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William Wallace: Uncle Argyle used to talk about it; how no army had ever stood up to a charge of heavy horse.
Hamish Campbell: So what'll we do?
Campbell: Run, hide, the Highland way.
William: (beat, looks at the trees) We'll make spears. Hundreds of them. Long spears, twice as long as a man.
Hamish: That long?
William: Aye.
Hamish: Some men are longer than others.

In some games, there are horseback units and Mounted Mooks. Given their speed, it can be a hassle or worse to deal with them, especially if they are heavily armored. Thankfully, there are weapons to deal with them, both rider and steed. Not one for the horse lovers.

One of the things that makes these units so effective is the fact that compared to expensive cavalry units, they are usually dirt cheap. Taking down an expensive unit with one that cost pennies can be very valuable in a fight where every coin counts.

Most such units use weapons based either on polearms (spears, pikes, etc.) or camels. Horses are naturally skittish and scared silly of unfamiliar things that might hurt them: Anything resembling a pointy stick will keep horses away, and the longer the pointy stick the scarier it becomes. The fact that spears and pikes are really cheap and relatively easy to train with has historically made them excellent anti-cavalry weapons; indeed, the rediscovery of pike tactics by the Swiss and Dutch in the late Middle Ages is generally considered to be the real death knell for the age of knights (rather than gunpowder as generally assumed). Horses are also scared or disoriented by the scent of unfamiliar animals; reports of horse cavalry collapsing before camelry and War Elephants are fairly consistent across time and space (from the time of Cyrus the Great through to the Arab empires, and in Central Asia as well).

Sub-Trope of Weapon of X-Slaying. See also Anti-Air, Anti-Infantry, Anti-Vehicle, Anti-Structure, and especially Anti-Armor as the tank is often regarded as the post-Industrial Revolution successor of horseback cavalry. Can lead to Inertial Impalement. A common part of Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors.

Contrast Invulnerable Horses, although scenes involving such units may still pretty up their tactics by having them exclusively target the riders instead of the horses. See A Thicket of Spears for one way this was commonly accomplished in historical armies.


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    Fan Works 
  • Subverted in Saruman of Many Devices, when the orcish commander sees the Rohirrim medium cavalry approaching slowly and cautiously, and takes the opportunity to reform his troops into a dense pike wall. Normally this would be a perfectly good tactic that would massacre the horses, but what he doesn't know is that the Rohirrim are working with Isengard, which has made great strides in using gunpowder-based weapons. His big block of close-packed soldiers makes a perfect target for their rifles and cannons, which tear his formation to bits, and then the cavalry move in to mop up the shattered remnants.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Braveheart: When the Scottish army encounters the English infantry, the Scots taunt them into attacking with heavy cavalry. As soon as the English are too close to pull back, the Scots drop their facade and pick up sharpened stakes, which slaughter the horses. The depiction was graphic enough that the ASPCA investigated the footage to see if the horses had actually been hurt (good news, horse lovers; the horses were fine).
  • Glory: A southern cavalry unit charges through light woods against a Union rifle unit. They may have been counting on the wood to give sufficient cover — if so, it doesn't work. The cavalry is mowed down by the Civil War-era single-shot rifles.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Subverted. When the Rohirrim cavalry appear in the rear of Mordor's army assailing Minas Tirith, the Orc commander orders his troops to turn, face, and present a wall of pikes. However, due to the Mordor orcs' lousy discipline and morale they fail to hold their formation and get overrun. The Uruk-Hai Super Soldiers (who have much better equipment and none of the discipline issues) only lose at the exact same tactic at the battle of Helm's Deep due to Gandalf and Eomer timing their charge to coincide with the rising sun blinding the enemy.
  • Thor: Ragnarok: This trope made Hela's battle against the Valkyries the Curb-Stomp Battle that it was. In a battle between a goddess who can summon knives, blades, and spears larger than buses versus a battalion of winged horse-riding Asgardians, it's a miracle that even one was able to survive, and it suddenly makes sense why we never saw a single Valkyrie previously in the series.
  • War Horse: A contemporary variant is seen; during the early years of World War I the British army were still employing horseback cavalry. Initially during the attack on a German camp, the BEF Calvary were doing surprisingly well and had managed to drive the occupants back to the woods... only for the retreating Germans to suddenly man the machinegun nests hidden all along the treeline and return fire. By the next scene, there are plenty of riderless horses wandering about and even more dead ones strewn all over the battlefield.

  • 1632: In the later books, "volley guns" are introduced as groups of barrels that can all fire simultaneously and be reloaded quickly, so they put an amazing amount of projectiles into the air at once, and do it repeatedly over the range of a cavalry charge. They repeatedly break cavalry charges in various battles.
  • Codex Alera: The pike formation is a standard Legion fighting technique and proves to be very handy in slowing down charges.
  • King David's Spaceship: On the planet Makassar, infantry square techniques introduced from offworld are used to protect against barbarian cavalry attacks.
  • The Power of Ten: Sama Rantha's first fight, against four large animated wooden animals, is made much easier by the fact that the constructs aren't smart enough to recognise a braced spear, and will blithely charge forward to get impaled.
  • Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms: Referred to in The Sleeping Beauty — Siegfried doesn't normally ride because as soon as he gets attached to a horse (easy to do when you can speak with animals) someone decides that the best way to slow down the big barbarian is to kill his steed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Subverted example. Robert's prediction about battling the Dothraki comes true in season 7 when Daenerys invades Westeros. The Tarly-Lannister forces meet the Dothraki on open field, and suffer great loses against them. Their first instinct is to form a long phalanx, which does nothing against the horse-riding Dothraki and Daenerys on the back of Drogon. They do kill several of the Dothraki warriors, but their formation is easily destroyed once Drogon sets them on fire. The Dothraki also manage to break the phalanx on their own with their sheer numbers.
  • Subverted on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The Orcs defeat the Southlanders, but once the Numenorian army appears riding horses, the horde of Orcs is immediately defeated.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The ability to explicitly set spears and similar weapons against a charge (typically for double damage) hails all the way back to the early editions, sometimes treated as a special fighter maneuver, sometimes more as a property of the weapon itself. While many monsters may simply make charge attacks on their own without needing to mount up first, the inspiration is still obvious enough.
  • Kings of War: Units with the Phalanx special rule penalise cavalry and flyers who charge them, but only if that unit charges their front arc. Naturally, most of these units are flavoured as pikemen.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: Bretonnian archers can set up stakes in front of them to prevent cavalry charges. If they panic and run, the stakes go with them...somehow, in spite of them being presumed to be ignoring all else for self-presevation.

    Video Games 
  • Age of Empires: Many unit types, most notably certain infantry such as the pikemen, can deal with cavalry.
    • Age of Empires II: Camels and Heavy (armored) Camels are very good at dealing with horsemen as well, and cost slightly less.
    • Age of Empires III:
      • Ranged cavalry deals significant anti-cavalry damage.
      • Most civilizations will end up using Musketeers as their anti-cavalry since they don't suffer from the low speed and single-focus role of Pikemen and they scale better. Some civilizations also have access to Halberdiers, who are just as good against cavalry as Pikemen but since they have a higher base damage and lower anti-cavalry multiplier they're better against other things.
    • Age of Mythology: Anti-cavalry infantry and cavalry are available to all five civilizations.
  • The Battle for Middle-earth: Despite the aversions in the films, this is played very straight here and is one of the few things that prevent massed Rohirrim charges from sweeping the field of enemy infantry. You can maneuver around the pikemen to attack, but they can also turn to keep the pikes towards your main force. The best case of (heavily upgraded) Rohirrim vs. pikemen head-on still leads to your charge being brought almost to a standstill, while the worst case is a lot of dead men and horses. But that's what mounted archers are for!
  • Battle for Wesnoth: No matter their other defenses, units on horseback are extra-vulnerable to piercing attacks like spears, pikes, and arrows. Made worse by the fact that some of these units can only make charge attacks on the offensive (for double damage inflicted but also received) and some spear carriers get the "first strike" ability, allowing them to potentially get one good stab in even before getting hit by said charge.
  • Battle of Polytopia: Riders and Knights can use their high speed to attack first, but this advantage is negated when facing a Defender or Swordsman, who can easily survive the attack and punish the attacking cavalry thanks to their high defense and counterattack damage. Even a humble Warrior is able to defend against a Knight as long as it is at full health and has a terrain defense bonus.
  • Civilization:
    • Civilization II: The Pikeman has double defense against mounted units so that it's even more effective against them than Musketeers were. After the combat system is revamped in Civilization IV and again in Civilization V, Spearmen and Pikemen have an advantage against mounted units (in Civ V, it's a 100% bonus).
    • Interestingly, the Camel Archer and Keshik (the unique Knight replacements of the Arabs and Mongols, respectively) are not as weak against pikemen as other mounted units, because they're ranged attackers instead of heavy cavalry. Under ideal conditions, they would never have to even get close to the pikemen to effectively attack them.
    • Civilization IV: Riflemen have a moderate strength bonus versus cavalry, representing their ability to fix bayonets to counter a charge. (Musketmen lack this bonus.) In Civilization V, they no longer have this bonus; instead, Pikemen can be upgraded to Lancers (cavalry units themselves) which are especially strong against other cavalry units. In much the same way that Cavalry upgrade into Tanks, Lancers upgrade into Anti-Tank Guns.
    • Additionally, in the fourth and fifth games, a unit that gains enough XP in combat can be upgraded with the Formation promotion, making them stronger against mounted units.
  • Conquered Kingdoms: Lancers and lance-wielding Trolls can kill cavalry in one hit, without taking any damage in return.
  • Fire Emblem: Longswords/Zanbatos, Horse Slayers, and Halberds are effective against horseback units.
  • MORDHAU: With horses being available, some weapons have emerged as particularly effective cavalry killers.
    • Polearms in general have the reach to at least attempt something on a charging horseman. But the Billhook, while not having quite as much range, excels at it by way of directly separating rider and mount when making impact. When you need to remove an enemy's ass from a saddle and send them ragdolling into the ground so your angry team can get some payback on them, accept no substitutes.
    • An unintentional one is the Toolbox. Sure, you can lay down a wall of wooden spikes in frequented horse lanes to hamper their efforts, and that works as intended, but many prefer to instead lay one down right as the cavalry comes charging in so they run into the half-assembled structure and stop cold out of nowhere, vulnerable to getting floored by the aforementioned Billhook.
  • Mount & Blade makes pikes and other long weapons an infantry-only weapon (meaning that you can't wield them on horseback) that can do rather respectable damage to cavalry when they charge into a mass of pikes. Against light cavalry, this will often unhorse or kill riders. It'll still wound and bog down heavy cavalry, enough for them to get surrounded by weaker infantry and ground down one at a time.
  • Rise of Nations has three foot unit types: basic infantry, heavy infantry, and ranged infantry (turns into basic (ranged, with rifles), heavy (ranged, with anti-tank rifles or rockets), or flamethrower in the modern age and afterwards). Heavy infantry, initially pikemen or similar, are Anti-Cavalry. Later, the same units upgrade to anti-tank infantry as the cavalry upgrades to armor.
  • Samurai Warriors: In the battle between the Oda and Takeda clans, Nobunaga uses rolling fire tactics with his muskets to ensure a near-continuous barrage of fire that demolishes the Takeda cavalry as it tries to approach. On top of this, the battlefield leading to the Oda lines has many spiked barriers to prevent horses from advancing. In the route where Shingen Takeda survives, however, he notices that a rainstorm is approaching and has his cavalry hold back until the Oda's gunpowder is too wet to fire, averting the trope.
  • The spearman and scout classes in Symphony Of War are armed with long spears, making them excellent against cavalry.
  • Total War:
    • Spearmen in any game get a combat bonus against cavalry units. This doesn't mean that heavy melee cavalry can't smash into a unit of levy spearmen and inflict horrible casualties in the initial impact, and possibly rout them in a single charge, but in protracted combats, horsemen fall quickly to mobs of pointy sticks. Units with pikes and halberds, however, can adopt a phalanx formation that will murder any cavalry stupid enough to try a frontal charge, but they are pretty helpless when flanked and usually can't hope to catch ranged infantry before getting shot to pieces.
    • Medieval II: Total War: Some units of archers, like English Longbowmen, can deploy sharpened stakes while setting up for a battle. These form an immobile obstacle that will instantly kill any horses (friend or foe) that try to move past the business end of the stakes at more than a walk. Sharpened stakes trivialize the Mongol invasions, as during city sieges, the Mongols will have their crappy infantry use a Battering Ram to open a settlement's gates, then send all their cavalry — including their generals — pouring through the gatehouse, directly into the spike trap.
    • Empire: Total War: The square formation is used for this purpose, and some skirmisher units can also put down sharpened sticks.
    • Flaming Arrows in Total War: Attila are very effective against cavalry — even an army's most basic archers can expect to pull off a very good showing against the Horse Archers that the titular man is definitely going to be using.
    • Total War: Warhammer generally gives spear units bonus which improves their effectiveness against "large" units such as cavalry, but that's just the tip of the iceberg for the potential weapons armies will employ to counteract large units, which can include javelins, cannons, undead dragons, or just the Giant Mooks of the Greenskins.
    • Total War: Three Kingdoms has nearly every polearm-armed unit have a "Charge Reflection vs. Mounted" attribute which means while they're standing still, any cavalry unit that charges their front will probably just spear themselves (the exception is the Pearl Dragons, though having a Strategist in the same army as them will allow them to put themselves into the Hollowed Square or Spear Wall formations which give them this attribute).
  • Wargroove: Pikemen (being reskins of Advance Wars bazooka infantry) counter cavalry (reskins of the Advance Wars light tank) on the the offense. Being charged by cavalry (especially if the cavalry have their Critical Hit condition) will still hurt them badly, though costing less than half of cavalry means almost any exchange of blows is in the pikemen's favour resource-wise.

    Web Original 
  • Fire Emblem on Forums: The signature skill of the Soldier class tree is, fittingly, Anti-Cavalry, giving them bonuses against cavalry units. Polearms, a subcategory of Lances, are also heavily inclined against cavalry units, which Soldiers can actually take to boost their already impressive anti-cavalry skills even more.


Video Example(s):


Adventurers v. Wolf Riders

"A Gathering of Adventurers". The army of adventurers gathered to defend Cow Girl's farm from a horde of goblins are alerted to an incoming unit of wolf-riders. Spearman takes charge and leads them to where they have prepared sets of crude pikes, which they raise just before the goblins reach them and bloodily break the charge.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / AThicketOfSpears

Media sources: