How did one train soldiers and horses for war in the 17th century? These images give a small glimpse of how this was done in Germany, quite possibly in the city of Siegen, somewhere around the first quarter of the 1600s.

These illustrations are taken from Johann Jacobi von Wallhausen’s Ritter kunst : Darinnen begriffen, I. Ein trewhertziges Warnung- schreiben wegen deß Betrübten Zustands jetziger Christenheit. II. Undersicht aller Handgriffen so ein jeder Cauallirer hochnötig zu wissen bedarff. of 1614, and show various forms of practice for war, both for man and horse. In my opinion they are especially interesting as they come from a book written in the breaking period where warfare was moving away from heavy armour and swords in lieu of cannons, pikes and arquebuses. To many it is therefore rather surprising to see “knights” charging each other with rapiers and arquebus in hand.

Von Wallhausen was educated in the Dutch form of drilling military forces, “invented” by Prince Maurice of Orange & Nassau, under whom he served in the Dutch army and to whom he also dedicated several books. Von Wallhausen wrote several books on this topic, which came to be adopted by the Dutch army, but this book contains the most interesting illustrations, in my opinion. This is also the form of drill upon which Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus, with the help of Jakob de la Gardie, expanded upon quite successfully during the 30-years’ war and other European wars of the period.

Looking at the illustrations it is hard to tell if the soldiers at first are firing their weapons with gun powder only, but when firing in a circle around the horses, it certainly seems like a way to prepare the horses and themselves.

Furthermore, in image 6, top right corner, we see a sword thrust to the opponent’s visor. Other thrusts in the gaps of armour can be seen in image 8 on the bottom and mid left.

These images, as with so many other Renaissance books are packed with very interesting details. Amongst other things, you can more or less clearly see practice for:

  • Getting on (or off) the horse with one arm only (and even no arm).
  • Training the horse to move sideways and backwards, while using a stick to touch the horse’s head, instead of using the reins.
  • Riding defined tracks, both with and without an opponent.
  • Riding up and downhill.
  • Jumping over various obstacles, through water, close to fire.
  • Training the horses balance.
  • Using the lance against targets both at rider level and on the ground.
  • Attacking the horse.
  • Rossfechten with early rapiers.
  • Commanding the horse to run over soldiers on foot.
  • Commanding the horse to use it’s front or hind legs to kick the opponent or his horse.
  • Grabbing the opponent’s reins.
  • Shooting of firearms, both on foot and while mounted.
  • Use of the firearms, musket fork, ammunition bandolier and helmets as blunt percussive tools.
  • Ringen am schwert.
  • Cavalry tactics.



June 14th 2012.

A war horse was a highly trained animal that in various ways took active part in the combat, having been taught to kick the enemy on command with both its front and hind legs separately or with all four in the air at the same time, as can be seen at 05:15 in the first clip below, and even bite the enemy. It was an agile, strong and certainly feared enemy.
Today, our image of horses is somewhat negatively affected by the modern use of the horse in a way that makes it hard to understand how effective these animals can be, but in Spain a special form of bullfighting on horse still remains and it gives us a glimpse of how fantastic these animals can be:


Johann Jacobi von Wallhausen

was born around 1580 in Wallhausen and died in 1627. He was a soldier in the Dutch Army and a townsguard in Danzig. He was also the Director of the first European Military Academy, the Schola Militaris in Siegen. His drill system was adopted in the Dutch military reformation by Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange.

Download the book here:

Ritterkunst : Darinnen begriffen, I. Ein trewhertziges Warnungschreiben wegen deß Betrübten Zustands jetziger Christenheit” (written  1614)

Other books by Wallhausen:

“Kriegkunst zu Pferd” (1616)

“Romanische Kriegskunst” (1616)

“Programma Scholae Militaris” (1616)


All documents have been generously provided by: Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden (SLUB)