“Did they use mostly horses in castle building and farming in the Middle Ages?” I believe I get asked this question a lot because of the belief in the predominant use of oxen in Medieval Europe. No doubt, as in many aspects of Medieval life, it varied a lot from region to region whether there were more horses or oxen in use as draft animals. At the Ozark Medieval Fortress we use horses and donkeys. I like horses (they smell better). In any event, several inventions introduced during the Middle Ages helped tip the choice between horse and ox in favor of the horse.
An ox is strong and slow to freak out: a horse is faster and more versatile (who wants to ride an ox to town?). The critical use for any work (draft) animal is how well it gets the job done. The main job besides pulling a cart was pulling the plow. In the Middle Ages the light wooden single-bladed chisel plow changed radically. Wheels were added, as was a moldboard blade (though not yet the famous John Deere blade) and the plow frame was made much heavier. The ox yoke stayed the same, but the new invention of the horse collar made it much easier for horses to pull heavier loads than the earlier breast collar straps. In addition, there was another invention introduced that benefited the choice to use a horse instead of an ox: the metal horseshoe. The Romans made leather and metal horse “boots” and by the 6th century, European horsemen had begun using metal shoes nailed to the horse’s hooves. The 1200’s brought the iron horseshoe into common use by blacksmiths throughout Europe. The bottom line was that in Europe during the Middle Ages, the horse became more popular than oxen because of the collar, iron horseshoes and its versatility.
At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, guests meet Honey, the Belgian draft horse, who pulls a Medieval-styled two wheeled cart and uses a Medieval-style harness with horse collar. Honey is used to cart rocks from the quarry to the building site and also to skid logs from the forest to the carpenters’ work site. She also skids the sand and mortar to wherever it is needed. Honey receives much attention from our guests and is always a favorite.