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Horse armor owned by Anna Jagellonica of Poland. Previous owners: Johan III of Sweden, Sigismund III of Sweden-Poland, Sigismund II August of Poland. Made of driven sheet steel with etched and enameled decoration on the outside. A total of eight parts. At Sweden’s State History Museum Source: Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury) / CC BY-SA

16 Striking Pieces of Horse Armor That Protected Them in Battle

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The trusty steed was not just the loyal companion of knights and cavaliers, but invaluable to the war arsenal of many armies across the globe, as well as those in jousting tournaments. Such valuable and often well-loved horses needed protection, just like its master/mistress. The suits were often designed not only for defense, but also to intimidate or impress, with some awesome designs. Here are some of the most glamourous and elaborate pieces of armor that adorned and protected the valiant equine heroes.

This full horse body armor was probably made for Count Antonio IV Collalto in 1589 AD when he was appointed commander of the Venetian army. The horse armor is covered with etched ornament that includes undulating foliage, mythological creatures, winged putti, and heroes from Biblical and Classical history, such as David and Goliath and Marcus Curtius. The decoration and the quality of the etching suggests an origin in Brescia, the second most important armor-producing center in northern Italy after Milan. (MetMuseum / Public Domain)

This full horse body armor was probably made for Count Antonio IV Collalto in 1589 AD when he was appointed commander of the Venetian army. The horse armor is covered with etched ornament that includes undulating foliage, mythological creatures, winged putti, and heroes from Biblical and Classical history, such as David and Goliath and Marcus Curtius. The decoration and the quality of the etching suggests an origin in Brescia, the second most important armor-producing center in northern Italy after Milan. (MetMuseum / Public Domain)

Made of lacquered wood, this Japanese piece is one of the odder looking styles of horse armor. (© The Trustees of the British Museum/ CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Made of lacquered wood, this Japanese piece is one of the odder looking styles of horse armor. (© The Trustees of the British Museum/ CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

This colorful equestrian figure is a faithful reconstruction of a German jouster of ca. 1500. The armor is a special type worn in Germany and Austria for the "joust of peace" (Gestech), fought by two contestants on horseback armed with blunt lances. The aim was to unseat the opponent or at least to break a lance against his armor. Safety was of greater concern than mobility, so the armor was thick, heavy, and rigid. The horse wears a "blind" shaffron (head defense), with the eyes covered so as to prevent it from shying away from the encounter. Similarly, a collar of bells muffled the noise of the oncoming horse and roaring crowd. The horse is fitted a straw-filled bolster across its chest that acted like a "bumper". (The Met / Public Domain)

This colorful equestrian figure is a faithful reconstruction of a German jouster of ca. 1500. The armor is a special type worn in Germany and Austria for the "joust of peace" (Gestech), fought by two contestants on horseback armed with blunt lances. The aim was to unseat the opponent or at least to break a lance against his armor. Safety was of greater concern than mobility, so the armor was thick, heavy, and rigid. The horse wears a "blind" shaffron (head defense), with the eyes covered so as to prevent it from shying away from the encounter. Similarly, a collar of bells muffled the noise of the oncoming horse and roaring crowd. The horse is fitted a straw-filled bolster across its chest that acted like a "bumper". (The Met / Public Domain)

A beautiful example of the Ottoman Mamluk armor, 16th century, held at the Collection of the Army Museum in Paris. (Musée de l'Armée / CC BY-SA 3.0)

A beautiful example of the Ottoman Mamluk armor, 16th century, held at the Collection of the Army Museum in Paris. (Musée de l'Armée / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Left: Tibetan shaffron, late 15th–early 17th century. Tibetan shaffrons are relatively rare, the majority of surviving examples having been acquired by museums in the early 20th century. This shaffron is by far the most elaborately decorated of any recorded up to this point. The quality and execution of its lavish gold and silver damascening rank among the best examples of Tibetan decorated ironwork of this kind, suggesting that it was made for a very high ranking general, if not a king. Right: Pair of Stirrups, possibly 12th–14th century. This pair of stirrups is without equal in style, form, and construction. In particular, the combination of high relief, pierced work, and deep chiseling of the iron, highlighted by the lavish use of gold and silver, is unmatched on any other known pair of stirrups from Tibet, China, or Mongolia. (The Met, left Public Domain; Right; Public Domain)

Left: Tibetan shaffron, late 15th–early 17th century. Tibetan shaffrons are relatively rare, the majority of surviving examples having been acquired by museums in the early 20th century. This shaffron is by far the most elaborately decorated of any recorded up to this point. The quality and execution of its lavish gold and silver damascening rank among the best examples of Tibetan decorated ironwork of this kind, suggesting that it was made for a very high ranking general, if not a king. Right: Pair of Stirrups, possibly 12th–14th century. This pair of stirrups is without equal in style, form, and construction. In particular, the combination of high relief, pierced work, and deep chiseling of the iron, highlighted by the lavish use of gold and silver, is unmatched on any other known pair of stirrups from Tibet, China, or Mongolia. (The Met, left Public Domain; Right; Public Domain)

Suit of horse armor on display at the annex of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) at the Neuburg in the Hofburg of Vienna, Austria. (David Monniaux / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Suit of horse armor on display at the annex of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) at the Neuburg in the Hofburg of Vienna, Austria. (David Monniaux / CC BY-SA 3.0)

This is a rare example of a late Gothic crinet (ca. 1480 – 1495 AD) preserved with its matching shaffron. The combination of the shaffron's slender, pointed shape and its radiating ridges, together with the Italian-style armorer's marks, suggests that it is a work alla tedesca (in the German fashion) by an Italian master. (The Met / Public Domain)

This is a rare example of a late Gothic crinet (ca. 1480 – 1495 AD) preserved with its matching shaffron. The combination of the shaffron's slender, pointed shape and its radiating ridges, together with the Italian-style armorer's marks, suggests that it is a work alla tedesca (in the German fashion) by an Italian master. (The Met / Public Domain)

Italian horse armor made for a member of the Collalto Family ca. 1560 AD. It is one of the few complete examples of its period to be preserved. It comes from the armory of the counts Collalto at the castle of San Salvatore, near Treviso. (The Met/Public Domain)

Italian horse armor made for a member of the Collalto Family ca. 1560 AD. It is one of the few complete examples of its period to be preserved. It comes from the armory of the counts Collalto at the castle of San Salvatore, near Treviso. (The Met/Public Domain)

German armor for man and horse with horse trappings (decorated coverings) ca. 1515 and later (The Met/Public Domain)

German armor for man and horse with horse trappings (decorated coverings) ca. 1515 and later (The Met/Public Domain)

Shaffron of Henry II of France ca. 1490-1500, redecorated 1539. (The Met/Public Domain) 

Shaffron of Henry II of France ca. 1490-1500, redecorated 1539. (The Met/Public Domain)

German half-shaffron (horse's head defense), ca. 1553. The shaffron is constructed of a main plate that tapers to a deep, blunt point in the middle of the nose, with bold flanges over the eyes and deeply arched sides. The ear guards are separate. The escutcheon plate has scrolled edges and is etched with foliage on a dotted ground against which is set the Latin inscription VERPUM DOMINI MANET IN ETERNVM ("The Word of the Lord endureth forever" [I Peter 1:25]). The motto on this shaffron was a popular one and is associated with several German princes. (The Met / Public Domain)

German half-shaffron (horse's head defense), ca. 1553. The shaffron is constructed of a main plate that tapers to a deep, blunt point in the middle of the nose, with bold flanges over the eyes and deeply arched sides. The ear guards are separate. The escutcheon plate has scrolled edges and is etched with foliage on a dotted ground against which is set the Latin inscription VERPUM DOMINI MANET IN ETERNVM ("The Word of the Lord endureth forever" [I Peter 1:25]). The motto on this shaffron was a popular one and is associated with several German princes. (The Met / Public Domain)

Some armor had horns, both to intimidate the opposition and to protect the horse’s ears. (Thomas Quine / CC BY 2.0)

Some armor had horns, both to intimidate the opposition and to protect the horse’s ears. (Thomas Quine / CC BY 2.0)

Not long after its construction in the Middle Ages, the Tower of London became the principal official manufactory of armor for the Kings of England, and their trusty steeds. Here we see some model horses in armor at the White Tower in the Tower of London. (Ethan Doyle White / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Not long after its construction in the Middle Ages, the Tower of London became the principal official manufactory of armor for the Kings of England, and their trusty steeds. Here we see some model horses in armor at the White Tower in the Tower of London. (Ethan Doyle White / CC BY-SA 4.0)

16th or 17th century armor and weapons at the Dresden Zwinger Museum. (Ingersoll, Public Domain)

16th or 17th century armor and weapons at the Dresden Zwinger Museum. (Ingersoll, Public Domain)

A unique quilted horse armor (with diamond patchwork design; comprising four pieces sewn together) made of cotton, fiber padding, wood toggles, and rope/yarn ties, used by the Mahdia. The term refers to the period between 1881 and 1898 of the Sudanese nationalist movement led by Mohamed Ahmed al-Mahdi (the Mahdi) against the Turkiya which led to the capture of Khartoum in 1885. (© The Trustees of the British Museum/CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0)

A unique quilted horse armor (with diamond patchwork design; comprising four pieces sewn together) made of cotton, fiber padding, wood toggles, and rope/yarn ties, used by the Mahdia. The term refers to the period between 1881 and 1898 of the Sudanese nationalist movement led by Mohamed Ahmed al-Mahdi (the Mahdi) against the Turkiya which led to the capture of Khartoum in 1885. (© The Trustees of the British Museum/CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Top image: Horse armor owned by Anna Jagellonica of Poland. Previous owners: Johan III of Sweden, Sigismund III of Sweden-Poland, Sigismund II August of Poland. Made of driven sheet steel with etched and enameled decoration on the outside. A total of eight parts. At Sweden’s State History Museum Source: Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury) / CC BY-SA

By Gary Manners

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