The figure of a knight on horseback is the emblem of medieval chivalry. Much has been written on the ideology and practicalities of knighthood as portrayed in medieval romance, especially Arthurian romance, and it is surprising that so little attention was hitherto granted to the knight’s closest companion, the horse. This study examines the horse as a social indicator, as the knight’s animal alter ego in his spiritual peregrinations and earthly adventures, the ups and downs of chivalric adventure, as well as the relations between the lady and her palfrey in romance. Both medieval authors and their audiences knew more about the symbolism and practice of horsemanship than most readers do today. By providing the background to the descriptions of horses and horsemanship in Arthurian romance, this study deepens the readers’ appreciation of these texts. At the same time, critical reading of romance supplies information about the ideology and daily practice of horsemanship in the Middle Ages that is otherwise impossible to obtain from other sources, be it archaeology, chronicles or administrative documentation.
‘…the most impressive thing in the world [is] an armoured knight on horseback’ wrote Luis Zapata de Chaves in his late 16th-century treatise Del Justador. Recent flourishing of studies in horse history proves that horses not only at the core of pre-modern society but that they make an important part of medieval studies today.