Top 10 Medieval War Horse Breeds: The Legacy of Medieval War Horses

The Middle Ages were a time of great conflict, and war horses were essential to the success of armies. The best war horses were strong, fast, and agile, and they could carry a knight in full armor into battle.

This article will explore 10 of the most famous medieval war horse breeds. We will discuss their history, size, and unique qualities. We will also see how these horses continue to be used today in modern equestrian sports.

Top 10 Medieval War Horse Breeds

1: The Friesian

Top 10 Medieval War Horse Breeds

The Friesian is often what comes to mind when people think of the perfect war horse. It has a thick black coat and a long, luxurious mane and tail. On average, these horses are between 15.3 and 16 hands high and are bigger and heavier than a typical light horse.

Many horses that were big enough to carry a knight in full armor were too slow and docile to be good battle horses. But horses that were known for being quick and agile were often too light and nervous for a fighter. The Friesian is a beautiful blend of speed, courage, strength, and grace.

They are strong enough to carry a knight on their backs, agile enough to make quick moves, and brave enough to face the enemy without fear.

Friesians came from the Netherlands, and their famous ancestors were used by knights as mounts in war. As early as the 11th century, there are pictures of these horses, and it is thought that William the Conqueror rode a Friesian.

As war tactics changed, the number of Friesian horses went down, and by the 1800s, they were almost gone. In the early 1900s, the breed started to become famous again, and today you can find them both under saddle and in the harness. Friesians are often used in the sport of riding because they are strong and move gracefully.

2: The Andalusian

The Andalusian

The Andalusian is another war horse that is known for being strong and beautiful. These horses grow to be about 15.1 to 15.2 hh tall, have thick manes and tails, and are strong.

They are usually known to be friendly and smart, which makes them easy to train. There are many different types of Andalusians, but most of the ones in the United States are gray.

The Iberian horses of Spain and Portugal are the straight ancestors of the Andalusian horse. They were prized by the wealthy, and Carthusian monks kept notes of their breeding back in the 1300s. They quickly became famous as cavalry horses because they were smart and could carry a lot of weight.

In 1667, the Duke of Newcastle William Cavendish called them “the princes of the horse world” and “unnervingly smart.” They still use their smarts and agility in a wide range of games and events today.

3: Mongolian Horse

Mongolian Horse

The Mongolian Horse comes from Mongolia, and it hasn’t changed much over the years. Mongolian Horses are ponies, not horses like the others on this list.

They grow to be between 12 and 14 hands tall and weigh between 500 and 600 pounds. Even though they are short, they are stocky and can carry a lot. They are big and strong, so they can live through cold winters with few things to eat.

These horses are well-known because Genghis Khan used them in the 13th century to take over parts of Mongolia. Each soldier had a small group of Mongolian horses that they used to get around, carry goods, and even eat. Soldiers often chose to ride mares that were still nursing so they could drink the mare’s milk.

4: Shire


Shires are big, strong, and easy-to-control workhorses. On average, they are 17.2 feet tall and weigh about 2,000 pounds. Most of the time, they are black, bay, brown, or gray, but mares can also be roan. They are very strong, and one pair of Shires is said to have pulled 50 tons at one time.

Shires are also known as the English Great Horse. Henry VIII liked them, and he made it illegal to breed Shires under 15h to make them bigger over time. They were used a lot in cavalry until gunpowder became more important and made it necessary to use them less.

5: Arabian


The Arabian is one of the most recognizable horse breeds in the world because of its high-set tail and curved (or “dished”) face. Most of these horses stand between 14.1 and 15.1 hh.

They are smaller and lighter than some of the other horses on this list. Even though Arabians look small, their bones are more dense than those of other horses, which lets them carry fairly big loads.

Arabians are known to be friendly and easy to train, but also alert and full of life. In ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, they were known as “fiery war horses” because of this. As the use of heavy war horses started to go down, they became more common as athletic light cavalry horses.

During the Middle Ages, they were used in the Middle East, Europe, and the Ottoman Empire because they were strong, quick, and had fiery personalities.

6: Marwari


The Marwari comes from the Marwar area of India, and you can tell because its ears curve inward and almost touch each other. Marwaris are smaller and lighter than the war horses on this list. On average, they are between 13.3 and 14.3 hh.

Marwaris were used by the Rathores as early as the 12th century in their cavalry. The Marwaris were very important to the Rathores’ survival after 1193 when they were forced to leave their country. These horses were carefully raised and were only used by the royal family and the military.

People in the area thought of Marwari horses as gods. After India was taken over by Great Britain, the Marwari became less famous, and thoroughbreds and polo ponies took their place. The Marwari is still a rare horse around the world, and most of them live in India.

7: Percheron


The Percheron is a big draft horse that comes from France. It is between 16.2 and 17.3 hands tall and weighs an average of 1,900 pounds. Most people think that Percherons are both smart and strong. Most of the time, they are either black or gray.

We don’t know much about the past of the Percheron, but drawings from the Middle Ages show French knights riding gray horses. The horses that came before the current Percheron were 15 to 16 hands tall and more agile. This would have given them the speed and strength they needed to make quick moves in battle and to carry a knight with full armor.

8: Holsteiner


Holsteiners come from a part of Germany in the north. They are between 16 and 17 feet tall and have a strong, powerful build. Holsteiners are known for having thick, high-set heads and strong back ends.

In the late Middle Ages, there was more demand for cavalry horses, so the Uetersen monks worked on making a horse that was strong enough to carry their troops but also had more stamina and agility. The Holsteiner was a good war horse because of these qualities, and the same qualities make the current Holsteiner a strong competitor in show jumping and dressage around the world.

9: Hanoverian


Like the Holsteiner, the Hanoverian is a warm-blood horse that comes from Germany. It is known today for doing well in the most difficult show rings. These horses are between 15.3 and 17.1 hands tall and have strong, athletic bodies.

The Hanoverian ancestors date back to the early Middle Ages when lords and other soldiers used them as mounts. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, they were crossed with heavier horses so that they could be used for both farming and military.

10: Oldenburg


The Oldenburg is between 16 and 17.2 hands high, and like the first two horses, it is most often seen in intermediate equestrian sports like jumping and dressage. This horse has been around since the late Middle Ages. The biggest stallions were used as skilled and strong war horses. The smaller animals were used for farming.

The Strength of Old War Horses is Still Being Used Today

Most of the horses on this list have been very successful in modern equestrian sports because of the same qualities that made them good war mounts in the Middle Ages.

For example, the strength of their hindquarters makes them good at show jumping, their high endurance makes them good at eventing, and their trainability makes them good at dressage. Ancient war horses’ jobs have changed over time, and so have their unique traits, thanks to a lot of careful breeding.


The horses on this list are all descendants of the war horses that fought in the Middle Ages. They have been carefully bred over the centuries to retain the qualities that made them so successful in battle. Today, these horses are still used in modern equestrian sports, where their strength, speed, and agility continue to be prized.

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