Roman cavalry horses would need to be well looked after in order to perform their duties.
A cavalry horse would probably need a similar amount of food to a modern three-day eventing horse, roughly 12 kgs a day.
For 500 horses the army would need to find 600 tons of grain per year (barley or oats). They would have also needed hay and access to grazing. The Tyne Valley is a rich agricultural zone which would have made providing these supplies easier. However at least 425 acres of farmland would have been needed to produce this amount of grain.
Stables or fields?
Modern and ancient authors agree that it is better for a horse to be allowed time out of the stable. A sizeable amount of land would be needed to give 500 horses space to graze and stretch their legs.
Equally the cavalrymen would have needed to exercise their horses, and not just on rides out in the countryside. Evidence for a training arena, called a gyrus, was found at Lunt Roman fort near Coventry. This sort of space would have allowed the cavalryman to drill his horse, teaching it to carry out manoeuvres.
Ancient authors recommended that a horse should be groomed daily, whilst one suggested that the legs and body should be massaged. Another said that the back should be rubbed by hand to avoid hurting the horse with a rough tool. We assume combs and brushes were used, as today, but they rarely survive.
Stabling a horse involved a lot of work. The stable floor had to be kept dry to keep the horse’s hooves healthy, so it was cleaned daily. There is much debate as to whether cavalrymen carried out these duties themselves, or had grooms (calones) to help with this.
An average horse produces 23 kg of faeces and urine per day. With straw from the bedding, the whole ala would create almost 6500 tons of manure each year. This is the weight of 55 blue whales or 800 elephants.
"According to rumours, Emperor Nero's mules wore silver shoes. Nero was emperor 54 - 68 AD and was famous for his extravagance."
Uncover more about Rome's elite horsemen in our Hadrian's Cavalry section.