Hunters will often do odd things to approach their prey—they dress up like foliage, imitate strange animal sounds and climb into precarious tree stands. Yet, one of the most bizarre hunting methods ever used was the stalking horse, a technique definitely practiced in the Middle Ages. The concept, however, probably has been around since the days horses were tamed and first used in hunting. In modern times, however, political scientists and economists have cruelly hijacked the term, “stalking horse,” for their own theories, but let’s get back to the history of this peculiar hunting technique.
The concept of the stalking horse is simple—wild game is more afraid of humans than horses. Therefore, hunters started to creep up (‘stalking’, if you will) on the unsuspecting animals by keeping the horse between the hunter and the hunted. By using the horse as a screen, the hunter could supposedly get much closer to the prey than if the horse was absent.
Of course, humans love to build and improve; so new versions of the stalking horse were invented. Real horses were interchanged for various horse-shaped decoys and illusions. Some of these decoys were just wooden or canvas screens the hunter could hide behind, but there were also cloth stalking horse suits that the hunter could wear to approach unsuspecting prey, probably with the addition of some added scent to make the stalking horse actually smell like a genuine horse.
Unfortunately, not much information remains about the medieval and ancient uses of the stalking horse, and even fewer sketches or paintings have survived. Nevertheless, a few of the public domain images we managed to find are included below.
- Going Medieval (Documentary). Written by Mike Loades and directed by David Hutt. History Channel/Lion Television, 2012.