On Palfreys and Destriers

Early Farrier illustrationMost of us don’t have much experience with horses these days. Horses, buggies, carriages and eventually even wagons disappeared after the introduction of automobiles and tractors, and the majority of Americans have been raised in urban settings since 1920. I got lucky as a kid because my grandad Thomas restored carriages and had about 200 of them on his farm. Not that I paid a lot of attention back then, but I do remember some of what he told me. When I teach 19th century history, there is at most one farmer’s kid in the class and usually he knows more about combines than horses. It’s hard to remember that horses were once the predominant form of transportation, and people don’t really understand them and their capabilities. Matthew Cross has a nice piece talking about the basics of horses in medieval times at http://www.joustinghill.org/sca/library/Medieval_Horse_Keeping_files/MedievalHorseKeeping.html. As a resource, he mentions Gervase Markham’s A Discourse on Horsemanship (1593). Unfortunately, it is hard to find Markham. He, and his contemporary, Thomas Bedingfield’s The Art of Ryding (1560), can be found if you have access to English Early Books Online. If you happen to be at a large research university, you probably have access to this. The rest of us can only hope! If you have 1,200 pounds, you can buy a Reprint. There are other resources we can look for. William Rubel has a nice (if very specialized) article on English Horse-bread. Monica Mattfield has her Master’s thesis on Horsemanship and Honour. In other words, there’s not much out there! If you find a PDF of an early manual, please let me know. There is also an interesting collection of data at Equine Data: Speeds, Load Carrying, Feed, and So Forth by the Historical Novelists Center.


About lostdelights

An old gamer flying his freak flag, I've been playing table-top role-playing games since 1978. I've been building my own system (Journeyman) since 1981.
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