To elaborate on the question:

  1. These pikes are long enough to out-range a knight's lance.
  2. The infantry soldiers are well trained and organized.
  3. They wait until the order is given, as to attack simultaneously.
  4. When the cavalry is too close to abort the charge (or risk trampling their own soldiers), the order is given and the pikes are revealed.

It's likely that the pikes will be hidden with grass/foliage or by the army's ranks (assuming multiple rows of pikemen).

Would the pikemen be able to properly brace themselves quickly enough to break the cavalry charge?

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    $\begingroup$ You do know that medieval and early modern armies (when pikes were in use) were not wandering blind and had intelligence officers? A unit of pikemen would be known to be a unit of pikemen, even if their pikes were not visible at a specific moment; the commanding officer of the cavalry unit would ask himself, hmm, those pikemen in front seem to have lost their pikes -- why is that? Are they trying to trap us by any chance? $\endgroup$ – AlexP May 12 '17 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ The whole purpose of pike formations was to discourage enemy cavalry from charging. Concealing the pikes prevents the pike formation from performing it's function. $\endgroup$ – sphennings May 12 '17 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ Somene watched Mel Gibson Bravehearth last night $\endgroup$ – jean May 12 '17 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ A charging horse is incredibly fast and when charging en masse you can't abort the charge, your guys will crash into each other at high speed and it would be chaos. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi May 28 '17 at 11:18

To more specifically address the question: "Would the pikemen be able to properly brace themselves quickly enough to break the cavalry charge?"

The answer is Yes. A good pike will have a stubby metal spike on the back end in addition to the pointy blade on the knight-kabob end. Once the pike is inclined at the proper angle, which takes no more effort than picking it up, it pretty much works itself.

Anything that impales itself on the pike will drive its force directly down the length of the pike pushing the back-spike into the ground. All the pikeman has to do at this point is wear gloves to avoid splinters.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe some pikes had them, but definitely not all: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pike_(weapon)#/media/… $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 12 '17 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ If those pikemen every actually had a horse charging at them, they probably would have invested in a backspike. $\endgroup$ – kingledion May 12 '17 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ A backspike could stab the piker behind you. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 12 '17 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ Knight-kabob earns a +1 $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI May 12 '17 at 13:49

I think this was done in the past: the pikes would be kept on the ground, possibly covered, and when the order was given the infantry would, either by pulling a string or using their hand, lift them up pivoting on the back end.

Since the back end of the pike was still engaged on the ground and the hit force would simply push it further in depth, it was easier for the infantry to withstand the impact against the cavalry.

enter image description here

First rank with pikes at "charge for horse" static defensive posture, ready to draw swords if needed. Second rank holding their pikes at "charge" for delivering thrusts. (source)

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  • $\begingroup$ That's not too sturdy. Citation? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 12 '17 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ A pole stuck in the ground is not too sturdy? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica May 12 '17 at 12:14
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn Haven't you ever seen Braveheart? $\endgroup$ – kingledion May 12 '17 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ in the picture the first rank pikes would slip along the hard cobbles and not be totally effective. This slipping could upset the second rank of pikemen so that the whole defense would collapse like a house of cards. Some of the cavalry would be slightly hindered but the rest would walk all over the guys lying on the cobble stones, making life pretty nasty for them. $\endgroup$ – Geoff May 12 '17 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Geoff, before somebody object that there were no cameras back then to take a picture, the photo is taken at a present day representation of pikemen in action. I think no army at those times had the luxury to pave a battlefield with cobblestones, and they would fight on grass or whatever terrain they might find, mud included. On those terrain the pike would not slip. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica May 12 '17 at 13:41

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