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.
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.
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.
I think I might be able to help a bit, as someone who has been riding all my life and the past few years have started to do some mounted combat and jousting myself, and love studying and practicing historical riding.
First off, some good starting points to research historical riding would be to look at the Academic art of riding, a dressage system descended from pre-18th century riding rather than modern sport dressage which is descended from the post-18th century cavalry riding. Look up books and videos of the Academic art of riding, as well as videos from the Spanish riding school of Vienna and the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian art to get to see what this kind of riding might look like.
Two very important differences between mounted combat and, for example, ground fighting with two handed swords is that 1) you can’t retire backwards, only go through forward or to the side, and 2) you sit on top of 600 kg of moving horse which increases the kinetic energy in stabs and strikes by a lot, and when greater forces are involved there’s potential for much greater damage.
If you’re writing a dueling scene, it’s important to remember that your characters, if they are knights, would probably be very well educated in riding. Educating horses and riders takes a long time and but when they are on a high education level it’s possible to do pretty amazing stuff. A duel like this very often turns into a “passade”, where the two riders will approach each other in quarter-in canter, strike at each other, continue forward for a bit, turn around in a pirouette and then approach each other in a quarter-in again. It’s also possible to, for example, start circling each other when striking. This movement would likely continue until one rider manages to hit the other, slash, stab or pull him off his horse. We often on the ground practice different locking-techniques where you for example slash someones throat and pull him off the horse at the same time, but since it’s incredibly dangerous even with rubber swords we never practice it on horseback. It’s something you could use in your writing though.
Most fights between two riders (especially educated riders) would, unlike what Michi says, actually happen in canter. The key to that is collection – in collection the horse carries himself on the hindquarters rather than on the front and it’s much easier to control both the speed (varying from being completely still to moving very fast) and direction. A very collected canter turns into something called terre á terre, a two beat gait where the horse can move in any direction (even backwards, although I can only think of two people alive today who could pull that off) and do pretty much anything. It is the ideal fighting gate. HOWEVER, it takes a very, very well educated horse and rider in order to be able to do it, especially for longer than a few stride (as an example, me and my horse are just now getting there after 10+ years of education). Here’s a youtube clip of terre á terre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNuajy6YgvU. And a video showing a horse going from terre á terre into the school jump capriole: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMB0QTDbNjU. The scool jumps were however more often used against people on the ground, rather than other riders.
Something I also want to add is that well educated riders (in this context) don’t really use the reins or the feet. You ride one-handed on a so called curb bit with the reins mostly hanging, giving the horse directives from your seat. The rider thinks “we need to go over there this fast” and the horse follows the rider’s body language through the seat. It’s actually quite a lot like the jaeger pilots of Pacific Rim (I love that movie lol) – two minds creating one amazing fighting unit.
Since it’s such a big subject this is really just touching on the surface. But I hope I could offer some insight – feel free to send me a message if you have any questions, anon.
Thanks for the input!