and dismount isn't likely to be possible or convenient.
  2. The fact they live in mountains / underground. The enviroment might be more of an issue, lack of grazing etc. But maybe they ride something else instead of horses?

It would seem to me that for a race of people who are short and not very mobile cavalry is exactly the kind of thing they would want to aid them in battle.

So, assuming traditional fantasy dwarves, is it just a thing that has become accepted in fantasy or is there a reason dwarves couldn't successfully maintain cavalry?

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    $\begingroup$ How about wolves? Or Mountain Cats? $\endgroup$ – WRX Apr 2 '17 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, they don't? $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Apr 3 '17 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ Give them giant burrowing worms as cavalry. Problem solved. $\endgroup$ – mbomb007 Apr 3 '17 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ "though I'm not sure they were ever genuinely used in battle" Even neglecting their sporadic use around the Mediterranean (where they were used for shock effect had a mixed record) in classical times, the various kingdoms in what is now Thailand fought mounted battles from Elephant-back more than a few times. But the tactics of fighting from Elephant-back are rather different than those of horse-cavalry. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Apr 4 '17 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ In regards to their size and how jockeys are small: It isn't just that dwarves are short. Dwarves are short but weigh more than a human adult. A pony might not be strong enough to carry all the weight. A horse might be too big to mount and to fight from. $\endgroup$ – Shane Apr 5 '17 at 21:47

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Dwarves don't have cavalry because cavalry is useless in their preferred environment.

Let's take a look at history.

Where does the cavalry excel?

On large, open flat plains.

Horses are large, heavy and require room to turn around. Footsoldiers can turn on the spot, rotating formation in place. Horses can't turn like that, thus they need a lot of area to manoeuvre. Because of that, despite what films will show you, cavalry is useless in melee - horses will be quickly wounded and riders dismounted, completely eliminating the advantage of having horses in the first place.

Cavalry fights by "shock and awe" - horse and rider weigh a lot, and horsemen may have a long lance (preferably longer than pikes of enemy infantry). After picking up speed, charging cavalry drive lances into enemy, disrupting enemy formation, and nearly immediately crashing into incoherent enemy unit. If enemy routs, they simply chase them down, if enemy stands despite loses, cav retreats to charge again. And again. And again. That's how cavalry fights - never stop, always in motion.

As such, Dwarves have no cavalry for simple reason that cav is useless in cities, sieges, mines, mountains, swamps, rivers, forests or any location which isn't kilometres of flat plains.

Since Dwarves usually are portrayed as not just fond of mining, but actually living in underground cities, cavalry is not useful for them. Their environment favours heavy infantry (light infantry isn't useful for Dwarves for pretty much same reasons as cavalry). Anyone who tries to take over their mines or cities, needs to fight on their terms: in cramped tight mine shafts, dark and cramped cities or built over caverns. Because of that, only use Dwarves would have for cavalry is for offence. If Dwarves tried to invade plains for any reasons, they would need cavalry, but usual portrayal shows Dwarves as either isolationist, or living in mountainous area.

Overall, depending on portrayal, Dwarves have literally no use for cavalry and little use for archers, crossbowmen and light infantry (unless they live in mountains and partially under, partially on surface, then they would have use for light infantry and archers or crossbowmen). Optimal heavy infantry weapon depends on details: Dwarves living on and below surface, would certainly have a use for pikes (pikes work well in tight formation), but living entirely underground makes pikes too cumbersome, turning attention to short weapons with anti-armour properties: staple warhammers and picks (or Horsesman's picks, just without horse) or perhaps maces. Short swords, like Gladius used by Roman heavy infantry, would be be very useful if apart from each other, Dwarves would fight underworld beasts which don't wear armour - short swords are especially effective with shield and in tight formation where short length is an advantage (long sword would be cumbersome in tight melee) but compared to warhammers, swords trade anti-armour properties for versatility.

As such, Dwarves have no cavalry for simple practicality: it's useless for them.

All in all, lack of cavalry, light infantry and archers is perfectly logical. Staple weapons are logical too. What isn't logical, is surprising lack of shields. Common image of Dwarf doesn't feature shield which makes no sense to me - shield and one handed weapon is an excellent combination for heavy infantry fighting in tight formation.

And here, for some elaboration of concepts, with images.

Why I say that pikes could be useful?

You want Iron, punk? We have it right here.

You want Iron, punk? We have it right here.

This image shows Macedonian Phalanx. Imagine something like that blocking the main entrance to the cavern. Or blocking the only flat passage through mountains. Rocky walls to your left and right, steel wall in front. Phalanx doesn't manoeuvre because those pikes ARE long but is excellent at spearing anything that tries to take it head on. If Dwarves live partially on ground, they would have use for this formation, even if they live in mountainous area, because you could block off bridges, tunnels or passages - but this would be the only function of this formation. I imagine speardwarves would be regarded with special reverence as first line of defence - protectors of mines and cities who never back off, blocking entrance with piling up enemy bodies.

Keep in mind that it would NOT be main force. It's extremely specialised, but very good at doing what it's specialised to do - blocking the path. Other types of heavy infantry would handle fighting on slopes, in cities after enemy breaks through etc. but a unit or two of those would probably serve as first line at the entrance. Perhaps speardwarves would actually carry swords or hammers and simply drop the spears to convert into ordinary heavy infantry if situation demands this.

Replace with halberds for much better manoeuvrability, late medieval look and ability to handle rough terrain at expense of reach.

enter image description here

That's Pope's Swiss guard. This guys might look silly now, but that's because they retain their ceremonial look. Church after all loves ceremonies. Back when Pope started hiring them, they meant business, Pope started hiring them specifically because they meant very serious business.

Shields at 70% and holding

Shield wall is a very old concept.

enter image description here

But it just keeps showing up.

enter image description here

Again...

enter image description here

...and again.

enter image description here

Ok, I cheated a bit, 2 last images are the same thing: riot police.

Shields walls are great in melee. Close range, packed space, short weapons which are easier to operate in such crowd. It even provides nice protection from arrows.

So, what are the drawbacks? Because it lacks spears, it's very vulnerable to cavalry (if you add spears you get Phalanx and lose the flexibility). It's also very vulnerable to firearms, so I guess shield wall wouldn't work so well if your world has significant numbers of battlemages. But if there's no cavalry and shields are enchanted against fireballs, this formation of heavy infantry will be very hard to crack in cities or passages and can work quite well in open terrain.

Historically, shield wall beat the phalanx through much better flexibility, which is why I said that spears would be useful but only in very specific tasks. I imagine that main Dwarven fighting force would be heavy infantry utilising shield wall, and either anti-armour pick or generalist sword.

What does the light infantry even do?

Light infantry exists to chase off archers and screen heavy infantry. Kind of like infantry version of cavalry. Not very useful in direct engagement, but loose formation makes them hard to hit with arrows. Archers would often stand in front of heavy infantry, and retreat behind, just before enemy infantry gets close. Task of skirmishers is to run in front of heavy infantry to threaten archers while heavy infantry marches on. Skirmishers would often have javelins to throw at enemy before retreating and letting heavy infantry do the fighting. Later on, light infantry could try to run behind enemy formation for a flanking attack.

This formation wouldn't be useful in caves, mines and cities, but would be useful in surface part of Dwarven homeland. Unfortunately, shortness of Dwarves is a problem hard to overcome. I imagine that perhaps they would employ human mercenaries, or let some human villages exist on their land, specifically to have a source of skirmishers for surface combat (compare to Janissaries - Christian slaves, taken away by Ottoman empire at early age and trained as elite infantry).

In this scenario, Dwarves would pretty much use human skirmishers instead of cavalry - good enough at screening main force, and can always be re-equipped for underground fighting with standard dwarven tactics.

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    $\begingroup$ Re "Horses... require room to turn around": Not that much, actually. A horse can easily turn in its own length. Of course that's not the same as turning a whole formation. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 2 '17 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf But how fast can horse do it? And in a way that won't hinder other horses or disrupt formation? Similarly Human or Dwarf pikeman can't turn easily, Human or Dwarf with pick, hammer or sword can. And this is what I meant. Infantry will beat cavalry in protracted melee, even if ceiling isn't too low to ride horses. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Apr 2 '17 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ @M i ech: How fast? In a split second, given the urge - say something really scary pops up on the trail in front of you. In normal riding or ground handling, about as fast as a human could. Formations I can only guess at, since I don't have enough horses - or experimentally-inclined horse-owning friends - to have tried it. (Then too, I lost any taste I might have had for formations back in boot camp.) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 3 '17 at 3:49
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    $\begingroup$ > despite what films will show you, cavalry is useless in melee. Exactly. Cavalry's big advantage is in taking out archers, as they can close quickly and overrun them before the archers get many arrows off. There's sort of a rock-paper-scissors dynamic involved. Cavalry beats archers, archers beat infantry, infantry beats cavalry. (On a flat, open field. Terrain changes a lot of things, as noted here.) $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Apr 3 '17 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ Point of interest: the Swiss Guard still mean business, however they dress. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Apr 3 '17 at 20:13
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Battle is done from below.

The natural dwarf instinct is to undermine and strike from below, burned into the collective consciousness of all dwarves by millennia of tunnel warfare where to be above your enemy is to be vulnerable to all manner of painful attacks. A rider on a horse (or bull, or war-schauser) is elevated above their foes, which directly contradicts the dwarves doctrine of 'low is strong'.

This philosophy is borne out by the Dwarven fondness of axes, weapons used to strike at the root of an enemy and literally 'fell' them. Dwarven strength and endurance also rewards Dwarves being rooted in one place, and a low centre of gravity, ridiculous resistance to being pushed around and massive ability to withstand heavy objects falling on them ensures that a company of Dwarven pikemen will not only be able to stand against a mass cavalry charge but in many cases will be below the effective striking range of even heavy cavalry units, meaning that any kind of cavalry charge against a dwarven army is pretty much doomed to failure. Even the most successful flanking manoeuvre is going to be rapidly curtailed due to the fact that pretty much every dwarf is at exactly the right height to stick his shovel in your horse's knee.

The combination of a preference for striking from below and the utter uselessness of cavalry charges in Dwarven warfare means that the lack of cavalry is mostly a decision driven by what Dwarven commanders see as common sense. Why waste time, food and effort in rearing and training horses when you could instead raise more soldiers/miners/haulers?

Addendum: Prompted by a comment from above: The dwarves are master diggers. Horses do not deal well with falling into ditches. Any battlefield that the dwarves can occupy for even a short period of time can be assumed to be riddled with terrain that will be incredibly dangerous for horses and riders (concealed pit traps, tunnels with near-to-collapse roofs, spike filled ditches) but absolutely fine for the far more earth-wary dwarves to traverse. Dwarven commanders know this, and have never even bothered trying cavalry charges. Again, Low is Strong.

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  • $\begingroup$ All good points. Why train mediocre cavalry when you can have great infantry instead. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 2 '17 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ It's over Obi Wan, I have the low ground! $\endgroup$ – MikeTheLiar Apr 4 '17 at 18:51
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Use animals in Warfare? That'd be cruel! War is for Dwarves who've earned the right to battle.

It's a cultural thing. While humans and even those grubby elves ride horses into battle -- and even train warhorses -- the Dwarves regard those as both cruel and cowardly. War (and drinking) are serious business, best left to professionals.

Of course, dwarves have horses, even some large breeds for plowing and pulling wagons. As has already been described by another poster, the dwarves have their own food production, storage and economy. Usually, they're more shepherds than cattle herders, and grow more barley (per capita) than any other known race. However, their agriculture is mostly in small fields, not heavily mechanized. Though some {relatively} young-Turk dwarves are looking into changing that, with their newfangled steam inventions....

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    $\begingroup$ "War (and drinking) are serious business, best left to professionals" - Now all I can think about is dwarves having drinking contests with shire horses. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 2 '17 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ Cultures which don't want to adopt game-changing military technologies such as cavalry will normally be outmatched by those without such reservations. Such an attitude can survive only in an environment which is poorly suited to cavalry in the first place. Your answer is fine as something which the dwarves claim in-universe, without even realising that it would get them wiped out if they lived in the grasslands (and limits their territorial expansions). Perhaps the answer needs to address this. $\endgroup$ – user25972 Apr 2 '17 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ @user25972 That's true enough. If (and only if) Dwarves liked open plains. In fact, I expect that would impose a selective pressure to change. In the literature, Dwarves seem to like/live in mountainous/alpine terrain. The thing is, most big prairies/plains have thick sediment covering the rock, gems and jewels the Dwarves are fond of. IMHO, dwarves view flat spaces as where to grow barley or graze their herds. $\endgroup$ – Catalyst Apr 2 '17 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Catalyst: If the dwarves (masters in earthworks and structural engineering) liked open plains enough then they would be able to turn any battlefield they were on for any length of time at all into a hellhole for cavalry. Ever tried riding in plate armour through a field of pit traps and concealed ditches when the dwarves are all wearing mudshoes? I wouldn't want to ride a horse anywhere those devious little beard wearers had been near. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 2 '17 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Joe Bloggs: If the horses could both hold their beer and sing {1} They'd be welcome (and probably gently persuaded to sire lots of baby horses, before taking their leave. {1}: Re singing horses: www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue/sig.html or aebrain.blogspot.com/2003/10/… -- the latter is this same tale, mentioned in a classic SF book, The Mote in God's Eye. $\endgroup$ – Catalyst Apr 2 '17 at 19:09
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Horses are graminivores meaning horses are grazers. Horses actually develop health problems if they don't eat enough raw fiber (hay, not oats), and their stomachs are relatively small. The Dwarves would have to maintain a large area of grassland to feed them because horses eat all day long, and they happen to be picky eaters.

Based on typical Dwarf terrain, I'd expect goats (and maybe sheep). They are less picky eaters and love climbing on rock cliffs. For pulling carts and wagons, they would prefer donkeys which are stronger and smaller than horses. Donkeys are also independent thinkers, less skittish than horses, and will protect livestock from dogs and wolves. Overall the temperament of donkeys seems to align more with dwarves, and I could imagine dwarves considering donkeys the superior animal. Donkeys can also be saddled, but it is a different saddle from horses because their backs are a different shape (this might address some of the other answers involving a dwarf's difficulty in riding a horse).

Ancient cavalries were like the jet fighters of their day, fantastically expensive and able to cover a long range in a short period of time, great for a surprise attack but they weren't the brunt of an army. Chariots are useless in the high mountains, and I suspect dwarves aren't exactly invaders or raiders (certainly not nomads), preferring instead to stay in their mountain kingdoms. They might keep a few horses as status wealth or possibly to stay in communication with other distant tribes or to increase the range of scouts on reconnaissance, but a full cavalry is probably just not their style.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting. So the main problem is actually maintaining a large enough herd of horses. I did think that could be an issue. Funnily enough I had been thinking about goats (because they pull Thor's chariot in Norse legend), but I doubt they would make great cavalry mounts without some serious physiological changes... Very good point about the style of warfare too, if dwarves aren't particularly aggressive and don't leave their mountains much then cavalry is unnecessary. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 2 '17 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ @adaliabooks I've added some comments about donkeys. I think there are a number of reasons why dwarves would prefer donkeys in general, but it gives another excuse to have a few horses (mares) to breed mules which solve a lot of the problems with horses. $\endgroup$ – wetcircuit Apr 2 '17 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I can certainly see dwarves having an affinity with donkeys. Thanks $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 2 '17 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ donkeys, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, even yaks might make good dwarven mounts. Mostly I see dwarves repurposing draft animals. Dwarves do favor heavy equipment and cold mountainous terrain so strong animals that already live there might be popular. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 2 '17 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Mountain goats bred strong enough to use as steeds could be very useful in the mountains, going up and down cliffs that humanoids could only climb very slowly. I think you sacrifice the speed and endurance that makes horse cavalry powerful, though. $\endgroup$ – Thomas K Apr 4 '17 at 14:28
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All great answers, and I would just like to add that just because there is a possibility that dwarves might find themselves in a battle where having cavalry would be an advantage, doesn't mean they would use them.

By then, they would not have a tradition of using cavalry. Unlike (say) humans, they wouldn't have a large pool of decent horses to draw from, built up from years of breeding and conditioning by a long-running culture of experienced horse... carers/breeders(?). Neither would they have a tradition of riders who have inspired young soldiers to be the best horsemen they could be. For example, you'd probably never see a joust at a dwarven fair.

All of these would mean that if they did field a unit of cavalry, it would be one of inexperienced troops on poor to mediocre horses... So what would be the point?

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I was thinking this myself after reading the various other answers. If they ever did need cavalry they'd be far more likely to hire mercenaries or something then throw together their own inefficient troop. This would probably also apply to any dwarves who happened to relocate to the plains, they would be far more experienced as infantry and wouldn't be likely to adopt their own cavalry regiments. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 3 '17 at 10:08
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I agree with the other posters that horse cavalry would be useless in a traditional dwarven stronghold. Ram, bear, etc cavalry have problems as well. When you’re in a tunnel, there is no practical way to get a bunch of dwarves and mounts up to speed. They would get in each other’s way.

What about centipedes?

Start with a normal, cave-dwelling centipede. Through evolution or magic, make it 3 feet tall and 100 feet long. Now you have a giant, poisonous, heavily armored (chitinous), dwarven battle train that can swiftly travel through narrow tunnels, cross moderate crevasses, and cope with extreme elevation changes.

Take one battle-centipede, put 40 dwarves on it, and you’re off. The battlepede sprints through the tunnels with ease. If enemies are encountered, the heavy infantry dwarves hop off. Crossbow-dwarves and clerics remain mounted if there’s enough height in the tunnel to make an elevated platform useful. Heavy infantry moves foward, and the battlepede itself provides backup.

Alternately, use the battlepede as a a battering ram. If the enemy doesn’t have a pike formation in front, then full speed ahead. The battlepede mounts a one-creature cavalry charge, smashes through the enemy formation, and as it travels through the enemy formation the still-mounted dwarves swing axes at any enemy they can reach, preventing the enemy from approaching the battlepede from the sides.

Bibliography:

I must offer thanks to Planet Earth II: Jungles. I watched it last night. Insects were featured prominently in this episode, and the railroad worm got me thinking along these lines.

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  • $\begingroup$ The dark elves uses lizards as mounts that can run along the ceiling $\endgroup$ – Thorne Apr 4 '17 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand. What does that have to do with my answer? $\endgroup$ – Snapdragon Apr 4 '17 at 4:27
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I guess that the answer is to do with the idea that they are troglodyte miners, and therefore would not have the facility to raise and train mounts. If there were some sort of cave-dwelling domestic species, then they could definitely have a cavalry.

The one thing that always gets me is that almost all modern representation of Dwarves makes them Welsh; not just their accents, but with celtic physiotypes, culture, and so on.

Edit A quick image google shows Dwarf cavalry on: Badgers, Sheep/Goats, Bears, Pigs, and Ponies - so it's not exactly unknown for Dwarvern cavalry, right?

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  • $\begingroup$ Funny, I always find dwarves to be more Norse than Welsh.. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 2 '17 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ @adaliabooks, well most of our dwarven mythology comes from norse, but then so does elven mythology. When it comes to Hollywood, however, dwarves are Welsh for some reason $\endgroup$ – Konchog Apr 2 '17 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ Can't say that's something I've noticed myself. Of course dwarf cavalry do exist in some settings, I'm really wondering if there is a logical (physiological or logistical) reason they shouldn't before I decide whether dwarven cavalry will be a thing or not in my world. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 2 '17 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Konchog They have odd customs, are good at mining, and love drinking. Their language is bizarre and guttural. They have an almost instinctual distrust of outsiders. They're not quite foreign, but they're not natives, either. -- If you're an Englishman, at this point you're probably not sure if I'm talking about dwarves or the Welsh. Which probably explains why English writers would merge the two, culturally. (And it only takes one example to start a tradition - look at how all movie pirates speak with a West Country accent.) $\endgroup$ – R.M. Apr 2 '17 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ @R.M. Well, there's a good reason why pirates speak with a West Country accent - because most of them (at least the ratings) were from around Plymouth. As for the Welsh, I would hardly call their customs particularly odd - given that all customs are odd looking from the outside! $\endgroup$ – Konchog Apr 2 '17 at 16:34
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I think this is a much broader problem than just what's being asked about. Now, it's true that dwarves are fictional high fantasy beings, but some facts remain true across the many mythos they're found in.

  1. Underground cities
  2. Short and stocky
  3. Proud, bordering on arrogant
  4. At odds with Elves
  5. Self-sufficient enough to have their own cities (first point) and trade with other dwarven cities (assumed) and some Humans settlements (assumed)
  6. A love for ale, beer, or whatever alcoholic beverage is most common throughout the world they inhabit

Based on points 3, 5, and 6, the following conclusions can be extrapolated.

  1. They do not trade for their ale--they wouldn't depend on 'lesser, surface-dwellers' for something they drink that much of.
  2. They do not trade for their food--same argument as above.
  3. Extrapolating from points 1 & 2: They have the means to grow their own food, and process it to make whatever foods/drinks they enjoy. And can do this efficiently enough to sustain a city or multiple cities.

That leads me to believe that them having mounts isn't that far fetched. I mean, think about it. Underground CITIES with those short legs? They'd either need mechanical transportation, or draught animals to haul the rock, ore and coal up from the depths--they certainly won't be doing that themselves. And travelling long distances? No proud warrior would do that if they can tame a beast to do it for them while they sit high upon their perch and leer down on lesser beings (being dramatic, but every race will have an a-hole that thinks like that).

Now, I've googled Dwarven Mounts. I've seen pretty much what I'd expect: goats (mountain rams), bears, wolves, and mechanical transport. Goats/Rams living high in the mountains without too much trouble, so they are a logical choice. They'd just need to be selectively bred for size and back strength. Bears need to be selective bred for tameness (unless they enjoy breaking a bear or just riding them wild--which I seriously doubt). Wolves are more of a problem--they'd need to be bred for size and tameness, which would make them a lesser choice.

Then again, Dwarves are stubborn folk. Give them a mountain, they'll make you a city. So give them the wildlife of their home range, and trust that they'll make something of that sad lot, you mark my words ;)

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, but if all their agricultural effort and land is dedicated to beer making their probably isn't a lot left for feeding mounts. I do like the idea of war goats though.. Would goats really make decent mounts though? $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 2 '17 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ @adaliabooks Everything is a good mount with proper breeding, size, back strength (all related to breeding), and training. And no, they would need to have enough agriculture for their own food, for their stores (seeing as they won't want to depend on humans or worse shivers Elves!) So you can bet on them having all they need and then some. For them, their families, their workers, and their mounts. It all depends on how you want to bring them to life, though. $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Apr 2 '17 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ That was mainly a joke ;) I kind of like the Dwarf Fortress take where most agriculture is mushroom related, makes sense if you live under ground... I think M i ech makes a compelling argument for why they wouldn't bother maintaining a proper cavalry force, but I might have scouts mounted on specially bred goats, as long as that doesn't come across as too comical. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 2 '17 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ You mean puns like: "RAM THEM!" It all depends on how you bring it across. Just be very careful which warcry they let off. $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Apr 2 '17 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ Dwarves are usually shown as very mechanically minded as well, so pullies, carts and lifts can move quite a lot of material without dwarves needing to pack it out on their backs. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Apr 3 '17 at 16:31
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As others have pointed out, cavalry was used vary sparingl in warfare, only in certain circumstances that Dwarves are unlikely to find themselves in.

It's worth noting that the primary purpose of horses in warfare was (in many cultures and eras), about moving infantry and supplies over long distance quickly, without tiring them out. Dragoons would ride to battle, and then dismount to fight.

Dwarves, typically renowned for being able to travel long distances and carry large loads with great endurance, would not benefit from horses in warfare to the same extent as frailer races.

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Was originally written to be a comment, but given no answer touches the topic, I'll post it as an answer.

In short:

Dwarves lack cavalry because they lack the relationship they require with the horse to do so.

Heavy Cavalry is quite the evolution to arrive at and how ingrained it is in our heads reflects this. For heavy cavalry to exist and be at it's most effective, the rider-mount relationship cannot be neglected. Horses aren't machines, they are alive and have as individual/unique personalities that any human has...this includes fear and hesitation. Training and the development of discipline is the counter to this fear and this includes not just the rider, but the mount as well.

It's actually hard to find the 'first horse reference' in history...they are as linked to human history as humanity is. They were active in all parts of our lives and not simply war...farming, transportation, friendship, construction, and nearly any activity we undertook. This has resulted in a relationship between human and horse that is pretty much unparalleled in nature...they seek us and our companionship. This relationship is horribly understated as it's ultimately the reason we can use them as heavy cavalry.

Elephants are larger, more powerful, and by a quick scan of numbers superior to a horse. However, the elephant is a wild creature, and you cannot teach discipline to a wild creature. That results in things like this (posted as a comment to the OP) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_pig Elephants can and will panic : "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.". Kinda a funny situation, but ultimately there really is no training that would ever have this elephant overcome this primal fear.

And here is where a horse changes the entire equation...our symbiotic relationship with them has developed to the point where we can teach them discipline, and more over, teach them to overcome fear. For our Elephant above...a single squealing pig can cause a feeling of fear and panic. This is an instinctive fear that we all experience in one form or another...but the elephant can't overcome it. A camel, by smell, inspires fear in a horse as a natural reaction not too different than the elephant feels about a war pig. However, through human assistance, a horse can overcome this fear (pause for a moment on that one...the relationship a horse has with us has developed such trust that it can overcome an instinctive fear). In terms of discipline, this puts horses on an equal footing with the rider on it's back and allows it to function in war.

I think it's a fallacy to suggest other species have developed this relationship with horses. Dwarves live underground. A several century relationship with horses is not possible in their day to day life. To a Dwarf, the horse remains wild. Can they use them? Sure, toss the dwarf up there and tell em to hang on. Will the horse instinctively trust the dwarf enough to overcome it's own fears and learn discipline? I say no, they are not core to the dwarves society as they are to ours.

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  • $\begingroup$ Iirc its not about the horse trusting a human as a result of companionship but rather its own instinct to follow the lead which is a part of their life in the wild in herds. Elephants however are too and not enough smart at the same time: it is an independent thinker that will not charge into a spearwall just because you told it to, but it won't understand that a squiling pig is of no danger either. Brave men however are smart enough to understand that a coordinated attack may bring down a war elephant despite its terrifying appearnce. If you look into companionship look no further than dogs. $\endgroup$ – Nick Dzink Sep 26 '17 at 22:27
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The strong points of cavalry are:

  • Speed
  • Mobility
  • Impact strenght

This rules out using ponies, as they would always be inferior to war horses having less mass, lower height, lower speed and lower mobility.

You might think of jockeys, which are short and ride normal horses, but keep in mind that jockeys in a race don't have to hit with swords or maces around them, therefore don't need a firm hold on their ride.

Just compare a cow boy

enter image description here

with a jockey

enter image description here

and see how big is the difference in their legs embracing the horse. That will play a key role in keeping the rider on the mount during a fight.

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  • $\begingroup$ So basically the dwarves wouldn't be able to ride normal horses because their short legs wouldn't give them the stability needed to make effective cavalry. And any horse small enough to ride wouldn't be worth riding. So is there another animal that would be better? Or some slight modifications that could be made to a horse to make it a better mount for a dwarf? $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 2 '17 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ @adaliabooks Something like Shetland ponies should do nicely. They are remarkably strong for their size, and were often used as pit ponies by human miners. The last "pony powered" mine in the USA only closed in 1971, and I can remember some still being used in iron-ore mining in the UK in the 1960s. Pictures at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shetland_pony $\endgroup$ – alephzero Apr 2 '17 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ I thought direwolves were the traditional dwarven mount? $\endgroup$ – Sir Adelaide Apr 3 '17 at 3:21
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I would say because they are short. In your answer you mentioned that jockeys are small and that people fought on elephants.

War horses were much larger than a racing horse. But still relied on the rider being the dangerous part with either a sword or a lance. Having a small horse with a small rider may not scale in the same way.

Elephants were used because the elephant was the weapon using it's strength and weight to crush soldiers. A horse could not do that effectively and needs a rider to attack of it. Elephants were also used to put ranged soldiers on top like cannon and archers in a defensive structure. This could be more suited to dwarves but another trope is them not excelling at ranged combat.

Someone mentioned they could ride wolves, but carnivorous are unsuitable for warfare according to another worldbuilding thread on the subject of bear cavalry. I Can't find it but I think in short they would be too hard to feed.

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One important point is that horses were not used mines because they rear up when frightened, as into the ceiling of whatever tunnel they are in. Mules do not, which is why they were used for extra "mule power" in mines. Mules would live underground for long periods of time I believe, if properly fed. They didn't leave the mines like miners on a daily basis as far as I know.

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Simply, I think, they have too short arms.

Imagine what happens when a dwarf gets to sit on a horse. He's got too short of a radius for attacks. Dwarves are heavy warriors (for me), also. Two handed weapons are not a good idea when you have only a small area for making moves. Try to imagine that warrior on a big horse. Of course they can still ride on ponies (there was a scene in the Lord Of The Rings Movie (no I didn't read the book)), but smaller animals start to make this idea too... risky. You know what i mean.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! While this looks like an interesting point it is far too short for an answer. It looks more like a comment. Could you please elaborate why short arms would be a problem in this case? You can use the "edit"-button to edit your answer. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Apr 6 '17 at 7:25
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To draw a bit more on classical history, consider the Macedonian army. It comes from a topology that would be familiar to dwarves. The Macedonian army was used by Alexander the Great after his pops, Phillip developed it to a high degree of excellence. Their signature feature was the pike phalanx. Their best cavalry was a small unit of men dubbed "Companions" a sort of general's bodyguard on steroids, like The SS division Liebstandardt in WWII which started out as the the Fuerher's (sp?) bodyguard but morphed.

A Pike Phalanx does badly on rough ground, mountains are rough ground, so why does a mountainous kingdom excel at Pike Phalanxes? Because battles for mountainous regions are decided on the restricted flat areas that give easy access. THAT is GREAT territory for a phalanx, flanks can be protected easily and frontal assaults are what they do.

Keep in mind that Pike Phalanxes tend to annhiliate spearmen due to the extra length of the pike, and do well against other infantry side arms unless the wielders are HIGHLY trained AND experienced. Even then the best solution to beating a phalanx was to disrupt it, or tempt it to advance onto broken ground, which naturally disrupts the wall of pointy sticks presented by the Phalanx.

Dwarves would excel at this but for simple physics. Holding an 18 foot long sarissa (pike) works best when you are tall. It gives you leverage for the pike which is naturally held in a downward sloping grip. You gotta be about 5' or more to hold one up very long. So, yeah, not so great for dwarves.

Ogres on the other hand make FORMIBLE pikemen. I favor them heavily in my fantasy armies. :)

So to answer your dwarf questions.

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    $\begingroup$ It looks like your answer is incomplete. Perhaps you could edit it for completeness. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Apr 5 '17 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ Also: Welcome to WorldBuilding! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Apr 5 '17 at 17:39
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Traditionally in games and such Dwarves, if they ride something, it's wolves, donkeys or ponies.

It just depends on your setting. If they don't travel or take dominion over large swaths of land then they don't need them. Same with drows (dark elves).

Of course these can vary from setting to setting and franchise to franchise, but generally they don't wage large war on top of land anyways.

As for what would their cavalry eat, you could also ask the same question about them as well! In most settings the vast underground cities of them offer no traditional food sources - so whatever they would eat, their wolves would eat. In most contexts they are shown as eating lots of meat and drinking beer, which would indicate that they have some kind of livestock anyways and access to grains to make the beer from.

Usually in most worldbuilding dwarves are used to fill the role of the stubby strong species and usually in alliance with some other species that takes care of the fast units.

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