Having opened this stable door, it’s time to go in and see what we’ve got–I expect it’s going to take more than one post to cover both horses and horsemanship, so I’m starting with the easy one.
In our world, horse breeding had already produced multiple breeds and types of horse by the end of the 15th century: horses bred for work in harness, for packing loads, for riding in various types of terrain, suitable to different climates, etc. So to populate Paksworld with horses, I looked at these sorts of horses and what I’ve observed (and read) about the size, shape, and capabilities of horses when horses were the main means of getting from here to there and waging war, and what resources were needed to produce them (abundant grazing, for instance, which means land not used for other purposes.)
Some types were clearly not suitable for Paksworld: Arabians, for instance. Arabians are easily recognizable by appearance and associated in most minds with a mythology of the breed and its origins…and these pre-existing ideas about the breed would clash with the mythology of Paksworld. So any tough, distance-covering breed couldn’t look like Arabians (and I like Arabians and have owned a few, so it’s not dislike of the breed.) Nonetheless, I stole some of their characteristics (not the most recognizable to most readers) for other “breeds”. There are no pure racehorses in Paksworld (though there’s never been a horse-using culture in which people didn’t race them) so no racing breeds. There are no extremely tall, extremely heavy horses, since these characteristics were bred into horses late and at considerable cost to hardiness and ease of care. But aside from that there’s a variety of sizes, colors, and types.
There are ponies as small as 12 hands (48 inches at the withers) and horses as tall as 16 hands (60 inches). The weight-carrying capacity of horses (for riders or pack weight) depends on both the “bone” (thickness of bone in the legs) and the conformation of the back, and not on height. The draft (pulling) capacity of horses does depend in part on height (the mechanics of starting and pulling a load being very different from carrying one.) So a horse to carry a knight in armor (for instance) need not be overly tall, but does need to be heavy-boned, with a broad shortish back and a perfect loin coupling….while a pack horse (carrying a non-living load) does better with a longer back, the load being spread along it rather than concentrated in one area.
For general draft use (pulling wagons, carts, coaches) good roads and axle material are more important than the horses: mediocre ponies and horses can pull a wagon as long as they have good footing (no mud-pits) and as long as the vehicle doesn’t create more friction than necessary. (Increasing the load in a wheeled vehicle requires stronger axles–which in wood means thicker axles–and increases friction as the axles turn. The shift to iron axles allowed an increase in load without an increase in horse strength. But iron axles require an iron industry sufficient to produce iron for other uses than weaponry.)
Heat stress is a consideration with horses used fast or in hot climates. A working horse overheats easily and big chunky-built breeds overheat faster than lean, smaller breeds. So for military use, a horse must not only be able to carry the weight or pull the load, but shed heat (thus thinner-coated, lighter-built for more surface area per muscle mass) through repeated long days of work. The ideal cavalry horse for moving your troops will cover 45 miles/day, repeatedly, in the climate you have, without overheating. (Depending on road conditions, weather, load, and all those other factors.)
Most of Paksworld does not have improved (all-weather, relatively smooth) roads, and agriculture north of the Dwarfmounts doesn’t rely on big draft horses for plowing. Thus most dray horses are smaller than we now think of draft horses (under 16 hands, mostly 14-15 hands) as these are less costly to maintain and easier to hitch and drive. They’re used mostly in and near cities (with improved roads) and most carry goods to market on a ridden or led horse…which can go around mudholes far more easily than a cart. These are easy-gaited (ambling), and amply-boned animals that can carry good weight but aren’t particularly fast. Many are also trained to harness, and might be in harness on the one nearby good road twice a month, and the rest of the time under saddle. They might do a little light agricultural work (Paks’s father had a large pony for plowing the one more-fertile patch) as well.
I modeled the farm animals in the north after the pony/horse working breeds in northern Europe, including several pony breeds from the UK (Exmoor, the oldest, also Highland, Fell, and Dales), the Norwegian Fjord (horse/pony), etc. with crosses to “lateral-gaited” types to produce amblers, pads, etc. of 13-15 hands. Sizes range from under 12 hands up, and grade into “horse size” (capable of carrying full-size adult over distance.) These are hardy, tough animals that can live out year-round and need no coddling…similar to the animals reported to have been used centuries ago. Horses used regularly for draft (city cart and wagon horses, traders’ horses) work year-round and are more likely to be kept stabled, and thus don’t need the same level of hardihood as a farm chunk turned out for the winter; they’re mostly 14-15.2 hands high.
The Paksworld horse nomads of the steppes have horses much like the original Mongolian horse (as they did and still do in places)–small, chunky, large-headed, straight-necked, extremely tough and enduring. Few of these horses have white markings (considered unlucky if more than a small mark) and many have the “primitive” black points of duns even if not truly duns. A dun mare is considered the most lucky of colors; a white-splashed red chestnut the least lucky. Most are very round in the barrel, with enough muscling on the back to be comfortable rides bareback (unlike some Mongolian horses I’ve seen in pictures, who are “ridge-backed”, something that explains the high-arched Mongolian saddle.)
The Pargunese breed larger, taller horses (possibly originally for moving timber for their ship-building) and strongly prefer blacks and dark bays (for reasons of their own)…the “Pargunese Black” is taller than a Friesian (but built much the same, at 15.2 – 16.2 hand) and shorter and lighter than a Shire, though sharing with the black Shires a tendency to white markings. Paks’s “Socks” was probably a Pargunese Black.
The heavy mounts of the Tsaian Royal Guard are a cross between Pargunese Blacks and Marrakai-bred grays. Gray has been a favored color in both Fintha and Tsaia since Gird’s day, thanks to Gird’s horse (the “old gray nag” he rode.) Marrakai breeds the best quality riding horses in Tsaia, a balanced blend of hardiness, trainable disposition, weight-carrying, endurance, and speed. They have the broad “double-muscled” back that makes riding bareback more comfortable and also (often) ensures a solid loin coupling, high-set necks with a natural arch, impeccable leg conformation, and most have a natural overstride in walk. They’re highly prized by military commanders both north and south of the mountains. (And they cost the earth.) Their good qualities carry in most first-generation crosses, so half-Marrakai is often almost as good and most Tsaian studs (Verrakai and Konhalt being exceptions) have included Marrakai influence.
Other Tsaian studs of note include the royal stud (Mahieran–the riding horses are longer-headed with a slightly different profile, as well as other differences), the Verrakai (completely different appearance–longer-backed, taller, like a fined-down Pargunese black), and the Tivarrn (he’s a count now on the Royal Council) who imported a southern stallion to cross onto native large-pony mares, hoping for the “metallic” color. He’s producing very fast, agile horses that are gaining popularity with the nobles for sport horses. But he’s still considered a hobby breeder.)
In Aarenis, the horse breeds are different (climate-related)–lighter in bone, more adapted to heat and humidity but not extreme in that. The riding horses mostly have longer heads than the Marrakai, a straight or Roman-nosed profile, a straighter neck, and can be lanky and long-backed. The quality of the Guild League roads mean more heavy wheeled vehicles using larger teams (four and six, rather than just pairs, as is more common in the north.) Mules are also in more use (though the Duke used mules for his wagons, since they were usually working in the south.) Southern horses rarely show the “pony” characteristics of many northern horses (upstanding neck, small muzzle, heavy mane, tail, and leg feathering.)
Cavalry commanders may try to obtain uniform color for their troops–all bays, all chestnuts, all grays, etc.–but quality comes before color. For light cavalry, speed is essential (and weight & size of troopers is strictly controlled); for heavier cavalry units, a slightly heavier horse will be used. In cavalry units, each trooper has an assigned horse (sometimes two.) Infantry commanders like the option of having mounted infantry (for speed of movement) but don’t need as much speed as the light cavalry–their horses will be mid-weight, but not too tall (for quick mounting/dismounting in preparation for battle.) Mounted infantry do not have assigned mounts–both horses and riders are expected to adjust to changes. These horses, though trained to come near a battle without freaking, are not fighting platforms and thus not trained to the same level as officers’ mounts or regular cavalry mounts. They are transportation only.
Officers’ mounts are likely to be a little taller, and sometimes (not always) distinctive in color. Aesil M’dierra has had a series of golden chestnuts (bred in western Aarenis with “metallic” quality to the coat colors similar to the Akhel-Teke) as her favorites, but also rides other colors at need. Kieri always favored Marrakai-bred horses, often but not always dapple grays (his first was a gray.) Quality is paramount–the commander may be wearing heavier armor, and also needs a perfectly sound, perfectly schooled, fast and enduring mount. All officers’ mounts are trained as combat mounts.
Most command staff have some extremely fast and agile cross-country horses for couriers to ride. These horses need the skills of a modern cross-country/eventing horse, though their riders can pick the easiest available obstacles, rather than facing the monsters.
Paladins’ horses have an obscure origin (IOW, nobody’s seen where they come from) and are all strikingly handsome animals of just about 16 hands, 1200 pounds, built more like a good hunter than a racehorse. They’re said to be the Windsteed’s foals and may be any color. They arrive mature and present the appearance of being fully-trained (for their paladin. Not for anyone else.) They have the peculiarity that (like paladins’ arms and armor) they are self-grooming (unless injured or totally exhausted) and never need hoof care. At times they may show up already saddled and bridled. Like some lesser horses they’re escape artists who cannot be confined in stall, stable, or paddock if they need to get to their paladin. When a paladin is killed, the horse disappears. Nobody knows if the horses are “re-issued.”
Tack: Saddles range from the simplest (a sheepskin) without stirrups to close-fitting “war saddles” of the type used in the 13th-14th centuries to stabilize a mounted fighter. Stuffed leather pads held on with a single wide strap and stabilized with a breastband and (sometimes) crupper or relatively simple “cavalry-type” saddles are the most common.
There are no sidesaddles in the modern sense, but in some cultures most women ride sitting sideways, usually on a stuffed pad, sometimes with a simple foot-rest. (Common for farm-women going to market–someone will lead the horse and the woman can nurse a baby or continue knitting or crocheting as they amble along.) In other cultures most women ride astride. All women riding fast, or for battle, ride astride.
Bridles: from the simplest, of twisted grass “rope”, to elaborate leather, tooled and jeweled. Bits include both snaffle-type and curb-type.
Harness: harness systems vary by region and task, as they do in our world. There are none of the many-horses hitches used on big American farms as that amount of horsepower isn’t needed. The weight of the harness and hitching equipment (chains, tugs, hooks, etc.) and the distance from teamster to the lead team in the hitch makes it impractical.
There is no tradition of fine carriage/cart driving in Paksworld (not that I don’t admire the heck out of it! There is nothing as heart-stopping as a fine pair or four of hackney horses (not ponies) in full dress pulling an open carriage at a spanking trot in perfect time…unless it’s an eight-up hitch of the big guys to a show wagon handled by a master teamster making the ground shake.) But you need plenty of dressed roads (not paved, but maintained as good footing) for that to become a fashion.
And I’m sure this is WAY more than anyone wanted to know about the horses of Paksworld (and there’s more….)