(1/2) I’m writing a scene where two knights are fighting each other on horseback. So not a cavalry charge but rather a duel between the two. But it’s so difficult to get it to feel real when I don’t know anything about horses or how mounted combat differs from ground combat. I’ve researched the ground combat quite a lot (with a lot of help from you guys, thank you so much for your awesome work!) and feel comfortable with that writing being good enough, especially after trying out HEMA myself.

(2/2)
But the research for the mounted combat is proving to be difficult. I
can only find either cavalry tactics or information about modern
dressage riding which isn’t really what I’m looking for. Do you guys (or
any of your followers?) have any horse experience or know anything
about how medieval-ish mounted dueling could work? Or know where to
point me in my continued research?

I will admit that mounted combat is not our area of expertise. I’ve looked into it before and it is difficult to find information. I’d pick up any books they point you towards though.

As you’ve probably already figured out, this is a fairly specialized area of study so finding more about it will be difficult on your part. However, there is plenty out there on horses themselves, how they work, and how to ride them. I recommend starting there. Once you get a more solid grasp of how horses behave, how they move, how they think, and how they work then writing mounted combat is going to become much easier.

I’d even recommend going on a few trail rides if you have the resources, but horseback riding is expensive so I totally understand if that’s outside your means. I was a bit of a horse nut when I was a kid, so I had the benefit of reading a lot of books on the subject and indulgent parents who let me ride until it became too expensive. Learning about the importance of seat, holding the reins, controlling the horse with your knees, and just general riding skills aren’t necessary for writing but they’re going to help you sell it to your reader. If you aren’t up on the different gaits, their importance, the seats that move with them, or the speed at which a horse travels at them then you’re going to be in trouble. For example, close range mounted combat like in a duel will most likely happen at a trot rather than a walk, a canter, or a gallop. The reason for this being that the trot will allow you to gain speed, but still circle tightly, give better control in close quarters without locking you into position. Canter is too fast. Gallop is way, way too fast.

Changing pressure in your seat and with your reins can signal your horse to go faster or slower on command, along with a host of other signals. You can nudge with your heels too and most knights did use spurs, but there’s more to it than just kicking a horse to go forward.

Getting used to what your character’s horse might do beneath them requires studying riding before combat. Which means, you were actually on the right track when looking at dressage. You can also study what it looks like when horses fight.

A horse can strike with his/her forelegs, it can kick with it’s hindquarters. It can be taught to rear on command. It can bite. It can knock someone over with it’s shoulder or flanks. When you look at the pretty dressage riding and wonder what use it has, just imagine the horse swinging around into someone, striking with it’s forelegs, or stamping an enemy. The horse sidestepping closer to an enemy slightly too far away so your knight can strike with their blade and then urge them forward by launching forward into a quick trot or canter. Dressage is the surviving base art form for mounted combat. It’s all about exercising precise control over your mount, the kind of control that you need when in tight quarters and specialized gaits for short steps that carry the horse just far enough.

Combining that with what you’ve learned in HEMA is a great start to understanding mounted combat, especially since the base for swordplay on horseback is swordplay on the ground.

Media:

Two Worlds: Two Worlds is a bit of a frustrating mess as a game, it’s open world, it’s a translation, and it uses a very awkward variant of ye olde english that may drive you insane. However, the horse riding in this game is second to none. It is frustrating as shit, which you know what? Good. You’re not riding a motorcycle. It’s one of the few games that will actually simulate momentum on horseback which can get awkward when you’re trying to run someone down at a full gallop.

Mount and Blade: Confession, I have not played Mount and Blade but I do know that it has a stalwart reputation for medieval strategies and tactics involving horses. This is more on the cavalry line, but I figured I’d throw it out there anyway.

Protector of the Small: I will probably always recommend these books, but yes for mounted combat and read for Peachblossom and the riding specifically. There is mounted combat in these books, especially in Squire. I’d read all of them though. They’re supernaturally intelligent, but Pierce does an excellent job nailing the body language and cues for the horses.

A Knight’s Tale: Is it jousting? Yes. Is it based on sports? Yes. However, I’ve found it’s come in handy when trying to write mounted combat sequences in the past for me and it might come in handy as a source of inspiration for you.

The Black Stallion: Is it dated? Yes. Yes, it is. But it’s a fun romp about a boy befriending a horse and outracing them all. It may give you ideas for friendship building between your characters and their steeds should you decide to go in that direction.

Reading anything by Marguerite Henry will also help with capturing the images of and developing personalities for your horses. I read these like a fiend in third grade, my copy of King of the Wind and Black Gold were falling apart by the end, but they still come in handy for imagery and description.

Conveying the feel can be as important, if not more so than getting all the technicalities right. Figuring out how to sell a horse in motion on a static page is tough, so it’s best to work with some great examples.

Here are some links:

Mounted Fencing: The mounted fencing category on Wikitenaur. These may be helpful to pointing toward different surviving manuals talking about fencing on horseback, there are some translations available like Fiore’s, however it may be less helpful without corresponding understanding of horses. It is a good place to get started though.

Mounted HEMA: A blog devoted entirely to HEMA on horseback, discussion of historical manuals and training guides for the horses. It’s worth noting that a lot of mounted combat is going to be similar to ground combat, so all that study you did with swords in regular HEMA will come in handy.

The Jousting Life: The Jousting Life is another blog devoted to following the sport of modern jousting which is slowly gaining popularity. They have useful glossaries and discussion of reviving the sport. There’s also suggestions of what horsemanship arts like dressage or polo that you could look at to help with your understanding of horses.

Scholagladitoria talking about the importance of reins.

As much as dressage itself might seem to be roundabout, the sport itself is actually descended from the kind of horsemanship and control you’d need for mounted combat. Looking at it will ultimately be more helpful to you than you might realize upfront. Stuff like this and this, while more specialized now than would’ve been then can be helpful for inspiring the imagination once you get yourself grounded in the basics.

Hopefully this will be helpful in getting you started. If anyone else has any good information, references, or just wants to share your favorite book on horses, please chime in either as a comment or a reblog.

-Michi

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