The Breed That Conquered
The Norman war horses that were used by William the Conqueror and his men were the largest and most powerful breed. Capable of carrying fully armoured knights. They are also known as Carrossier Normand as it hails from Normandy. They were a special breed in northern France and were prominent war horses used by the Normans in battles and wars fought between them and their foes. No other opponent could stand against the Norman horse which led the Normans in many victories.
The Norman horses had sturdy feet and legs, wide hooves and a thick mane. A very athletic breed with large and expressive eyes. They had thin ears of medium size with a long and abundant tail. Their other physical characteristics include broad chest, medium sized neck and strong hindquarters.
These horses later became main attractions in sporting events such as show jumping in earlier days. The Norman horses were used in the development of many other horse breeds in Europe and Asia.
The original ancestors of the Norman horse were small horses called bidets. They were introduced by Celts who were the most powerful people in northern and central Europe around 3rd century BC in Normandy and Brittany. The Romans crossed the bidets with larger mares in the beginning of the 10th century, these horses were popular throughout Europe. They were appreciated for their strength, heavy weight and the ability to pull large loads for long distances. These horses displayed an aptitude for learning, displayed stamina and exceptional enthusiasm for performance. Moreover, they were highly acclaimed for their exhibition of harmony, symmetry and balance.
During the early development of the Norman horses, there were several distinct types of breeds such as Merlerault, Cotentin, the horse of La Hague. Among these, the former was a popular breed which lasted until the 18th century. It was mainly used for riding purposes. The Cotentin horses were the oldest breed and were especially used for the luxury carriage trade. Due to their immense size they were much slower. They remained as the most common carriage horse breed until the 19th century and were never used for horse racing.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the mechanization of the daily necessities decreased the demand of these horses both in wars and for personal uses. The major blow to these horse breed occurred when Germans occupied France and took control of the farmlands. The number of Norman horses drastically reduced as fighting demolished the farms. The few leftover horses were used in sports events such as horse jumping and racing. According to the current statistics, there are no more Norman horses registered in any of the stud books.
Fortunately, the Norman horses led to the development of many other breeds like Greek Andravida, Swiss Freiberger, Hungarian Nonius etc. Moreover, they were also used to create other popular breeds such as Polish Sokolsky and Chinese Heihe. The legacy of the Norman war horses still remains to boast their long war history.