Sunlight blazed upon the stands. Two horses opposite of one another pawed the ground and chewed their bits; two bridles jingled with impatience. At the sound of the trumpet, they were off, and horses’ hooves thundered as the two knights collided in the middle of the lists, cracking their lances against each other’s shields, their steeds trembling beneath them with shock from the blows.
Jousting tournaments, farming, and racing all have one important underlying element: a horse. Cavalry could make the winning difference in battle; a strong horse could mean more food for a man’s family; the horse with the most stamina and speed could win the race. In war, work, and race the horse has always been significant in the lives of men.
Knights were the greatest power in medieval armies, but one of the factors that made the knight important was the horse he rode. Without the Great Horses of England, the Flemish, Flanders, and Friesian horses, powerful Destriers, there would never have been knights. Destriers could carry the weight of a full grown man in armor, plus armor of their own. Their endurance, strength, and reflexes had to be great to last the long hours of battle. Horses were intelligent and had good senses of sight, hearing, and smell which made them the perfect animal for war, where these senses were vital. Good war horses were very costly and bred for great size, strength, and stamina. Duke William of Normandy was one of the first rulers to use a large group of mounted soldiers in battle, and not long after his invasion of England, in 1066 A.D., knights emerged from the regular cavalry. In the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, knights became a dominant force on the field. Cavalry was used in battle during the Civil War in the United States of America and also in the two World Wars.
Although horses were used in both World I and World War II, with the invention of tanks and artillery, the need for horses in war began to quickly recede. However, not all horses were used in war. Descending from the Great Horses of England came the Shires and other powerful draft horses. Farmers, merchants, and couriers all used the horse in their various occupations. Shires, the strongest horse breed in the modern world, are capable of pulling up to twenty-five tons.
Other large horses in the draft breeds include the Clydesdale, Belgian, Percheron, and Suffolk.
Draft horses contained strength that aptly fit God’s description of a horse in the book of Job, for their necks are “clothed with thunder” (Job 39:19). These horses were used to pull plows, carts, and to do other necessary jobs on farms. The stronger the horse was, the more food a farmer could plant and harvest. Before the invention of machines for travel, the horse was the fastest method of locomotion and many draft horses and ponies worked as transportation for couriers, merchants, and any person who needed to travel. The Pony Express used small ponies to carry the mail and post-boys along the route from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California.
War and work aren’t the only equine occupations, though; for hundreds of years, horses have raced, from across the Middle Eastern deserts to the European country sides. In 680 B.C., there were chariot races during the Greek Olympics, and from the small beginning of official horse races in Greece, horse races have grown in size. The largest modern day horse races are the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
Common race horse breeds include the Arabian horses, which have the most endurance of horse breeds, and the Thoroughbred, which is faster over shorter distances. Arabians are usually smaller and more lightly built than Thoroughbreds, which typically weigh 1,000 to 1,200 pounds and are 62 to 65 inches high from the ground to their withers – which is the highest point of their backs. The greatest modern day racehorse, Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown in 1973, was an American Thoroughbred. Secretariat set the record for the greatest win at the Belmont Stakes when he won by 31 lengths in only two minutes and twenty-four seconds.
War, work, and race have all been strongly affected by the equine family. In Job 39:19-25, God asks Job, “Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? …the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength…He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword…he smelleth the battle afar off…” This passage of Scripture truly describes the horse for what it is. In war it is fearless, in work it is strong, and in the race it “swalloweth up the ground with fierceness and rage.”