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Horse Breeding in the Medieval World
Charles Gladitz



 
Medium Ævum (Vol.LXVIII 1999)
‘A densely synthesizing, painstaking, detailed volume, rich with material data, tables, lexical and statistical appendices, maps, and vivid sketches of equestrian cultures, and passages from the riding masters, trainers, stud and herd managers, and poets. The time span is loosely ‘the Middle Ages’, but Gladitz’s purview extends back to the second millennium BC and forward to the fifteenth century. Geographically his sweep includes China, Arabia, India, eastern Europe as well as western Europe (this last including Moorish Spain but chiefly Britain); he discusses the cultures of equestrian nomadism (e.g. Turkestan, Mongolia, Manchuria, north China) as well as the development of royal and state studs. There are extensive accounts of the geographical, material cultures of horse-keeping – land, feed, herd movements and shelter in diverse climatic conditions, breed types, manifold uses of horseflesh – as well as specific data on breeding management. In respect of its minute attention to transport and trade of horses among eastern cultures, and from East to West, the book presses forward medievalists’ recovery of cultural avenues between Occident and Orient. Valuable consolidation of far-flung research; endlessly useful, and beautifully produced’ Theresa M. Krier, Medium Ævum (Vol. LXVII 1999)
Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies (July 1999)
‘This much-needed exploration of horse breeding in the Middle Ages is obviously the product of extensive research, and Gladitz deserves credit for attempting to bring such a vast and disparate body of material together in one volume. The twenty-six-page bibliography alone is a testament to the thoroughness of his research.  However, it is apparent that the extensive geographic area and the lengthy period that the author endeavoured to cover were simply too great to be contained coherently and cohesively within a single book. Rigorous editing would have been beneficial, improving readability and allowing Gladitz greater room for interpretation. The result is something more of a compilation than an in-depth analysis. Frequently Gladitz raises tantalizing ideas and then abandons them without further discussion.  For example, he implies that there might have been something akin to sumptuary laws governing the ownership of horses in medieval England and that the more desirable types of animals appear to have been scarce throughout much of Europe in the later Middle Ages.  These lines of inquiry may well be more appropriate for a culturally or socially based study of horse breeding rather than an examination of more practical facets of the subject.  However, as the author himself frequently mentions “selective breeding” and spends considerable time discussing the interaction of early groups within regions, one might expect a more thorough examination of the problems, solutions, and values involved in choosing the types of animals that were to be bred.

The main body of this work is divided according to five geographic regions: Turkistan, Mongolia and Manchuria, north China, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe.  Sources from these regions are not equally abundant, and this fact has led to an imbalance in the treatment of chapters.  The English documents, particularly the Equitium regis accounts, are certainly remarkable in their breadth, survival, and continuity.  Gladitz has made thorough use of this wealth of material and provides a detailed rendering of the contents.  However, with the limited exception of China, the eastern sources are not nearly as abundant or as explicit as those found in England.  Generally, these appear to be reports from outside the immediate communities, surviving works of art, literature, and somewhat fragmented archaeological evidence.  For the sections of this volume concerned with the medieval world outside England, Gladitz has chiefly relied on modern commentary; the only manuscript sources cited are those originating in England.  One suspects that the lengthy period covered in this work was chosen in an attempt to redress some of the basic inequalities of the material.  With sources extending from thousands of years BC to the high Middle Ages, comparison of practices and demonstration of relationships between regions can be a difficult enough task for the author.  Ultimately, they need to be very clearly laid out to remain comprehensible for the reader.  To address some of these problems, Gladitz might have considered a different organizing principle.  A more coherent, chronological approach could have helped to demonstrate the changes in practices and the slow development of types and breeds of horses more clearly than discussing each region as a completely separate entity.  Indeed, the chronology of developments within each section causes some confusion as Gladitz has a disconcerting habit of jumping centuries within paragraphs without explaining the connection between statements.  Maps of the different regions, illustrating the migrations of the various peoples and their geographic proximity, might also have helped to present a more precise picture of events.

While it can be a useful method of comparison, by using current evaluations of feed, modern grass types, the appearance of the terrain today, and the existence of specific breeds, one runs the risk of removing the material from its context and failing to acknowledge that over time these features can change dramatically.  The problem is compounded here by the author's somewhat indiscriminate use of the past and present tenses of verbs, which leaves the reader wondering if information has come from modern sources or is to be found in the medieval material.  This is particularly problematic in the “Summary and Conclusions”, which is worded consistently in the present tense.

One of Gladitz’s arguments is that breeding can be traced through colour.  To a limited extent, this is true.  However, relying on past descriptions of coat colour presents several problems.  First, one has to question whether two or more sources were describing the same colour even when they used the same vocabulary.  Second, one has to locate the origins of a particular gene pool to properly evaluate the dissemination of traits.  One also has to question whether colour was entirely significant or whether physical type and ability were not of greater import.  The Thoroughbred, for example, is a recognized modern breed, not a “type” and exists in many shapes and colours.  It is possible that a destrier was nothing more than an animal with tremendous ability and considerable training; colour may have had very little to do with its desirability or price.  Lastly, the age of the animal must be considered.  A horse's coat can be a dark bay when it is young but with maturity can turn to grey or white.  Depending upon its age when the horse was recorded, one could be looking at a strain of white or bay animals.

Equally tenuous is the idea that type and colour are closely aligned.  For some, this is likely to be more the case than for others-then as now.  The modern palomino is usually consistent in producing offspring with the characteristic golden coat, but the same colour can appear in any breed or type in which the “spotted” gene no longer exists.  As the art of genetic manipulation was beyond the scope of the Middle Ages, it seems unlikely that coat colour was much more than a random result.

Horses during the Middle Ages were vital to transport, communication, travel, and warfare.  Moreover, these animals played an important role in the maintenance of social position.  It is difficult to understand why scholars have generally ignored the study of the supply and maintenance of horses.  Gladitz deserves full credit for attempting to fill the void in the literature.  Although overwhelming at times, the tremendous amount of detail and the scope of this volume make it a very worthwhile contribution to a sadly neglected field.  And despite some problems with organization, no one will deny the extraordinary effort Gladitz made in producing this study.  Nor will anyone dispute its value as the first and, one hopes, not the last of its kind’ M. Mortensen, Speculum, A Journal of Medieval Studies.


Books Ireland (Sept 1999)
‘This is the fruit of forty years research by a lawyer who was intrigued in the late fifties by the discovery that there were studs of Spanish Horses in Wales in the twelfth century ... Sixty-nine pages and most of the introduction are devoted to the East-East Turkestan, Mongolia and Manchuria and North China.  The West-Eastern and Western Europe-is given twenty-eight pages and, although untypical, the British Isles are the only region in the West to be dealt with in detail because horse breeding in other parts of Europe has already been well researched.  Appendices, notes and bibliography make up a third of the book.

Four Courts Press have produced an impeccable volume.  The maps by Denys Baker are a day-dream to float in and are made more exotic by the author's transliteration of Turkic, Arabic and Chinese terms, Farghana, the Yaman, Temiidjin and Cingiz-Khan, the Khwarizmian cavalry and the 'al-Arsiyya guards.  If any criticism were to be made it is the density of the text.  There is no padding.  Every line is packed with protein and the concentration demanded can be tiring on the eyes and the brain.

The noxious internal combustion engine has been with us for less than a century.  The transition to horse nomadism took place towards the end of the second millennium BC.  One cannot eat a Fiat but otherwise horses and engines have both been used for much the same purposes.  There the comparison ends.  Regard the Yahoos on their motorways and guess which Jonathan Swift would favour.

Horse breeding is an art which has kept four hooves on the ground and has not resulted in the grotesqueries of 'he doggie world, in spite of the fact that in the Arab desert the horse was treated from its earliest years with the same solicitude as a human being.  In Arabian desert tent and underground winter dwelling of central Asia, harsh circumstances led to a chosen number of horses being treated as members of the family.

Conscious human choice in breeding is a comparative innovation and even today is far from everything.  When horses and villagers lived underground in the semi-desert east of the Urals and fed on grain, horses were paradoxically large because the small horses were eaten and the large horses kept for their draught power.  When peoples started to roam into regions where food resources were scarce, smaller animals emerged.  Man can propose but Nature still disposes.

The author has examined historically the knowledge and practice of widely differing peoples in widely different environments in relation to horse breeding and stud management.  He draws on Aristotle, Virgil, Varro and Palladius and where possible considers his topic under eight headings-the land, feeding, breeding, stallions, brood mares, mares and foals, young stock and different breeds and types.  From the Khinggan Ranges near the Pacific through the Gobi to the Nadjd by the Red Sea, from Cyrenaica to al-Andalus and north to the lake-studded morainic plateaux of Mecklenburg, Pomerania and Masuria, past Normandy to Hampton-in-Ardern, Horsington and Meironydd, he considers drainage, drinking water and grassland management, clover, lucerne, hay, oats, barley, bran and green fodder.  He examines castration, ancestry, temperament, conformation and colour, changes in human requirements, movements of horse population and trade.  C. S. Lewis rightly called the third Chronicle of Narnia The Horse and his Boy.  From a horse-eye view all the above are far more important than the squabbling background of waves of warriors in their mole-skin armour sweeping out of Asia into the decadent West, of the recurring dynasties of China, the bloodthirsty excursions of the Teutonic knights, the battle of Hastings.  From any view, the saga of the Alin aristocrats (horses and people) from the shores of the Aral Sea to the estates of Alan fitz Flaald of Dol, ancestor of the Fitz Alan earls of Arundel and Stewart kings of Scotland sounds most intriguing and deserves personal research.

At the end of the day, the gifts that the Lord showers on horses as on athletes has nothing to do with democracy and unfortunately the false analogy of genetic inheritance and moral or intellectual worth has had a lot to answer for.  Breeding in horses produces quality, independent of conformation, colour, merit and beauty.  Breeding in human all too often produces chinless wonders.  Homily apart, the forty-year task of Charles Gladitz has produced a worthy tribute to the affers cart-horses, the sumpters, rounceys, palfreys, equi and destriers of the middle ages’ J. Ardle McArdle, Books Ireland, September 1999.

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