During class, we as a unit seemed to struggle with defining the relationship that was developed between man and animal when it came to the warhorse. To varying degrees, we attempted to explain the relationship as it compared to the readings we’ve done on falconry and on pets. In reflection of the topic, I wanted to go back to the readings we’ve done thus far and see how the interpretation of the human-animal relationship has compared to the relationship between man and his warhorse.
First, what did we learn about the relationship between nobles and their horses?
Bennett provided some idea of how this relationship was developed. We learned that the horses needed to be trained extensively, ensuring they were able to take commands and would be useful tools in battle. Bennett explained that Stallions have some fighting qualities that may seem useful in combat, but those behaviors had to be trained out. Biting and kicking, he said, were not a useful tactic. Rather, the horses had to be obedient, and discipline was what was required.
This is not to say the horses were simply instruments of war. Bennett explains that there is an undoubted bond of affection formed between rider and mount.
Hyland, in talking about the Templars in particular, gives further clues to how important the horse was to the rider. The rules of the Temple, Hyland writes, contained over 100 rules relating to the horse, ranging from equipment, maintenance, breeding, and acquisition. This, Hyland writes, was just as present as the ‘praying factor’. This alone does not tell us emotionally invested the Templars were in their horses, perhaps only going so far as to explain they were valuable and required the most extensive care. Hyland also explains how valuable the horses were, and how military units did what they could to ensure that warhorses were not lost to the enemy. This great care could simply be a measure of the horses’ value.
The measure of how great this connection was between master and horse could perhaps be a function of how invested the rider is in his animal. Hyland explains the Templars had to provide their horses, but they were supplied by the Temple once the horses were registered. In the event of a horse’s death, the rider would be compensated by the Temple. I make the inference here that perhaps the connection would be greater if the rider was the one who was tasked with being the sole person to feed, supply, and maintain his mount. Sure, the rider may have brought the horses to battle, but the point at which they can be compensated for its loss, and the point at which they no longer feed it, would seem to me as a point where the horse becomes less of a partner and more of a military instrument which can be reimbursed.
Hyland says the horses used in battle were either very stupid, or a courageous partner to its rider. But Hyland also characterizes the actions of horses in combat as the product of “the mastery of the man, instilled through years of training and association.”
So what can be made of the relationship between horse and rider? Certainly, there existed some sort of bond, as had to naturally come from the extensive training that occurred. At the same time, though, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly to what extent this relationship existed. The sources seem to indicate the horses could just as easily been perceived principally as instruments of war, and the connection through training was only useful in that it made the horse perform better in combat. Templars in particular did have to provide their horses, but all sources indicate that they traveled with several horses, not one who they formed an incredibly strong bond with. The fact that the Temple had such extensive rules for the horses could be a sign, and the fact that the Temple was willing to pay the value of the horse in the event of death, seems to indicate a military interest rather than an intrinsic one. The rules ensured that horses would be properly prepared for battle, and the financial commitment ensured Templars would be willing to bring their horses to combat, lest they be out a significant financial investment.
How does our understanding of warhorses compare to other house animals or falcons?
Smith gives us the only piece which directly compares horses with a more conventional house-animal. In terms of dogs, most of what is discussed relates to “function.” Smith talks at length about the functionality of dogs, with hints of the relationship between animal and man. Primarily the focus is on what dogs could do, with mentions relating to the use of dogs in herding and home security. Smith does however mention a small hint of the relationship between dog and owner, mentioning the probability that dogs were kept unmuzzled (although this could again just be tied to the practicality of a muzzled dog).
As to their status as pets, Smith states that the evidence of that treatment is sparse and “pets” were in the minority. Rather, animals were exploited for their furs, hides, meat, and labor.
So it’s hard to say horses are pets, because the evidence isn’t really there that pets were a widespread phenomenon. This makes sense, because most people likely lacked the wealth to sustain another non-human mouth to feed.
But what about the elite, and their connection to animals? How does the relationship compare to falcons and falconry?
Again, the language is focused on teaching and training. A falconer must “teach his falcon” to hunt only the prey desired by the hunter, thus creating a behavior “counter to [the falcon’s] natural inclination.”
This is similar to what Smith said about the training of warhorses, that they too needed to be broken of some of their natural behaviors. Frederick does talk about the care that has to be taken to acclimate the bird to the trainer, writing that the chief aim of the falconer should be to “train his hunting bird to make use of all her faculties in his presence without any sense of terror.” The falconry text goes to great lengths to talk about the relationship that must form between bird and man, and its length is a testament to how much care is given to the training of falcons. The process of prepping the bird, the restoring of sight to the bird, soothing the bird, keeping it fed and trained, all of this is important in making a proper falcon for hunting, but must be done with the utmost care.
Ultimately, the conclusion we can come to here is that there certainly had to be a connection between man and animal, as there always has been. The degree to which that connection is evident is based on the evidence and sources we have. Perhaps that is the biggest shortcoming we have here. Perhaps the conflicting view of the connection between falcon and horse and dog is a product of the lack of primary sources. If there were more primary sources on horses and sheep dogs like the one Frederick penned on falconry, we may have a better idea of how close knights were to their horses. Without them, we’re left looking at horses the same way that dogs and cats were apparently viewed, primarily as animals with utility. Certainly, the evidence suggests that war horses were likely viewed more in the way that falcons were, but without primary sources, we are left mostly with the impression that war horses were certainly companions to some extent, but the focus seems to be on the utility the animals had in war.
- Jeramee Tiger Gwozdz