Guest Post: “Horse Breeds in the Middle Ages” by Rowena Kinread

The Scots of Dalriada Tour Banner 1Today, I am pleased to welcome Rowena Kinread to my blog as part of the blog tour for her novel, “The Scots of Dalriada.” I want to thank The Coffee Pot Book Club and Rowena Kinread for allowing me to be part of this blog tour.

In ‘The Scots of Dalriada’ Fergus hides in a horse breeding- and training- centre on Aran. Is it realistic that such studs existed in the early Middle Ages? The answer is yes!

Throughout this period, horses were rarely considered breeds, such as today we have the Clydesdale horse, Haflinger, or Lipizzaner, to name just three; but instead, they were defined by type, by describing their purpose or physical attributes.

Breeders practiced selective breeding, as opposed to certain bloodlines as usual today. For example, the destrier or war horse was required to be strong, fast, and agile. Horses that had already proved themselves in battle would be used to breed new generations.

Horses from this age differed in size and build to the modern horse. Generally speaking, they were much smaller. The average horse of the time was 12 to 14 hands (48 to 56 inches, 122 to 142 cm). The destrier was described in contemporary sources as ‘tall and majestic and with great strength’. It was frequently referred to as the ‘great horse’ because of its size and reputation. This was a subjective term by medieval standards, and the destrier would appear small to our modern eyes. In my novel, I name the height as 14.2 hands; this would be exceptionally tall in the day.

 In addition to selective breeding, training was also common. Kings would not have the time to train their horses themselves. It would take a minimum of two years to fully train a destrier. A lot of schooling is required to overcome a horse’s natural instinct to flee from noise, the smell of blood, and the confusion of combat. It must also learn to accept smoke and fire and any sudden movements.

For this reason, war horses were more expensive than normal riding horses, and destriers the most prized, but figures vary greatly from source to source. Destriers are given values ranging from seven times the price of an ordinary horse to seven hundred times. The Bohemian king Wenzel II rode a horse ‘valued at one thousand marks’ in 1298. At the other extreme, a 1265 French ordinance ruled that a squire could not spend more than twenty marks on a rouncey. Knights were expected to have at least one war horse (as well as riding horses and packhorses), with some records from the later Middle Ages showing knights bringing twenty-four horses on the campaign. Five horses were perhaps the standard.


Image destrier
An armored medieval knight, axe in hand, and with a helmet decorated with antlers, rides his horse through a dense forest. 3D Rendering


Other horse ‘types’ in the Middle Ages:

  1. Palfreys = riding horses. The well-bred palfrey, which could equal a destrier in price, was popular with nobles and highly-ranked knights for riding, hunting, and ceremonial use. Ambling was a desirable trait in a palfrey, as the smooth gait allowed the rider to cover long distances quickly in relative comfort.
  2. cart horses or packhorses
  3. ‘Coursers’ were generally preferred for hard battles as they were light, fast, and strong. They were valuable but not as costly as the destrier. They were also used frequently for hunting.
  4. ‘Rouncey’ is a more general-purpose horse, which could be kept as a riding horse or trained for war. It was commonly used by squires, men-at-arms, or poorer knights. A wealthy knight would keep rounceys for his retinue. Sometimes the expected nature of warfare dictated the choice of horse; when a summons to war was sent out in England in 1327, it expressly requested rounceys for swift pursuit rather than destriers. Rounceys were sometimes used as pack horses but never as cart horses.
  5. ‘Jennet’ is a small horse first bred in Spain from Barb and Arabian bloodstock. Their quiet and dependable nature, as well as size, made them popular as riding horses for ladies; however, they were also used as cavalry horses by the Spanish.
  6. The ‘hobby’ was a lightweight horse, about 13 to 14 hands, developed in Ireland from Spanish or Libyan bloodstock. This type of quick and agile horse was popular for skirmishing and was often ridden by light cavalry known as Hobelars. Hobbies were used successfully by both sides during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with Edward I of England trying to gain an advantage by preventing Irish exports of horses to Scotland. Robert Bruce employed the hobby for his guerilla warfare and mounted raids, covering 60 to 70 miles a day.

The Scots of Dalriada coverBlurb:


Fergus, Loarn, and Angus, Princes of the Dalriada, are forced into exile by their scheming half-brother and the druidess Birga One-tooth.


Fergus conceals himself as a stable lad on Aran and falls helplessly in love with a Scottish princess, already promised to someone else. Loarn crosses swords against the Picts. Angus designs longboats.


Always on the run, the brothers must attempt to outride their adversaries by gaining power themselves. Together they achieve more than they could possibly dream of.

Fergus Mór (The Great) is widely recognized as the first King of Scotland, giving Scotland its name and its language. Rulers of Scotland and England from Kenneth mac Alpín until the present time claim descent from Fergus Mór.

Full of unexpected twists and turns, this is a tale of heart-breaking love amidst treachery, deceit, and murder.

Buy Links:

Universal Link: 

Amazon UK: 

Amazon US: 

Amazon CA: 

Amazon AU: 

Rowena Kinread 1Author Bio:

Rowena Kinread grew up in Ripon, Yorkshire, with her large family and a horde of pets. Keen on traveling, her first job was with Lufthansa in Germany.

She began writing in the nineties. Her special area of interest is history. After researching her ancestry and finding family roots in Ireland with the Dalriada clan, particularly in this era. 

Her debut fiction novel titled “The Missionary” is a historical novel about the dramatic life of St. Patrick. It was published by Pegasus Publishers on Apr.29th, 2021, and has been highly appraised by The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post, and the Irish Times.

Her second novel, “The Scots of Dalriada,” centres around Fergus Mór, the founder father of Scotland, and takes place in 5th century Ireland and Scotland. It is due to be published by Pegasus Publishers on Jan.26th, 2023.

The author lives with her husband in Bodman-Ludwigshafen, Lake Constance, Germany. They have three children and six grandchildren.

Social Media Links: