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The Surprising Size of the Medieval War Horse

A recent study shows that the average size of a medieval war horse was shockingly petit.

According to a team of zoologists in the UK who studied the bones from nearly 2,000 adult horses from the 4th to 17th centuries, the size of the average war horse or charger during the Middle Ages was not the massive and powerful equines of today’s movies. Rather, the medieval horse was, on average, a modest 14 hands high (4 feet 10 inches from the ground to the shoulder blades), about the size of a large pony.

The analysis also revealed that horses shrank in size from the Saxon times to the Norman period, even though this was a time when the horse played a significant role in warfare.

One of the biggest horses found (a Norman steed at Trowbridge castle in Wiltshire) was only 15 hands high (5 feet), the size of a small light riding horse.

By comparison, today’s horses can reach over 17 hands, or almost 6 feet.

During this time, horses were bred not for size but to develop a better temperament or “mood.” It wasn’t until the agricultural revolution that horses were bred to be taller.


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