Horses are four-legged mammals of the known world. They are used for transportation, in combat, as a patrimonial resource, and as a symbol of status.
Types of Horses
Classification by breed and use
- Destriers are tall, strong, splendid animals, often high spirited. Destriers give knights a majestic air at tourneys. They are normally the most valuable type of horse, being well bred and highly trained but quite expensive. Destriers can founder in snow.
- Coursers are smaller than destriers but faster, fit for war and for hunting. Warhorses are usually coursers, although they may in rare occasions be destriers.[N 1] The expected mount of knights and nobility when they find themselves in combat or jousting situations.
- Chargers are warhorses used on campaign and in tourneys. Some armored nobles of Slaver's Bay ride chargers.
- Palfreys have an ambling capability which makes them a more comfortable mount for long riding journeys. A well-bred palfrey may be as expensive as a destrier. Even royalty and high nobility will often be seen riding palfreys, although they are not meant for combat or jousting.
- Garrons are the only reasonable choice of horse beyond the Wall. Both the Night's Watch and the free folk use them in considerable numbers, both for riding and carrying cargo. Among horses, garrons are notable for their capability to deal with irregular terrain and cold temperatures. Under extreme cold, they fare better than palfreys and far better than destriers, which have considerably higher eating demands and are not particularly capable of dealing with snow. The northern mountain clans also favor the use of garrons and bear-paws to facilitate travel.
- Rounseys are strong and capable steeds of no particular breeding. Although rounseys are capable war horses, they are relegated to hedge knights, squires, and non-knightly men-at-arms. Rounseys are common riding horses and may also be used as pack animals.[N 1]
- Sand steeds are common in Dorne. They are smaller than normal warhorses and cannot bear the weight of the armor (barding) that a warhorse usually wears. They are able to run for a day and a half before tiring.
- Stots are inferior horses.
- Zorses are a fierce black-and-white striped horse hybrid from Essos.
- Ponies are noticeably small even when fully grown. They are useful for driving charts, for carrying cargo, and as mounts for smaller riders.
- Mules are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. They are usually infertile, although it is possible for female mules to breed. Mules are valued for their endurance and versatility for non-combat tasks. Mules are excellent working animals and may be ridden, although they are not meant for combat.[N 1]
- Drays, also called plow horses, are strong horses meant for heavy tasks. They are not necessarily unfit for riding, although they will not be the best choice for combat situations.
By reproductive capability
- A gelding is a castrated horse of any breed or purpose. Castration is useful for making the horse less hormonal and supposedly easier to deal with.
- A a mare is a female horse of any breed or purpose. A young mare is known as a filly.
- A stallion is a non-castrated horse of any breed or purpose. The presence of testosterone may make stallions more physically impressive than otherwise comparable mares or geldings, but it also makes their behavior more aggressive.
Beyond the Wall
Horses are barely used in the Iron Islands, not only due to their basic island geography, but also because the isles are too sparse to provide them good grazing, and too rocky for easy travel even on the same island. Most ironborn are indifferent riders at best. The few horses that are encountered in the Iron Islands tend to be either garrons (bred to be sure-footed on rocky terrain) or "shaggy Harlaw ponies" (apparently bred to survive on meager grazing). Even drays are not as common as ox-pulled carts.
The Dothraki measure wealth largely by the possession of horses, and spend most of their lives riding them. The horse is in the heart of the lives of Dothraki, who are sometimes called "horselords". For Dothraki the horse is a mount and an inspiration for all craft. They worship a horse god.
The nomadic lifestyle, as well as many cultural taboos are directly associated with the horse. The Dothraki fear the ocean, as their horses cannot drink salt water. Persons unable to ride are looked down upon in Dothraki culture, and riding capability is associated with social prestige.
At the death of a Dothraki, his horse is slaughtered and later sacrificed on the funeral pyre of his master. The Dothraki consume almost exclusively horse meat, which they prefer to beef and pork, and to it they attribute many properties, especially for pregnant women. They drink a low alcohol beverage derived from fermented mare's milk. The Dothraki consider boats to be wooden horses.
Horses were first brought to Westeros by the First Men, who traveled across the Arm of Dorne. The First Men used horses and bronze weapons and armor against the children of the forest. According to Old Nan, the Others rode pale dead horses during the Long Night.
Destriers were trained to kick and bite. In war they were a weapon, like the men who rode them.—thoughts of Brienne of Tarth
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