Discovering: Are Medieval Times Horses Treated Well?

Are Medieval Times Horses Treated Well?

Welcome to this article, where we will explore the treatment of horses during medieval times. Horses played a significant role in the Middle Ages, serving various purposes such as transportation, agriculture, and warfare.

As we investigate the welfare and care of medieval horses, we will analyze their treatment in different societal strata, including noble households and peasant communities. We’ll also explore the challenges and dangers horses faced during this period, such as disease, warfare, and the physical demands placed upon them.

By comparing medieval horse care practices with the modern standards of equine welfare, we’ll draw insightful conclusions about the treatment of horses. So, join us as we take a journey back to medieval times and shed light on the treatment of these majestic creatures that have captured human imagination for centuries.

Introduction to Medieval Times

Before we delve into the treatment of horses during the Middle Ages, let’s first provide an overview of this iconic historical era. Medieval times, also known as the Middle Ages, spanned a period of over 1000 years, beginning with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century and ending with the onset of the Renaissance in the 15th century. This era was marked by significant political, economic, and social changes, including the emergence of feudalism, the growth of Christianity, and the rise of powerful monarchies.

Horses played a crucial role during this period, serving a wide range of purposes such as transportation, agriculture, entertainment, and warfare. They were an essential part of society, and the level of care they received varied depending on their function and the social class of their owners. In the following sections, we will explore the treatment of horses during the medieval times in more detail.

The Importance of Horses in Medieval Society

Horses played a crucial role in medieval society, serving various purposes that were essential to the day-to-day life of medieval people. They were used for transportation, carrying people and goods across long distances. Horses were also essential to agriculture, used for plowing fields and pulling carts filled with crops.

Additionally, horses were integral to the military, used as warhorses to carry knights into battle and charge at the enemy. They were also used as pack animals to carry supplies to and from the battlefield. Horses were so important in warfare that their welfare was taken into consideration, as their loss could mean the loss of an entire army.

Overall, the care of horses was highly valued in medieval society, and their importance went beyond practical use. Horses were also a symbol of wealth and status. Nobles took great pride in their horses, competing in tournaments and horse races to show off their skills and wealth.

Horses in the Medieval Economy

During medieval times, horses played a critical role in the economy, particularly in agriculture. Farmers relied heavily on horses for heavy plowing and pulling carts, with the animals being a sign of wealth and prestige. Breeding and trading horses became a profitable business, with horse fairs held regularly in cities across Europe.

However, owning and caring for a horse was costly. Horses required food, shelter, and veterinary care, with the latter being minimal at best. Grooming and shoeing were also essential for optimal horse health, adding to the expenses. Despite this, horses remained an essential asset in farming and trade, with their value increasing as they aged.

Overall, horses were an essential component of the medieval economy, with their contribution to agricultural and transportation activities being paramount. However, owning and caring for them was expensive, with the costs associated with upkeep being an obstacle for many.

Horse Care in Medieval Times

During the Middle Ages, horses played a significant role in society, from transportation to agriculture to warfare. However, their welfare and treatment varied greatly depending on their purpose and the status of their owners. Let’s explore the various aspects of horse care during medieval times, including feeding, grooming, and veterinary practices.


The diet of medieval horses was primarily composed of hay and grains such as oats and barley. The quality of their food depended on the wealth of their owners, as noble horses were often fed more expensive and nutritious feeds. Peasant horses, on the other hand, had to make do with lower-quality food and sometimes even had to forage for their own sustenance.


Grooming was an important aspect of horse care during the medieval times. Horses were brushed and combed regularly to keep their coats clean and healthy. They were also checked for any injuries or infections that required treatment.

Veterinary Practices

Medieval veterinary medicine was not as advanced as modern veterinary medicine. Horses were often treated with traditional herbal remedies and prayers by farriers and other horsemen. However, some nobles would have access to more advanced treatment for their horses, including surgery.

Overall Care

The level of care received by horses during medieval times depended largely on their owners. Noble horses were often given more comfortable living quarters and specialized training, while peasant horses had to work under more strenuous conditions. Nevertheless, the welfare of horses was important in medieval society, as their health and well-being directly impacted their owners’ livelihoods.

As we can see, horse care in the Middle Ages was varied and depended on socioeconomic status. While some aspects of horse care were similar to modern standards, others were far from it, highlighting the evolution of equine welfare over time.

The Life of a Warhorse

The treatment and training of warhorses during the medieval period were vastly different from those of common horses. As they were heavily relied upon for warfare, the welfare of these horses was a top priority. The training process of a warhorse commenced from a young age. Colts were hand-picked based on their strength, agility, and temperament and were trained under the guidance of an experienced horseman.

Warhorses were fed a specialized diet of grains, hay, and extra rations of oats, beans, and barley. These diets were tailored to their specific needs, as horses in different roles required different nutritional requirements. To keep their coat and hooves healthy, warhorses were regularly groomed, and their hooves were attended to by skilled farriers.

During the battle, warhorses were outfitted in metal armor, known as barding, to protect them from injury. These armors were custom-made for each horse and were often adorned with the symbol or colors of their owner. In addition, horses were also trained to perform specific maneuvers, such as the piaffe or passage, to aid them in battle.

While the life of a warhorse was undoubtedly challenging, their treatment and care during this period were considered exceptional. The value placed on these horses was evident in the numerous laws and regulations put in place to protect them and ensure their welfare.

Horses in Peasant Society

In medieval times, horses were not exclusive to the nobility; peasants also relied on these animals for various daily activities. Horses were essential for plowing fields, transporting goods and people, and even serving as mounts for peasant soldiers during times of war.

However, while the noble horses lived a life of luxury, peasant horses had a very different experience. They often received less food and care, and their workload was much heavier. This was because most peasants could only afford one or two horses, which were required to perform multiple tasks, leading to exhaustion and strain on their health.

The welfare of horses in peasant society was not always a top priority, as they were seen as more of a tool than a living being. However, some peasant farmers did value their horses and took care of them accordingly. They would provide them with nutritious food, veterinary care, and proper shelter.

It must be noted that the care and treatment of horses varied greatly depending on the region and the social status of their owners. Nonetheless, it is clear that horses played a significant role in the lives of both noble and peasant communities.

Noble Horses and Their Treatment

While common horses received basic care, noble horses were treated like royalty. The aristocracy of medieval times spared no expense when it came to their prized steeds. These horses were selectively bred for specific purposes, such as jousting or hunting, and were highly trained in their respective disciplines. Their living conditions were far more luxurious than those of the common horses, with stables designed to resemble miniature palaces.

The noble horses of medieval times received specialized care tailored to their individual needs. They were often pampered, with their coats brushed daily and their hooves trimmed to perfection. Additionally, they received specialized diets designed to maintain their optimal health and performance. Their owners spared no expense when it came to veterinary care and noble horses were often attended by the best veterinarians of the time.

Unlike common horses who were used for manual labor, noble horses were kept for pleasure and leisure. They were ridden in tournaments and used for hunting, which were popular pastimes for the aristocracy. The importance of these horses to their owners is evident in the lavish treatment they received.

While noble horses were treated differently compared to common horses, it is important to note that they were still subjected to the physical demands of their role. They were trained to perform in physically demanding disciplines, which took a toll on their bodies. Despite the specialized care they received, noble horses were still subject to the same challenges and dangers faced by all horses during the medieval period.

The lavish treatment of noble horses during medieval times stands in stark contrast to the basic care given to common horses. It is a testament to the importance of horses in society during that era and the reverence with which they were held.

Challenges and Dangers Faced by Medieval Horses

Horses during the medieval times faced numerous challenges and dangers, which impacted their welfare and treatment. These included:

Challenge/Danger Impact on Horses
Warfare Warhorses faced the danger of injury and death on the battlefield. Many were killed in action, while others suffered from wounds and infections.
Disease Horses were susceptible to various illnesses during medieval times, including equine influenza and glanders. The lack of veterinary care and limited understanding of animal medicine meant that horses often succumbed to these diseases.
Physical Demands Horses were used extensively for transportation, agriculture, and warfare, which required them to work long hours and travel great distances. This physical strain often resulted in injuries and exhaustion.

Despite these challenges, medieval horses were highly valued for their contributions to society and received a certain level of care and attention from their owners. However, their treatment varied depending on their role and status, and many horses still suffered from neglect and abuse.

Next, we will explore the moral attitudes towards horses in medieval society and how they influenced horse treatment.

Moral Attitudes Towards Horses in Medieval Society

In medieval society, horses were viewed as valuable possessions and were often given the same care and attention as other animals owned by humans. However, moral attitudes towards horses varied depending on the social status of the owner and the use of the animal.

There were some who believed that horses deserved respect and that their welfare should be taken into consideration. For example, Saint Isidore of Seville, a medieval writer and scholar, wrote about the importance of treating horses with care and kindness. He believed that horses should be well-fed and rested and that they should not be overworked or mistreated.

However, there were also those who believed that horses were simply tools to be used and abused as necessary. Knights and nobles often viewed their horses as extensions of their own power and status and were known to push their horses to their physical limits. This often resulted in injuries and even death.

The treatment of horses also varied depending on their use. Warhorses, which were viewed as valuable assets in battle, received specialized training and care. They were often given luxurious accommodations and were well-fed and groomed.

On the other hand, horses used for agricultural work or transportation were often subjected to harsh living conditions and were overworked and underfed. Peasants and other commoners who owned horses often had limited resources and knowledge when it came to caring for their animals, resulting in poor treatment.

In general, the moral attitudes towards horses in medieval society were complex and varied widely depending on the owner and the use of the animal. While some believed that horses deserved respect and care, others viewed them as tools to be used and discarded as necessary.

Despite these differing attitudes, it is clear that horses played an important role in medieval society and were valued for their strength and utility. The challenges and dangers that horses faced during this period highlight the need for continued efforts to improve equine welfare and ensure that horses are treated with the care and respect that they deserve.

Comparing Medieval Horse Care to Modern Standards

It is important to consider how the treatment of horses in medieval times compares to current standards of equine welfare.

While some practices from the Middle Ages have been improved upon, such as the availability of veterinary care and advanced nutrition, others have remained similar. For example, grooming and daily exercise are still important parts of horse care.

However, there are also stark differences between medieval and modern horse care. Medieval horses were often overworked and lacked proper nutrition, leading to health issues and a shorter lifespan. Today, horses are considered valuable and cherished animals, with laws in place to protect their welfare.

It is also important to note that the moral attitudes towards horses have shifted over time. In medieval society, horses were viewed as servants rather than companions and were often treated accordingly. Today, horses are seen as sentient beings deserving of respect and compassion.

The treatment of horses has come a long way since medieval times, but there is always room for improvement. By comparing past and present practices, we can continue to ensure that the care and welfare of horses remain a top priority.


Through our exploration of the treatment of horses during medieval times, we have gained insight into the various roles horses played in society and the care they received.

While it is clear that horses were highly valued and indispensable to medieval civilization, their treatment was not always ideal. The level of care and attention they received varied greatly depending on their societal role and the wealth of their owners.

Overall, we can conclude that there was a general lack of understanding and consideration for equine welfare during medieval times. Practices such as overworking, underfeeding, and lack of veterinary care contribute to the suffering horses endure.

Looking Ahead

As we reflect on the treatment of horses during the medieval period, we can learn from their past to improve their present and future. Modern standards for equine welfare emphasize the importance of proper nutrition, care, and medical attention for horses, regardless of their role in society or the wealth of their owners.

By acknowledging and addressing the past shortcomings in equine welfare, we can work towards a future where all horses receive the respect and care they deserve.