Horses: A Crash Course

Everything you need to successfully ride, own, or be a horse in a roleplay game. [in progress]

Intro: Horses are beautiful and athletic animals that have been domesticated for thousands of years. They come in over 200 breeds, ranging from 7 hh (about 28") to 19 hh (76"). Some are shorter, some are smaller. Generally, horses can carry up to 20% of their body weight. A 15.0 hh horse will generally weigh 1000 lbs, so they could carry at most 200 lbs. This is a gross generalization, but you get the point.

Horses can run very fast, sometimes as fast as 30 or so mph. This can only be achieved over a very short distance, and only a few horses are capable of such speeds. Exceptional jumpers can jump regularly as high as 5'5", but most jump around 3' with no problem. Most horses cannot leap fences in a single bound.

Horse Heights are measured at the shoulder, called the withers. This is the highest point when the head is down. 14.2 hh and above is considered horse height, and 14.1 hh and below is considered pony height. These are generalizations, as there are 14.1 hh horses and 14.3 hh ponies, but we won't go there. \


Horses come in several colors. Several are described. (PS> There is no white horse)

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True Black: Also called blue-black, this is the actual shade, not a brown. True black mane and tail, and around the muzzle and other exposed skin is black as well. (Friesian)

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Grey: Black skin with white hairs. The area between the legs (under the tail) and around the muzzle and eyes is usually black, and the hair can range from almost white to a steel grey. Dapples may be present. (Andalusian)

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Bay: Reddish-brown coat with black points (muzzle, mane, tail, and legs). May be very dark, almost brown (seal bay or black bay), or may be very bright (blood bay). (Irish Draught)
dw-chesnut-1a.jpg (9186 bytes) Chesnut: Brown coat, brown mane, and brown tail. May be reddish brown (sorrel) or may be very dark brown or chocolate (liver chesnut) (Oldenburg)

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Palomino: Dilute of the chesnut gene. A creamy tan color with white mane and tail. May be new-copper-penny colored or light cream. (Chocolate Palomino: Liver chesnut with white mane and tail and dark brown legs) (Quarter Horse)
qh-buckskin-2b.jpg (13390 bytes) Buckskin: Dilute of the bay gene. A yellowish color with black points (mane, tail, legs) (Quarter Horse)
picture coming soon Dun: a pale yellowish/reddish color, with the points relatively the same color as the body. Duns often have a stripe running down their spine, called a dorsal stripe, and sometimes 'zebra stripes' on the lower legs.
qh-redroan-foal.jpg (23704 bytes) Red Roan: Roans are bays and chesnuts with a sprinkling of white hairs throughout. The bay and chesnut variety is considered a red or strawberry roan. (Quarter Horse)
qh-blueroan1c.jpg (26217 bytes) Blue Roan: Same concept as the red roan, only with a black base coat instead of bay or chesnut. (Quarter Horse)

There are different types of horses for different purposes. Desert horses are different from knights' horses are different from ladies' horses. Each has a specific usage that they were bred for. 

Desert horses usually come in about three varieties: Arabian, Barb (or Barbary) and Turk (or Turkamene). These horses were bred in or about Arabia, by various nomadic tribes. They were highly prized, and stallions were never sold. They may be given or traded, but never sold. They are very refined, athletic, and have excellent stamina and endurance. They are known for their beautifully chiseled head and arched neck, as well as their high-set tail. Barbs and Turks are similar in many ways to the Arabian, but if you want to appear as authentic as possible, I suggest just sticking with the arabian. The two strains of Arabian (there are many, everything from Spanish to Polish to Russian to Egyptian) are the Shagya Arabians and the Al Khasma Egyptian Arabians. Usually standing anywhere from 14.2 hh (4'10") to 16.1 (5'5"), they may be slightly taller but you'd be *extremely* unlikely to find even a 16.2 hh Arabian or Desert horse.

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Egyptian Arabian--- note the dished head and the arched neck. Compare to other pictures on this page.
frie-standing.jpg (34469 bytes) Friesian--- note the heavy build, feathered legs, and compact body. Compare to the Arabian and other pictures.

Medieval horses were radically different. Different types or grades of horses looked different than one another.

Friesians: (Badhbh Catha)

Medieval horses differ greatly in appearance from their thin boned, hot blooded relatives. Most medieval war horses can trace their bloodlines back to the classical Spanish Andalusian, a very influential breed for most European warmbloods. The epitome of a medieval war steed is the Friesian, an impressive horse originating from Friesland, the Netherlands. The Friesian is noted for it's heavy feathered fetlocks, low set tail, large head, high-set, arching neck and jet black coloration. In fact black, or bay-black is the only coloration allowed in the breed, and no markings other than a few white hairs upon the forehead are permitted. Friesians are known for their long luxurious manes, tails and 'feathers' which are never shaved or trimmed. Although heavier and more draft-like than most warmbloods, the Friesian is agile and versatile, used quite successfully for riding and driving. Their heavy build and powerful limbs accompanied by their calm, easy going temperament made them the ideal knights mount. Their stride is large and gaits smooth, although they prefer the trot, which they have been bred for, to the canter. Although they may appear larger because of their high set, arched neck, the Friesian averages 15.3hh though they may extend from 14.3hh to 17hh. I have found the most common misconception is that Friesians are often portrayed in RPG's as hot, temperamental horses. They are actually quite the opposite, being much calmer and easy going than their desert relatives, but retaining their impressive movement. Good war horses remained calm in battle but were responsive to their rider's aids, allowing the knight to keep his full attention upon his opponent.


Copyright Morgan le Fay 2001 - 2002. All rights reserved. All original content, excluding pictures. Please ASK if you wish to use some of my content or ideas.