While all horse trappers, or caparisons, are divided into two halves which meet at the saddle, they differ in the forward half, some completely covering the horse’s head, others ending behind its ears, and still others ending at the shoulders to leave neck and head free. In the early examples the trappers are of cloth, full and loose, and reach to the fetlocks: some of these have a dagged edge, though this is not common.
By the mid-15th century the trapper had begun to be influenced by the general increase in the use of plate armour, but because the cost and weight of such armour was prohibitive, leather armour was commonly used for horses. This was painted with the rider’s arms in the same way as the now purely ornamental cloth trapper. The great lords who did use plate on their horses for the tournament covered these bards with richly embroidered cloth trappers, secured in place by laces.
The basic colour of a caparison was normally the principal tincture of the rider’s arms, with the principal charge or charges repeated on each side of each half of the trapper. Livery colours were sometimes used instead of the tinctures of the arms and green velvet, embroidered with golden swans had no connection at all with the rider’s arms—particularly in Germany. It is interesting to note in this context that when the Duke of Hereford (later Henry IV), rode to fight a duel (a duel stopped by Richard II) with the Duke of Norfolk near Coventry, his horse wore a trapper of blue and green velvet, embroidered with golden swans and antelopes, and that when Henry V’s body was returned to England after his death in France, the horses conveying the body wore trappers of blue and green velvet, embroidered with antelopes.
The actual designs on trappers needs a little clarification. A knight bearing, for example, Gules, three water budgets argent (the arms of William, Lord Ros, temp. Edward I) would probably have a red trapper with three white water budgets on each side of the rear half, and three more water budgets on each side of the front half. However, he might choose to use only one water budget on each side of each half, or to employ his entire coat of arms on a shield as a device, that shield being perhaps repeated three times on each side of each half of the trapper, or as a single device on each side of each half.
There is also the problem of which side is dexter, which sinister, when applied to the two sides of a horse. From the examples studied it would seem that the horse’s head was regarded as being on the dexter side; and therefore on the left-hand side, or shielded side as we view it, the trapper bore the arms exactly as they appeared on the shield. On the other side of the trapper, the charges of the coat of arms were reversed, so that they still faced towards the horse’s head. A study of the photograph of Sir Geoffrey Luterell mounted, on page 21, should make this point clear, for in this example the right-hand side of the horse is shown and Sir Geoffrey’s trapper, crest and ailettes all bear the charges of his arms reversed.