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Mounted Combat:
Weapons: Projectile Weapons

© 2000 Maitre R.P. Alvarez, All rights reserved

Richard Alvarez bio


Introduction to Mounted Combat
The Horse: Selection and Training
The Rider: Technique and Tack

Saddle, Lance and Stirrup


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 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 Colt Revolver.

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

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.

The Lance

The Sword

Mass Weapons

Back to Mounted Combat: Weapons


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This file was last modified Sunday, Mar 26 2006, 17:15:14 EST