The history of falconry on horseback

Since the inception of falconry in the 13th century B.C., the horse has been an indispensable ally: it facilitates transhumance and enables hunting over long distances. The raptor, which procured a substantial portion of food, was much more effective than the projectile or hand weapons used at that time.

From the 5th century in Europe, falconry became the privilege of nobles and the clergy: the horse became a central part of the hunting party. Thereafter, the horse was ubiquitous in depictions of falconry: from St. Gregory's manuscript to Queen Matilda's tapestry, from Frederick II of Hohenstaufen's treatise, De arte venandi cum avibus, to Henri de Ferrieres's Book of King Modus and Queen Ratio and from the Early Middle Ages until Louis XV's reign. Francois I and Louis XIII each trained hundreds of hunting birds.

Falconry on horseback, a traditional branch of the art of falconry, has nevertheless endured due to the efforts a number of passionate amateurs.

In France, the Revolution pushed falconry into dormancy until the second half of the 19th century. Neighbouring regions, such as Flanders, continued practising falconry. Over some 15 years, a famous hunting party, the Loo royal hunting party in the Netherlands, in which all the hunt members were on horseback, was immortalised by the famous drawer Sonderland by means of numerous comic-like drawings and sketches.

In Europe, apart from those defending a certain ancient "rite", whenever falconers can they take to all-terrain vehicles to track their favourite birds: finding a lost falcon after 20 or 30 km from the starting point is not uncommon. The limits of equestrian sports are reached quickly.

In regions of France, practising falconry on horseback is at present an expedition which involves a full hunting party on foot, on horseback or by car. Falconry on horseback, a traditional branch of the art of falconry, has nevertheless endured due to the efforts a number of passionate amateurs.

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Hubert Beaufrère, Lexique de la chasse au vol : terminologie française du XVIe au XXe siècle, Nogent-le-Roi, Jacques Laget, 2004, XXIII-419p.
Les références terminologiques de cet article sont toutes tirées de cet ouvrage, tout à fait unique, qui comprend près de 800 entrées. Le vocabulaire français de la fauconnerie est l’un des plus riches du monde. À noter que le français étant en Europe et jusqu’au début du XXe siècle le langage de cour, et la fauconnerie un plaisir aristocratique, de très nombreux mots de fauconnerie sont utilisés encore à l’étranger, outre ceux qui sont entrés en France dans le langage courant.

Christian Antoine de Chamerlat, La fauconnerie et l’art, Paris, ACR Vilo, 1986, 256 p.