11 August 2016

Pardon Me, But Your Destrier Just Bit My Rouncey

These are the various classifications of horses used during medieval times. This may provide the referee a bit of guidance and flavor for his campaign. Note the term classification ... these are not breeds, they are ways of classifying the type of horse.

Palfrey: a lighter weight riding horse with an ambling gait, suitable for riding long distances. An unarmored knight would ride one of these to travel long distances, then ride a charger into battle. Referred to in the OD&D rules as a light horse.

Charger: a warhorse, that is, a mount specifically trained for battle and bred for both speed and agility in addition to great strength. Chargers came in 3 classifications: destrier, courser, rouncey. Chargers were often stallions because of the natural aggression of male horses.

  • Destrier: the most prized of the heavy warhorse types. Destriers stood 14-15 hands and mainly differed from palfreys in strength and training more than size. Unfortunately, destriers were difficult to find, resulting in many knights riding coursers or rounceys. Classed in the OD&D rules as a heavy warhorse. 
  • Courser: prized for being light, fast, and strong. Coursers got their name from their running gait. In addition to serving in battle, coursers were often used as hunting horses. These are labelled as medium warhorses in the OD&D rules. 
  • Rouncey: (or rounsey) a good all around horse, similar to a typical riding horse, trained for battle. These were often used a riding horses or even pack horses. The least desirable of the charger type warhorses. Rounceys could be both heavy or medium warhorses.

Sumpter: a packhorse, but note the term packhorse could traditionally be used for a horse, mule, donkey, or pony. A sumpter is a horse bred for sturdiness and used to carry goods or supplies on its back, usually in sidebags called panniers. These animals are built for endurance not speed.

Draught: also called draft horse (USA) or dray, as well as cart horse, heavy horse, or work horse. These animals were bred for pulling loads such as wagons or carts. Draught horses are very tall specimens with heavy musculature. They make poor warhorses because they were not very agile, though some evidence suggests they may have seen some service in battle.

Donkey: (or ass) a male donkey is called a jack and the female is a jenny. Donkeys have a much stronger sense of self-preservation than a horse and are therefore far less likely to be forced or frightened into doing something, giving rise to their reputation as stubborn. These are typically used as draught or pack animals.

Mule: the sterile offspring of a male donkey (jack) and female horse (mare). Typically used as packhorses, though their size, and therefore use, varies widely depending upon the size of its dam. Mules are considered more intelligent and less obstinate than donkeys, and are typically the only packhorse found in an underworld setting. In fact, mules (and hinnies, see below) are considered to embody the best aspects of both horses (strength, ability to travel) and donkeys (endurance, less food).

Hinny: the sterile offspring of a male horse (stallion) and female donkey (jenny). Hinnies are far less common than mules. They also tend to be smaller and have shorter ears than mules. 

Pony: a small horse, ponies for known for their temperament. A fact to which this author can personally attest: these are mean little bastards. They are treated as packhorses and are typically sure-footed and strong. Ponies can serve as warhorses, and in fantasy campaigns smaller human-types will often mount their cavalry upon them.

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