Shooting From Horseback

EnsignExpendable of the excellent Soviet Gun Archives blog translated a Soviet manual on shooting handguns and rifles from horseback, back in March of this year. I’m sure TFB readers will find it interesting! An excerpt:

“Peculiarities of firing from horseback

If firing a rifle from horseback is done mainly during patrols and other cases when there is no time to dismount, firing a revolver or pistol is often done by a cavalryman.

In battle, commanding fire from horseback is either very difficult or downright impossible. The soldier must rapidly and independently determine how to act, with a blade or revolver, and if the latter, fire, select targets, find an aiming points, etc. Actions of a cavalryman are further complicated by allied cavalry mixing with enemy cavalry. The cavalryman must fire in a way that does not injure his allies.

These peculiarities must be considered when teaching soldiers to handle their weapons. A soldier’s ability to fight independently or in a group, display creativity and initiative, and knowledge of ballistics of his weapons are fundamentals of his training.

The issue of shooting from horseback was first explored in the Manual for Shooting from Horseback, published in 1935. That manual demands that every cavalryman must master techniques of firing from horseback with a rifle, pistol, or revolver.

In this work, we make it our objective to share with the writer the practical and theoretical conclusions we have reached as a result of trials.

Trials show that the most effective rifle fire is at a target 100-150 meters away from the rider. Individual riders may effectively engage targets at larger distances. Fire from a revolver is effective at 50 meters when stopped and 35 meters on the move. A group of shooters may engage a target 75 meters away when stationary and 50 meters away on the move.

Precision of firing from horseback is affected by many factors that firing from the ground is not. It is dependent on, for example, the behaviour of the horse. The horse often impedes its rider’s ability to shoot precisely, which is why every cavalryman must dedicate much attention to the training of his horse.”

Back in 1936, cavalry was still very much a part of armies worldwide. It was only by the middle of World War II that that cavalry was shown the door, in favor of mechanized vehicles. Even so, today, armored groups in the United States are still referred to as “cavalry”, a hold-over from a bygone era.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • iksnilol

    Horses were still used in spite of cavalry not being viable anymore. Most troop transports on all sides were mostly dependent on horses.

  • One of the things on my bucket list is to hunt a hog and harvest one on horseback.

    • Anonymoose

      One of the things on my bucket list is to train a moose to let me ride it like a horse.

      • USMC03Vet

        Come on now. A moose riding another moose like a horse is just silly….

        • Anonymoose

          Yes, but our enemies would retreat in fear upon laying eyes on us.

          • iksnilol

            I wouldn’t recommend it. The moose is the fiercest animal I know about. They kill more people than polar bears.

            Moose are gonna f*** your s*** up. Here in Norway a lot of people hunt not to “get in contact with nature” or “tradition” or any other wimpy excuse. They do it to prevent the moose from taking over the country and driving the people out. Think about this, minimum energy demand to hunt moose in Norway is 2000 Joule at 100 meters (that is more than 5.56 at the muzzle).

          • Anonymoose

            That’s the idea. 😀

          • iksnilol

            You don’t understand it do you?

            Get close to moose without a 308 or something stronger = death

            You don’t get close to moose, you see one while walking in the evening, you turn back.

        • Zachary marrs

          Ive seen two cows “ride” each other

          Sigh, Texas

      • Grindstone50k

        Move to Canada. They give you one as part of becoming a citizen.

      • Where do we send condolences!

        • Anonymoose

          Just leave them in the woods for collection.

      • Moose cavalry?

        • King Charles XII

          We had it in Sweden under two kings, to battle the russian bear cavalry of course

        • iksnilol

          Moose cavalry indeed. I think it failed when people realized that moose are wild monsters that can’t be tamed.

      • Giolli Joker
        “In Sweden, there was a debate in the late 18th century about the
        national value of using the moose as a domestic animal. Among other
        things, the moose was proposed to be used in postal distribution, and
        there was a suggestion to develop a moose-mounted cavalry.”

    • Anon


    • Vince

      You have hogs on horseback??

  • S O

    “It was only by the middle of World War II that it became clear that cavalry was shown the door (…)”

    The end of horse cavalry as a major combat arm in most scenarios can rather be dated to the 1864-1914 period, as a consequence of repeating rifles. Battle (horse) cavalry had intermittently proved disappointing since the 14th century, but the introduction of repeating rifles eliminated the need for close order formations against battle cavalry.

    The horse as a non-combat mobility enhancer is still not fully obsolete.

    • Doug Burger

      Had either World War been fought in the Western Hemisphere the U. S. would still have horse cavalry today. The expense of shipping horses overseas killed the U. S. Cavalry

    • Grindstone50k
    • Not in the Gan— That can be the only way to get around.

    • Darren Hruska

      True. All one has to do is look back to the Vietnam War and see the Viet Cong using bicycles and water buffalo to get around. Just because something becomes obsolete for combat doesn’t mean that it has no remaining purposes. I mean, bayonets, or blades in general, are rarely used in modern combat, but they’re still great tools to have for a bunch of other things.

    • Phil Hsueh

      If you really think about it while the cavalry in the sense of riding into battle and fighting while mounted went away a long time ago but the concept of the dragoon still persists, to a degree, to this day. In the US we hand’t had a true cavalry since around the early to mid 19th century when dragoon units were merged into the cavalry and all were simply called cavalry regardless of their origins. For those who don’t know what a dragoon is it’s simple, dragoon is nothing more than just a fancy way of saying mounted infantry. A dragoon differs from cavalry is that a dragoon would typically ride into battle but fight on foot where as cavalry would ride and fight mounted. The concept still exists today in the form of mechanized and motorized infantry who ride into battle in trucks or APCs and then fight on foot.

  • Phil Hsueh

    Sounds to me like a new sport in the making, horseback 3 gun where you do the basic 3 gun style course but on horse back and maybe toss in some horsemanship drills on top of it. Or maybe a horseback type biathlon, just like biathlons are derived from traditional ski mounted infantry this would be the cavalry equivalent. Of course what I’d really like to see make it as an Olympic, or even professional, sport would be horseback archery.

    • Anonymoose

      There is already mounted Cowboy Action Shooting. I suppose we could update that with semi-auto stuff.

      • Dan

        Last i knew the mounted stuff used blanks to pop balloons

    • joe

      Modern pentathlon with tacticool gunz.

    • iksnilol

      Couldn’t do that ethically without a suppressor (horses have more sensitive ears than people).

    • themastermason

      I feel that this would be like horse archery as practiced by the Byzantines, Mongols and Ottomans which would be cool. I think the best weapons for horseback gunnery would be a light recoiling shotgun or a submachine gun, all suppressed for the horse’s health of course.

    • S O

      There’s a horse archery sport, with somewhat established routines.

  • dan citizen

    My grandpa was a cavalry soldier. He describe some pretty crazy shooting drills and requirements.

    • iksnilol

      Don’t leave us hanging like that. Some more indepth info please. This could be the next Mozambique or double-tap.

      • dan citizen

        Sorry, I was running out the door earlier…

        He had pictures of a testing range. It was on a rising slope and followed the curve of a hillside. There were about 18 poles 6″ in diameter and maybe 10 feet tall, on each pole was a torso shaped wooden target attached in such a way that it could turn 90 degrees. What turned the target was not apparent.

        They had to ride full gallop a along the line of targets which were turned knife edged towards them, and as they passed a man would cause the targets to pivot and be facing for a brief period, not all targets would be turned every pass. Soldiers were expected to place a shot into a pie plate sized area in the center of the target. When out of ammo they would circle around to the beginning while reloading, all at a gallop. He said you had to score essentially perfect or risk punishment and getting smacked around.

        He said during his service they primarily had revolvers, but some 1911s as well.

  • Mabey

    I know there is still a Canadian regiment that still trains to go into battle on horseback.

  • Darren Hruska

    Somewhat related, I guess, but I remember reading that the Soviet Nagant M1895 was typically reverse holstered on the shooter’s right side (even though most people are right-handed, I’m not though). I believe the idea was that the shooter would use their right hand to control the horse’s reigns while they’d (cross-)draw and shoot with their left hand.

    • iksnilol

      Don’t forget us ambi people who get confused by everything. “My hand is supposed to be there?”.

    • Phil Hsueh

      That was how the US Cavalry would hosted their pistols back in the 19th century too. I believe that the idea was that the cavalrymen would draw and use his saber with his right while using the pistol in his left.

  • SD3

    Heh. I’d like to see the herd they’d bring. A herd of whores, maybe.

  • Blake

    Excellent article.

    Just this weekend I was reading about Mosby’s Rangers during the American civil war.

    “Revolvers in the hands of Mosby’s men were as effective in surprise engagements as a whole line of light ordnance in the hands of the enemy. This was largely because Mosby admonished his men never to fire a shot until the eyes of the other fellow were visible. It was no uncommon thing for one of our men to gallop by a tree at full tilt, and put three bullets in its trunk in succession. This sort of shooting left the enemy with a good many empty saddles after an engagement.”

  • dp

    In reality, does anyone have practical experience how horse tolerates noise of the shot?