The creation of light cavalry

The Italian wars waged by Charles VIII, Louis XII and François I led to a radical transformation of the French cavalry. As it stood, a new lighter cavalry appeared alongside the cavalry d'ordonnance, which retained its heavy defensive armament and long lance. This new cavalry relieved the horses of their heavy covering and the horse soldiers of their armour. Created under the Italian influence, the light cavalry's role was to move far ahead and on the flanks of the marching army, thus foreshadowing reconnaissance missions. It also looked to defeat the enemy gendarmerie and, once broken and defeated, to continue after the enemy infantry.

In the 16th century, a more mobile and responsive cavalry was born with new techniques that influenced modern equitation.

Two other important changes marked the 16th century: the use of portable firearms that become the main weapon of the light cavalry and the reappearance of the infantry on the battlefield as an organised and effective force. With the rise of the light cavalry and its firearms, a new tactic -the "caracole"- appeared, in which fast horse soldiers organised along several rows attacked soldiers by discharging their pistols on them one rank after another. This tactic had an influence on horse riding and breeding. In its wake, riding schools opened in several European countries. During the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598), the light cavalry continued to grow at the expense of the gendarmerie. To show his preference for the light cavalry, the King of France, Henry IV, replaced the company of armed men who guarded him when he was King of Navarre with a company of light Horses.

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Jean-Pierre Béneytou, Histoire de la cavalerie française des origines à nos jours, Lavauzelle, 2010, 248p.