Musing on Types of Horse in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

I quite like Brzezinski’s (1993) analysis of cavalry in the Thirty Years War. He believes there were three types of horse (Arquebusier, Horsemen, Cuirassier) and I think unit quality can simulate these types in Tilly’s Very Bad Day. All three types could shoot or charge but typically a unit did one or the other; I leave this choice to the player.


The caracole or caracol (from the Spanish caracol – “snail”) is an rather infamous military tactic. According to Wikipedia: Caracole the Caracole:

was later adapted by European militaries in the mid-16th century in an attempt to integrate gunpowder weapons into cavalry tactics. Equipped with one or more wheellock pistols or similar firearms, cavalrymen would advance on their target at less than a gallop in formation as deep as 12 ranks. As each rank came into range, the soldiers would turn their mount slightly to one side, discharge one pistol, then turn slightly to the other side to discharge another pistol at their target. The horsemen then retired to the back of the formation to reload, and then repeat the manoeuvre. The whole caracole formation might move slowly forward as each rank fired to help press the attack, or move slowly backward to avoid an enemy’s advance. Despite this complex manoeuvring, the formation was kept dense rather than open, as the cavalrymen were generally also armed and armoured for melee, and hoped to follow the caracole with a charge. The tactic was accompanied by the increasing popularity of the German Reiter in Western armies from about 1540.

The above is a fairy common definition now days but in the past use of the word caracole was a bit loose. Wikipedia: Caracole mentions John Cruso, who in the 17th Century leading up to the English Civil War, used “caracoll” for a manoeuvre by cuirassiers receiving a charge. The cuirassiers would break into two and each part would wheel to either side, the enemy would charge into the gap, and the the cuirassiers would charge inwards against the flanks of the overextended enemy.

I recently read, and must find it again, that the word “caracole” was actually just the turn within this manoeuvre. Certainly in modern dressage the term caracole means a half turn to left or right.

But I suspect caracole is a red herring.

Shoot or charge

More generally the term ‘caracole’ is used as the opposite of charging. A unit of horse either caracoled (i.e. shot) or charged. By the 30 Years War, and a long time before, charging was the tactic much preferred by generals e.g. Wallenstein and Montecuccoli. But there were always cavalry units that were intended to shoot and not charge.

Every army of the 30 Years War seems to have had cavalry units that, officially at least, focussed on one or the other. The Germans had cuirassiers to charge and bandellier reiter to shoot. Dutch had cuirassiers and carabins. French had gendarmie to charge and both Chevaux-legers and carabins to shoot. The Swedes favoured the charge and their native cavalry did just that, but they also used German bandellier reiter for shooting. For the Spanish it was caballos corazas (horse cuirassiers) and harquebusiers; incidentally the proportions amongst Spanish horse were 70% shock and 30% firepower.

I’m not convinced the category of unit is important in a game as the category did not guarantee actual battlefield behaviour. Shooting units could charge and were rewarded for doing so. Shock units, when given the choice, might panic, and then stop to shoot instead.

In Tilly’s Very Bad Day I leave this choice up to the player. All horse can shoot or charge. The category doesn’t change this.

Brzezinski’s Types of Horse in the 30 Years War

I quite like Brzezinski’s (1993) analysis of cavalry in the Thirty Years War. He believes there were three types of horse: Arquebusier, Horseman, and Cuirassier.

  • Arquebusier (Harquebusier, Bandelier Reuter, Carbine): men armed with an arquebus. The better equipped would have a back and breast and/or a helmet.
  • Horsemen (Reiters, Lätta ryttare, Chevau-léger): men armed with pistols. They might have back and breast and a helmet, or a hat and no armour at all. For example, native Swedish cavalry.
  • Cuirassier (Kürisser, Kürassirer, Corazzen, Gendarme): men in 3/4 armour and helmet, armed with pistols. Over time their equipment lightened and they essentially morphed into Horsemen.


Men with back and breast and helmet, or perhaps unarmoured, and equipped with an arquebus or carbine, e.g. German bandolier reiter, French carabin, Dutch carabin, and Spanish harquebusier. They were intended to shoot the enemy from range, thus causing disruption in the enemy ranks, and providing an opportunity for other cavalry to charge an inconvenienced foe.

30YW-769 - Generic - Harquebusiers
30YW-769 – Generic – Harquebusiers

Wallenstein was not a fan of unarmoured mounted arquebusiers. After poorly armoured Imperial cavalry fled at the Battle of Lutzen (1632), Wallenstein noted in a letter to the Bavarian General Aldringen (cited in Brnardic, 2010): “In the battle of Lüzten the difference between armoured and unarmoured cavalrymen could be observed clearly; the former fought, the latter took flight. Therefore, over the winter, all colonels should equip their cavalry with cuirasses” (p. 18); “After firing, they turn their backs and retreat, which causes much harm” (p. 24). Wallenstein was so unimpressed he cut back, but did not eliminate, the number of harquebusier regiments; they dropped from 20 regiments in 1633 to 5 in 1635.


Men armed with pistols and a sword. They typically had back and breast, even if under a buff coat, but many had none. They might wear a helmet or a hat. For example, late war German reiters (riders), native Swedish cavalry, French chevau-léger, and late war Spanish caballos corazas (horse cuirassiers). They were intended to charge with the sword and reserve their pistols for either immediately before impact or the melee itself. Although wild charges were possible, most commanders preferred a slow steady pace to ensure the formation kept together. Despite best intentions some units would falter before contact and revert to shooting.

30YW-850 Horsemen
30YW-849 Horsemen

Over the course of the 30 Years War men – both horse and foot – abandoned armour, or at least lightened it. In terms of horse the cuirassiers turned into horsemen. To quote James Turner, a veteran of the Swedish army (Brzezinski, 1993, p. 11):

And now instead of Cuirassiers we have Harquebusiers, and instead of Harquebusiers we have Horsemen, only armed offensively [i.e. without armour]

This trend applied to the Spanish caballos corazas (horse cuirassiers) and by the end of the war the Spanish ‘heavies’ had the light arm of the other horsemen although they still retained a Spanish look.

30YW-767 - Spanish - Caballos Corazas
30YW-767 – Spanish – Caballos Corazas

Although I’m less sure about the English Civil War I suspect English Cavaliers, most Eastern Association Cavalry, and New Model Army Horse would all be categorised as horsemen.


Men in 3/4 armour and helmet, armed with pistols and a sword e.g. German or Livonian Cuirassiers and French Gendarmerie. Like horsemen they charged sword in hand and reserved their pistols for close range. They were more likely to close with the enemy than horsemen, perhaps because they felt better protected, and tended to beat more lightly equipped cavalry.

30YW-842 Cuirassier
30YW-847 Cuirassier

Over time Cuirassier equipment lightened and they essentially morphed into Horsemen. This was largely due to the highly mobile nature of the war; troops both horse and foot, discarded army to be able to march more lightly.

Unit quality for types of horse

In Tilly’s Very Bad Day I suggest using unit quality to distinguish Brzezinski’s (1993) three types of cavalry in the Thirty Years War:

  • Arquebusier = Inferior.
  • Horsemen = Ordinary
  • Cuirassier = Superior

My thinking is that the better quality units will favour front-to-front melee over shooting because it is more decisive. The lower quality units will stick to shooting as they are on more of a par there, reserving charges for when they can attack flank or rear.

What about Lancers

Some armies featured lancers. In the Spanish and Imperial service the guard companies retained lance throughout the war. I see no need to simulate these in a game focussed on brigades.

More eastern armies, e.g. Polish, continued to rely on the lance. But I think the generic rules for horse cater for these without modification. It might be that Polish Winged Hussars have a preference for charging. That is up to the player.

Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Tilly’s Very Bad Day is available for Download (PDF) and currently at Version 1.1.


Brnardic, V. (2010). The Imperial Armies of the Thirty Years’ War (2): Cavalry [MAA 462]. Osprey.

Brzezinski, R. (1993). The Army of Gustavus Adolphus (2): Cavalry [MAA 262]. Osprey.

Wikipedia: Caracole

5 thoughts on “Musing on Types of Horse in Tilly’s Very Bad Day”

  1. I’m not sure I’d agree about the winged hussars counting simply as horse, but it’s a matter of interpretation.
    The other cavalry issue with any eastern European conflict is the presence of what is essentially medieval light cavalry – be they cossacks, Tatars, Turks, pancerni, or others. Would you just roll them into the arquebusier class?
    It’s an intersting question if you try to make rules that can deal with eastern and western armies in the same place – battles between Sweden and Poland, Sweden and Russia or Austria and Turkey are always fascinating

    • Sam, I realised after I wrote this post, that I neglected to mention that Tilly’s Very Bad Day has a second category of cavalry called “Light Horse”. That covers all the eastern European cavalry types and specifically Croats, Polish Cossacks, and Hungarian Hussars (the ones that appeared in Catholic armies of the Thirty Years War).

      This post is about the western European horse. The (more-or-less) heavies.

      • At this level you cannot model the detail but you can take it into account which you have done. Players are left free to put toys on the table as they think appropriate. It’s accommodating and should keep everyone happy.


Leave a Reply