SPEARS AND JAVELINS:
In the beginning, the earliest spears and javelins were used not only
as thrusting weapons, but throwing ones as well. These weapons then fall
loosely into the division for projectile weapons, and as such come under
the influence of the physics of angle of deflection. That is the difference
between the force vector of the projectile and the direction of travel of
the horse. Simply put, this means the area of engagement for all projectile
weapons is best applied directly ahead of the rider. From this angle, the
target appears stationary and aim is easiest. As the angle changes to the
side, the forward momentum of the horse (or horses) must be factored into
the aim to ensure accurate targeting.
Spears may take the form of sharpened sticks, or shafts of wood fitted with various types of metal heads. They are usually from four to six feet
in length. For spears, tall tool handles of oak and hickory are an excellent
choice. These are usually rounded at the top, and are turned with
comfortable swells to aid the grip. They hold up quite well to the shock of
throwing and the clash of combat against steel weapons.
BOW AND ARROW
Bow and arrow were probably the next projectile weapons used from
horseback. In fact, the earliest image of a mounted warrior depicts an
Assyrian firing a bow from astride his mount, patiently standing still. The
best shape of bow for the mounted archer is short and re-curved. The bow
was the primary weapon for the Avars, Parthians, and so-called Mongol
Horde. Of course the American Plains Indian was famous for his accuracy of
fire in hunt or battle. The Comanche's mounted prowess with the bow gave
them superiority against the Texas Rangers, until the later adopted the
The eastern cultures have a long history of combat with
their asymmetrical bow, and Samurai training in mounted archery still
exists in Zen Archery Training. Curiously, though there is a history of
mounting European Archers on horseback, they usually dismounted to fight in
large battles. This is due no doubt to the large size of the long bow,
making it difficult to string or fire while mounted.
Ancient Persian bows
From the short recurve horseman's bow, it is a small step to imagine
hunting on horseback with the light crossbow. This is the perfect weapon for loading a bolt ahead of time and pursuing a quarry with the reins in
one hand, and the bow held steady like a pistol in the other.
The bow eventually gave way to the firearm, both on foot and on
horse. It was the invention of the wheelock mechanism of firing, that
allowed the cavalry to take an active part in the "firefight" once
gunpowder began to dominate the field. Firearms for mounted combat are
divided into two categories: carbines and handguns.
Cap and ball revolver in hand, and one in saddle holster
The re-enactor will be concerned primarily with black-powder weapons,
whether carbines, pistols or revolvers. These require the added skill of
loading, pouring powder from a flask, using ram-rod or tamper, and possibly
winding a wheel-lock mechanism. All of this must be accomplished at a walk,
trot or canter.
Carbines are basically smaller, lighter versions of muskets or rifles
designed for the foot soldier. They have shorter barrels and usually are
mounted with some sort of sling and clip attachment that enables the
trooper to raise the gun and fire it with one hand.
The Winchester carbine
Close-up of Carbine sling and clip attachment on wheelock carbine in Tower of London
The modern trooper will be equipped with his service revolver or
automatic pistol. He should endeavor however to be able to reload and fire
at the canter.
Pistols may be holstered on the troopers belt, in the case of modern officers. Or they may be carried in special pommel holsters placed on
either side of the front of the saddle. Saddle holster were in use from the
1500's through the American civil war.
Close-up of civil war saddle with holsters attached to pommel
AREA OF ENGAGEMENT:
The area of engagement for most projectile weapons runs virtually
around the clock near side and off side. Essentially, anything the rider
can point to, he can fire at. The exception to this rule is the use of bow
or carbine. Here, the additional support of the bridle hand to steady and
aim the weapon, limits the rider's EFFECTIVE aim to an arc sweeping 180
degrees from the rider's nine O'clock left flank, through to his right
flank at three O'clock.
A truly nimble rider however, could overcome the restrictions of the
area of engagement listed above. By releasing the reins he could turn in
the saddle and fire a bow or carbine backward at a receding or pursuing
target as well. This tactic was a particular trait of the Parthians, and is
thought to be the origin of the expression Parting Shot.
Back to Mounted Combat: Weapons
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This file was last modified Sunday, Mar 26 2006, 17:15:14 EST