Horses in Ancient Warfare
While riding may have been practiced during the 4th and 3rd millennia BCE, and the disappearance of "Old European" settlements may be related to attacks by horseback-mounted warriors, the clearest impact by horses on ancient warfare was by pulling chariots, introduced c. 2000 BCE.
Horses in the Bronze Age were relatively small by modern standards, which led some theorists to believe the ancient horses were too small to be ridden and so must have been driven. Herodotus' description of the Sigynnae, a steppe people who bred horses too small to ride but extremely efficient at drawing chariots, illustrates this stage. However, as horses remained generally smaller than modern equines well into the Middle Ages, this theory is highly questionable.
The Iron Age in Mesopotamia saw the rise of mounted cavalry as a tool of war, as evidenced by the notable successes of mounted archer tactics used by various invading equestrian nomads such as the Parthians. Over time, the chariot gradually become obsolete.
The horse of the Iron Age was still relatively small, perhaps 12.2 to 14.2 hands high (1.27 to 1.47 meters, measured at the withers.) This was shorter overall average height than modern riding horses, which range from 14.2 to 17.2 hh (1.47 to 1.78 meters). However, small horses were used successfully as light cavalry for many centuries. For example, Fell ponies, believed to be descended from Roman cavalry horses, are comfortably able to carry fully grown adults (although with rather limited ground clearance) at an average height of 13.2 hands (1.37 m). Likewise, the Arabian horse is noted for a short back and dense bone, and the successes of the Muslims against the heavy mounted knights of Europe demonstrated that a 14.2 hand horse (1.47 m) can easily carry a full-grown human adult into battle.
Mounted warriors such as the Scythians, Huns and Vandals of late Roman antiquity, the Mongols who invaded eastern Europe in the 7th century through 14th centuries CE, the Muslim warriors of the 8th through 14th centuries CE, and the American Indians in the 16th through 19th centuries each demonstrated effective forms of light cavalry.
Read more about this topic: Domestication Of The Horse
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