Skip to main content



  I want to create here a source of knowledge for people who are interested in the technical details of classical equestrian maneuvers from the Renaissance period. I address this blog mainly to riders aspiring to ride in the style of that historical period.


     The article below contains information about horse height recommended by equestrian masters and war veterans from the 16th and 17th century. In addition to the descriptions with the given measure, there are also pictures from the period comparing human statures to the heights of horses. Of course, this is only one of the features of the recommended conformation.

         In the records from the mentioned period, we can find terms such as "small", "large" or "medium". However, they still remain subjective terms that should be clarified.

Also often on various pictures where the rider seat with "classical seat position"from the period (no matter of culture, social status, region, formations etc.) it can be seen that the rider's foot is depicted either below the level of the horse's stomach or equal to this line (Fig. 1, 2, 3, 4), while the human height exceeds the horse's height measured at the withers (Fig. 2). So if we assume that the average height for a man from Europe at that time was about 160-170 cm[1], then the horse would have to be at least about 150-160 cm tall to satisfy the subjective "foot-belly line" relationship, which confirmed sources form the period. (modern comparative examples at the end of the article).

Fig. 1. Antoine de Pluvinel, french riding master 1625.         Fig. 2. Ernst Abraham von Dehn, german riding master- 1637.


Fig. 3. François I, King of France. Circa 1540.      Fig. 4. Winged hussar. "Pobudka zacnym synom korony" 1620.


Fig. 5. David Klöcker "Certamen equestre caeteraque solemnia..." 1672. Fig. 6. "Ippokomike" 1570 Jost Amman

Below are quotes and pictures from different regions of Europe arranged chronologically. In the collected sources we have not information how height of horses was measured. Only Gueriniere told us to measre horse from the ground to the "garot" (withers).

In the Pandone Venafro castle there are frescoes from the beginning of the 16th century depicting a collection of horses. The descriptions below then tell us that the horses were painted life-size. This particular fresco (Fig. 7) dates from 1523 and the horse depicted on it is about 150 cm tall at the withers. [2] Additionally, the signature tells us that this horse is 4-5 years old so we would say this horse is unlikely to grow much.


Fig. 7. Fresco from Venafro castle. 

Claudio Corte (1562), describing throughout the chapter „Dell modo d’aiutar il cavallo ad ogni sorte di maneggi à i repeloni” how the exercises should be properly performed, concludes:

„(…) le più utili, et anco le più belle, che si faccino con ginetto, et cavallo da due selle.”[3]

"(...) [exercises], the most useful and the most beautiful ones, which are performered with a „ginetto" [type] and with a horse of average height."

In the treatise of Cesare Fiaschi (1563) we can also find a graphic (Fig. 4) giving an indication of the horse's height. It can be seen that the rider's foot is below the horse's stomach line and the man on the ground is at least a head higher than the horse's withers.

Fig. 4. The Cesare Fiaschi Treatise, fitting the curb bit to the horse.

Another author - Pasqual Caracciolo (1566), distinguishing between large and smaller horses, assigns them different advantages in combat operations.

 „(...) ma de la statura si è da far non picciola differenza, perche i cavalli grossi son buoni solamente ne i singolari abbattimenti, ò in una giornata Campale, dove bisognasse di comparire armato di tutte armė, dovendosi combattere con grossa Cavalleria: ne'quali casi importa molto, che s'habbia cavallo di vantaggio; Ma nelle scaramuccie, et in altri mestieri della militia, dove piu leggierezza, e prestezza è da richiedersi: loderei più tosto un cavallo di mediocre taglia, come quelli di Napoli, che si chiamano di due selle, i Turchi della Natolia, i Villani di Spagna, et alcuni Frisoni (…)”[4]

"(...) but there is no small difference of the height, because big horses are good only in an armed confrontation or in a casual battle, where it is necessary to appear armed with all weapons, having to fight with large cavalry [formation]: in which cases it matters a lot which horse has an advantage; but in the skirmishes and in other professions of the war, where more lightness and speed is to be required I would praise more a horse of medium size, like those of Naples, which are called of „due selle”, the Turks of Natolia, the Villans of Spain and some Friesian (...) "

Alessandro Massari in "Compendio dell'heroica arte di cavalleria" (1600) proposes for the formation of harquebusiers horses of "mezza taglia" (medium height) and stronger horses for heavily armed soldiers. [5]

Antonio Pirro Ferraro in his treatise from 1602 also presented a detailed illustration (Fig. 8) indicating the height of an adult human compared to the height of a horse. In this case we can guess that the master (an adult unmounted man) corrects the young man's position on horseback.


Fig. 8. From treatise of Antonio Pirro Ferraro „Cavallo Frenato”.

Additionally, Ferraro added a tip that is not used nowadays, because in modern dressage we use figures of pre-defined dimensions. It is the selection of the dimensions of the riding figures depending on the horse's height.

„(…) & poi passegiar la mezza volta, più, & meno larga, secondo la taglia, & intentione del Cavallo (…)”[6]

"(...) then walk the „mezza volta” [half pirouette], more or less wide according to the size and preparation of the Horse (...)"

In “La cavalerie françoise et italienne” (1620) by Pierre de La Noue you can find a graphic (Fig. 9) where the man standing on the ground is again a head taller than the horse and the rider's foot on one level with the horse's stomach.

Fig. 9. „La cavalerie françoise et italienne”- Pierre de La Noue.

Also Lorenzino Palmieri (1625) adds an interesting passage by differentiating the horse's training time according to his size.

„Devesi mettere più tempo a fare un cavallo grande, che un picciolo.”[7]

"It must take longer to prepare a large horse than a small one."

John Cruso in "Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie" (1632) for the lancer and the cuirassier proposes horses of at least 15 hands (Fig. 10). [8]

"His horse was to be of 15 hand high at the least, strong, swift, and well managed."[9]

For harquebusiers and carabinieri he also recommends horses of at least 15 hands:

"His horse (according to the said edict of the States) should not be under 15 hand high, being swift and well managed."[10]

Fig. 10. The lancer or the cuirassier from John’a Cruso. Source:

Robert Ward in "Animadversions of Warre" (1638) also suggests a horse for cuirassiers that should be at least 15 hands tall.

„(…) his horse is to be fifteene hand high and upwards (…)”[11]

Harquebusiers should also have horses 15 hands tall, while carabiners - "smaller horses".[12]

John Vernon in "The young horse-man, or, The honest plain-dealing Cavalier" (1644) proposes horses about 152 cm tall for cuirassiers formation.[13]

„(…) a good strong horse of fifteen handfuls high (…)”[14]

For Arquebusier and carabinieri he suggests horses of this same size.

 „(…) a good tall horse of fifteen handfuls high (…)”[15]

Giovanni Battista Galiberto in "Il Cavallo da Maneggio" (1650) wrote:

„li più belli, e megliori cavalli devon'essere di mezza taglia, cioè no molto alti, ne molto bassi (…)”[16]

"The most beautiful and best horses must be of medium size, that is neither very tall, nor very small (...)"

And below is the picture included in his book (Fig. 11) showing the young horse introduced to the training with people around who are at least a head higher than the horse's withers.

Fig. 11. From treatise of Giovanni Battista Galiberto.

It is worth mentioning that Galiberto recommends starting a horse's training at the age of 3,5-4 years. [17]

Jacques de Solleysel (1617-1680) in William Hope's translation from 1717 wrote that horses of medium stature were reputed to have the best qualities.

„Horses of a middle size have commonly most Strength, Spirit and Agility, and not one in a hundred but proves good; when of large Horses not one in thousand.”[18]

A very interesting observation is provided by the work of Nicola Santapaulina from 1696. The author states that large horses do not have such lightness and agility as the smaller ones.

„Il Cavallo da soldato à mio Giudizio non deve essere nè molto grande, nè troppo piccolo; Grande, perche oltre l'incommodo di montarvi, e smontarvi all'occorrenze, vi è, che difficilmente si unisce leggerezza, & agilità in una macchina grande.

Piccolo, perche oltre lo svantaggio, che si hà nel combattere sopra un Cavallo piccolo, non potrà mai resistere alla fatica, come uno di giusta taglia; avendo in Italia per proverbio, che il piccolo fa quello puole, et il grande quello vuole. Deve dunque esser di giusta altezza, che à mio giuditio sarà di quarte nove, e mezza in circa di misura Padovana, che corrisponde alli palmi sei, e mezzo Romani, poco più, ò poco meno.”[19]

„The soldier's horse in my opinion should neither be very big, nor too small: Big-because besides the inconvenience of mounting on and off while necessary; it is hard to combine lightness and agility in a large machine.

Small-because apart from the disadvantage of fighting on a small horse, the horse will never be able to resist fatigue, like the one of the right size does; having in Italy as a proverb that the little one does what he can and the big one does what he wants. It must therefore be of the right height, which in my judgment will be about nine quarters and a half in Paduan measure about, which corresponds to six and a half Roman palms, a little more, or a little less. "

So if we assume that the Roman hand is 22.3 cm[20], then the height of the "average" horse will be about 145 cm.

The suggestion (slightly later than the discussed period) from François Robichon de La Guérinière (1736) that a horse for war should be 154/157 cm[21] tall (Fig. 12).

„Un Cheval destiné pour la guerre, doit être de médiocre stature, c'est-à-dire de quatre pieds 9. à 10. pounces de hauteur, et qui est celle qu'on demande en France dans presque tous les corps de Cavalerie.”[22]

„A Horse intended for war must be of average stature, that is to say from four feet 9 to 10 inches in height, which is required in France in almost all the corps of cavalry. ”


Fig. 12. The horse depicted in the "Ecole de Cavalerie", books of François Robichon de La Guérinière.

Summarizing the collected data from this period, we can try to better define the subjective terms appearing in the sources, such as: "small", "medium (mezza)" or "tall". It is likely that a horse about 150 cm tall was recommended by the equestrian masters of that period.

Below are photos of modern riders on horseback, which enables us to compare the proportions of the horse and the rider. Relation is subjective becouse we can add anothers factors as height of the seat, horse rib-cage width, legs position and the ratio of the legs length to the length of the torso (which is different for a man and a woman). 

Horse 147 cm. Rider 170 cm (Hendrike Weideman)


Horse 168 cm. Rider 165 cm. (Katarzyna Kliczkowska)


Horse 153 cm. Rider 178 cm. (Calijn de Jong)


Horse 164 cm. Rider 170 cm (Jose Pedro Bernardes) – in the high seat saddle.

Horse 157 cm. Rider 169 cm (Marcin Ruda) – in the high seat saddle.

 Below we can see this same rider on three diffrent horses:

Horse 158 cm. Rider 170 cm (Kristian Heinonen)

Horse 147 cm. Rider 170 cm (Kristian Heinonen)

Horse 142 cm. Rider 170 cm (Kristian Heinonen) - the horse with big rib-cage.

Horse 148 cm. Rider 180 cm - with rather higher saddle and the horse with large rib-cage.

And two other extreme examples:


Horse 185 cm. Rider 164 cm (Zuzanna Rogińska)


Horse 136 cm. Rider 163 cm (Katarzyna Żórawska)


Hottó, Éva. "DEKONSTRUKCIÓ ÉS REKONSTRUKCIÓ A XVII - XVIII. századi magyar férfi öltözetek jellemző szabásformáinak rekonstrukciós elemzése", Sopron, 2014.

Komlos, John. "European Heights in the Early 18th Century", ECONSTOR, Munich Discussion Paper, No. 2005-5.

Hau, Michael. "An Anthropometric History of Early-Modern France". Munich Discussion Paper No. 2003-10.

Guérinière, François. "École de cavalerie", Tom I, Paryż; Jacques Guérin, 1736.

Sikora, Radosław. „Wypisy Źródłowe do Dziejów Husarii”, Wydanie pierwsze, Częstochowa; 3DOM, 2020.

Chiovelli, Renzo. "Tecniche costruttive murarie medievali. La Tuscia", Roma, L'ERMA di BRETSCHNEIDER, 2007.

Ferraro, Pirro Antonio. Cavallo frenato di Pirro Antonio Ferraro,... diviso in quatro libri. Precede l'opera di Gio. Battista Ferraro,... dove si tratta il modo di conservar le razze,... disciplinar cavalli e il modo di curargli. Neapol; Antonio Pace, 1602.

Palmieri, Lorenzino. Perfette regole, et modi di caualcare di Lorenzino Palmieri fiorentino. Wenecja; Barezzo Barezzi, 1625.

Santapaulina, Nicola. L'arte del cavallo. Padwa; Stamperia del Seminario, 1696.

Caracciolo, Pasqual. La gloria del cavallo. Venice: Gabriel Giolito, 1587.

Corte, Claudio. Il cauallarizzo. Wenecja; Giordano Ziletti, 1562.

Massari, Alessandro. Compendio dell'heroica arte di caualleria del sig. Wenecja; Francesco Bolzetta, 1600.

Galibero, Battista. "IL CAVALLO DA MANEGGIO". Wiedeń; GIOVAN GIACOMO 1650.

Ward, Robert. "Animadversions of warre", Londyn; Iohn Dawson 1639.

Hope, William. The Compleat Horseman. Londyn; J.B., 1717.

Vernon, John. "The young Horse-man", London; Andrew Coe, 1644.

Cruso, John. "Military Instructions for the Cavalry", Cambridge; Universitie of Cambridge, 1644.


[1] Hottó, s.24;  Komlos, s.12-13; Hau, s.21-22.


[3] Corte, s.94.

[4] Caracciolo, s.223.

[5] Massari, s.13.

[6] Ferraro, s.53.

[7] Palmieri, s.5.

[8] Cruso, s.29.

[9] Cruso, s.28-29.

[10] Cruso, s.31.

[11] Ward, s.292-293.

[12] Ward, s.293.

[13] If hand is equal to 10,16 cm.

[14] Vernon, s.9.

[15] Vernon, s.9.

[16] Galiberto, s.63.

[17] Galiberto, s.10-12.

[18] Hope, s.187.

[19] Santapaulina, s.173-174.

[20] Chiovelli, s.133.

[21] Using measure units before the French Revolution.

[22] Guérinière, s.272.

Enjoyed this blog? Never miss out on future posts by following us.

Popular Posts