I am futzing around some in my free time to work on horse charging. I interupted working on combat rules to go and get a handle on how horses move . . . so updating the charging rules on foot for horses is the next step.
That made me think of my favorite horse charging scene, from 1987's The Lighthorsemen, which I linked to an earlier post on this blog. Found the link was dead, looked for a new copy of the scene and this time I believe I'll embed it:
I couldn't find a good cut of the scene so I've posted the whole movie. The relevant scene begins at 1:32:00.
I love this scene. I love the work that went into it, the pacing, the sheer beauty of the horses running (I think horses are beautiful), the absolute daring of the participants and the scale of the film to cover it to this degree. It is evident that the director was in love with horses also, from every shot and cut.
If you're willing to watch is, listen in particular to the sound. The scene is 1917, outside Beersheba in modern day Isreal. Imagine the beat of the hooves in a 17th century setting or earlier. The intensity of the wall of flesh moving towards you at the speed they're moving. The stress, knowing this was coming, would be incredible.
If you watch the horses speeding up, you'll see from the movement of their hooves that they move into a trot, then a canter, then a full gallop. The moment they change to the gallop is exhilarating, both in appearance and increased sound. I've watched thousands of movies - and although the overall film is not good, I find this personally one of the most beautiful shots in film.
The horses, you can see, are fighting the bits; that's not filmmaking, that is horses naturally moving together and reacting to the stress themselves. At the start of the charge, the guns judge the distance at 2800 meters. For us old British system folks, that's one-and-three-quarter miles, or the length of the Royal Ascot horse race, founded in 1711. The fastest time on that race track is 1 minute, 12.46 seconds. Double that, even treble that, we're still not talking about much time to load the guns or be steady enough to shoot well. At one point in the film, the shot shows that the sights have not been reset on the defender's guns - that is supposed to demonstrate that the defenders are shooting too frantically, in too short a time, to properly reset their guns. Leadership error, to be sure, but there isn't much time for the officer to shout "Cease Fire," then name a distance to reset the guns for, without the sights still being wrong when the order is given to fire. Finally, what it would look like, from the ground, hearing the horses as they closed in?
The horses, I must mention, would be tired at the end. Dead tired. The horses that come to the end of a race are beat by the end of the race, something not much covered in film. Consider that by the time they come to the end of a charge, how useless they would likely be for battle; they might manage that initial charge . . . but after? I am considering how to make rules for that.
Cavalry charges - even light horse, in the medieval period - were absolutely devastating. That's why swords were given up for spears, pikes and pole arms - because there was no chance of surviving the charge without spearing the horse to pieces. We tend to over-value the importance of the bow because of Crecy and Agincourt - but those were special cases where bowmen were massed. The real influence on the Cavalry charge, the thing that weakened it in the field, was the Swiss pike - and then, ultimately, the bullet.
In a world without bullets, the only useful weapon to have is a shaft with something pointy on the end. Pity that more D&D players don't take such weapons as proficiencies. That, in my world, is likely to change.