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In 1066, William the Conqueror of Normandy put approximately 3,000 horses on 700 small sailing ships and headed across the channel to England. William had come to secure his right to the English throne from King Harold. They met in a valley near Hastings where William’s army was victorious due largely to the superiority of his heavy cavalry assisted by archers. While Harold?s forces were excellent horsemen, they did not fight as true cavalry, preferring instead to dismount and fight on foot.

The Bayeux Tapestry

One of William’s cavalrymen was his half brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. He swung a club from his horse so that he might not draw blood as befits a clergyman. Some years after the battle, Odo commissioned the tapestry, 231 feet in length and intricately embroidered in brightly colored wools. The importance of the horse to this battle is reflected in the fact that there are 190 horses shown on the Bayeux tapestry.

Logistics of Moving Medieval Cavalry

Assembling, holding and transporting William?s horses across the English Channel created a logistical nightmare – one that would be faced to some degree by all future mounted armies in the field.

William assembled his men and horses on the French coast approximately one month prior to the invasion. Dr. Bernard Bachrach has done extensive research into the logistics of supporting the equine element of a force of this size for this period of time. His calculations assumed that the majority of the Norman’s warhorses stood approximately 15 hands and weighed between 1,300 and 1,500 pounds; each would have thus required around 25 pounds a day in hay and grain. Based on these assumptions, he concluded that the horses would have needed:

-9,000 cartloads of grain, hay and straw, and 750,000 gallons of fresh water and produced 700,000 gallons of urine and 5,000,000 pounds of manure

-5,000 cartloads to remove the waste

-8,000-12,000 horseshoes and around 50,000-75,000 horseshoe nails, formed from approximately 8 tons of iron forged by skilled workers into shoes and nails

-10 farriers at a minimum working 10 hours a day, 7 days per week to affix the shoes to the horses.