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Jousting Giants: What kind of horses did knights ride?

Written by Natalie Gasper

Meet the Regal Horses Worthy of Royal Treatment

Knights rode more than large, black stallions like you see in movies. Turns out they had a horse for every occasion, from battle to travel to everyday chores and more.

There were four types of horses used by medieval knights: destriers, palfreys, rouncys, and coursers. Destriers, or warhorses, had to be big and strong enough to wear armor and carry fully armored knights into battle. Some of the most common breeds used by knights include Friesians, Percherons, Andalusians, and Arabians.

Medieval Horses

Medieval horses were the knights’ most important resource.

A good horse could mean the difference between life and death on the battlefield.

Knights: A Brief History

Medieval knights were warriors who were trained to fight in armor, on horseback. They were also often “knighted” in special ceremonies.

When not serving as elite soldiers in battle, they often served as law enforcers in a local lord’s court, or even served the queen.

The Horse’s Role in Medieval Times

Horses wore many hats in medieval times. If a knight could afford more than one horse, he would likely own a destrier, or a warhorse, and a palfrey, or a horse meant for travel and everyday use.

Some horses, like rouncys, could do it all and were used for things like carrying loads.

Knight on horse

Photo Cred: Canva

All The King’s Horses

While the king and the nobility had some of the finest horses of the time, it was also important for knights to have high-quality destriers for battle.

What is a destrier?

A destrier was a type of horse used by knights in battle. They were similar in build and appearance to today’s draft horses, though much shorter (averaging 15 to 16 hands).

Common Breeds Used

The four most commonly used breeds were Percherons, Andalusians, Arabians, and Friesians.

Other breeds used include the Mongolian horse, Shires, and Marwari horses.

Medieval Horse Characteristics

The most distinguished type of horse, the destrier, had a few defining characteristics.

They needed powerful hindquarters to stop and leap forward with ease, short backs, and strong bones.

Famous Medieval Horses

There are quite a few famous war horses, including:

  • Tencendur: the warhorse of King Charlemagne
  • Llamrei and Hengeron: the legendary horses of King Arthur
  • Babieca: El Cid’s warhorse
  • Chetak: King Maharana Pratap’s horse
  • Marengo: Napoleon’s warhorse

Cavalry, Defined

A cavalry is a group of soldiers who were trained to fight on horseback.

Knight with horse

Photo Cred: Canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What breed of horse was a destrier?

A destrier isn’t a breed, but a type of horse. Knights rode destriers into battle. Destriers were usually stallions and had to be large enough to carry fully armored knights while wearing armor themselves.

Q: Did medieval knights ride horses?

All the time! While most people picture large horses covered in armor when they think of medieval knights, they actually rode different horses for different occasions (one for battle, one for speed, one for daily use, and one for travel).

Q: Did medieval knights ride Friesians?

Some did. Friesians are one of four main breeds that were commonly used by knights.

Q: What was the largest war horse breed?

Percherons were the largest of the horse breeds used by knights. They were most often used as destriers, or the type of horse knights would ride into battle.

Q: How do war horse sizes compare?

Destriers were the largest and tallest. Palfreys, or those used for everyday riding and travel, were small and prized for their smooth gaits. Coursers were also used in battle when speed was necessary.

Rouncys were the smallest and used for a range of purposes, from carrying loads to battle mounts for poorer soldiers. They were also the preferred mounts of archers.

Knight in field

Photo Cred: Canva

Parting Thoughts

Horses were an essential part of life for medieval knights who treated their mounts with the utmost care and respect. The need for good-quality horses for knights led to the evolution of many breeds as we know them today, including Percherons and Friesians.

P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:


Medieval Horse Names (40+ Ideas For Your Mighty Steed) – AHF (amazinghorsefacts.com)

A Tank On Legs | AMNH

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About the author


Nancy loves retraining off the track Thoroughbreds and working with her dogs!