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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Civilian self-defense on horseback Reply to topic
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Dashiell Harrison

Location: California
Joined: 14 Jun 2014

Posts: 45

PostPosted: Fri 12 Feb, 2021 1:01 pm    Post subject: Civilian self-defense on horseback         Reply with quote

Hi All,

Building on my previous question about banditry, I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on how feasible mounted swordsmanship would have been for people who weren't trained cavalrymen (and weren't mounted on warhorses.)

My general sort of D&D-inspired understanding of mounted combat is that it's a somewhat binary issue: if you're a trained cavalier on a warhorse you can fight very effectively, if you or your horse lack cavalry skills you're out of luck.

However, I've seen a lot of artistic depictions of travelers like this one:

Presumably neither the cleric nor the Jewish traveler are knights or are mounted on chargers. They are, however, both carrying swords for protection on the roads. How effective do people think they would be if they were forced to use their weapons in self-defense? Is fighting from horseback feasible if you are mounted on a rouncey or palfrey and only have experience with fencing on foot? If not, why did burghers so often carry swords when traveling, especially since they would often have to surrender them when stopping in towns and taverns? Would they have tried to dismount when attacked (which strikes me as a bad idea for a whole host of reasons), or were the swords more for show/intimidation than anything else?

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Mark Millman

Joined: 10 Feb 2005

Posts: 466

PostPosted: Fri 12 Feb, 2021 4:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Dashiell,

You may be able to get a sense of what travelers might have known by looking at Wiktenauer's collection of sources on mounted combat. The techniques themselves tend to be simple--which I should emphasize is not the same as being easy--relying mostly on good control of one's horse and good timing. The specificity of the scenario that you describe in your "Bandits in Late Medieval Europe" thread should help you choose among the twenty Wiktenauer pages.

If you're not already familiar with the Fechtbuch literature, you may want to do some reading about the treatises, their authors, their audiences, fencing students, and fencing guilds. But as you say you admire Jean's work you may well already have a good background in these subjects.

I hope this proves helpful.


Mark Millman
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T. Kew

Location: London, UK
Joined: 21 Apr 2012

Posts: 214

PostPosted: Sat 13 Feb, 2021 4:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have done a little horseback fencing, although I'm by no means an expert rider. Key points that I noticed while doing so:

  • There's a minimum necessary threshold where your horse can put up with the antics of people fighting around/on top of it. If you don't have a horse which can deal with that, trying to actually fight from horseback will be a huge problem.
  • If you do, then it's a much more smooth scale from there - being a better rider with a better horse will help you pick when and how engagements happen, but you can still fight regardless.
  • Much like in foot fencing, you can compensate for weaknesses in movement/footwork with strengths in bladework (or vice versa).
  • If you're not great at riding/fencing, having a 'gaited'/ambling horse like a palfrey is actually really useful, because it means you have to spend less mental energy on how you're moving with the horse.

The other thing to remember is that potential attackers are not necessarily expert knights on prime destriers. Top quality warhorses were expensive and ownership/access to them was a key strategic resource. The sort of person raiding on the roads might well also be a somewhat questionable rider on a somewhat questionable horse, which in turn means you're at less of a disadvantage.

Reaching out to Arne Koets or the Gassmanns might be useful on this general subject.

HEMA fencer and coach, New Cross Historical Fencing
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Dashiell Harrison

Location: California
Joined: 14 Jun 2014

Posts: 45

PostPosted: Sat 20 Feb, 2021 4:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tea, those are some useful data points, thanks.

Mark, thanks for sharing that list. I'm quite familiar with the sources for fencing on foot, but much less so with the horseback material, so this is a useful list to be able to look through.
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