The caracole or caracol (from the Spanish caracol - "snail
Snail is a common name applied to most of the members of the molluscan class Gastropoda that have coiled shells in the adult stage. When the word is used in its most general sense, it includes sea snails, land snails and freshwater snails. The word snail without any qualifier is however more often...

") is a turning manoeuvre on horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

back in dressage
Dressage is a competitive equestrian sport, defined by the International Equestrian Federation as "the highest expression of horse training." Competitions are held at all levels from amateur to the World Equestrian Games...

 and, previously, in military tactics
Military tactics
Military tactics, the science and art of organizing an army or an air force, are the techniques for using weapons or military units in combination for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle. Changes in philosophy and technology over time have been reflected in changes to military tactics. In...


Dressage caracole

In dressage, riders execute a caracole as a single half turn, either to the left or to the right.

Military caracole

The military caracole as it is usually understood today developed in the mid-16th century in an attempt to integrate gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 weapons into cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 tactics. Equipped with one or two wheellock
A wheellock, wheel-lock or wheel lock, is a friction-wheel mechanism to cause a spark for firing a firearm. It was the next major development in firearms technology after the matchlock and the first self-igniting firearm. The mechanism is so-called because it uses a rotating steel wheel to provide...

When distinguished as a subset of handguns, a pistol is a handgun with a chamber that is integral with the barrel, as opposed to a revolver, wherein the chamber is separate from the barrel as a revolving cylinder. Typically, pistols have an effective range of about 100 feet.-History:The pistol...

s, cavalrymen would advance on their target at less than a gallop in formation as deep as 12 ranks. As each rank came into range, the soldiers would turn their mount slightly to one side, discharge one pistol, then turn slightly to the other side to discharge the other pistol at their target. Since this involved presenting an almost immobile target to the enemy infantry for some time, the temptation must have been strong to fire the weapons without taking an accurate aim. The horsemen then retired to the back of the formation to reload, and then repeat the manoeuvre. The tactic was accompanied by the increasing popularity of the German Reiter
Reiters were a type of cavalry, which appeared in the armies of Western Europe in the 16th century in place of the outmoded lance-armed knights, at the same time that cuirassiers and dragoons began to attain typological distinction from other kinds of cavalry...

 in Western armies from about 1540.

The caracole was a tactic very much criticized by military historians who didn't fully understand its use, especially Charles Oman
Charles Oman
Sir Charles William Chadwick Oman was a British military historian of the early 20th century. His reconstructions of medieval battles from the fragmentary and distorted accounts left by chroniclers were pioneering...

. The caracole was developed as a light cavalry tactic to be used in combination with the fully armoured lancers
The "Demi-lancer" or demilancer was a type of heavy cavalryman found in Western Europe in the 16th and early 17th centuries.-Characteristics:...

 that made up the heavy cavalry in those times. Pistoleer
A pistoleer is a soldier trained to use a pistol, or more generally anyone armed with such a weapon.The earliest kind of pistoleer was the mounted German Reiter, who came to prominence in Europe after the Battle of St. Quentin in 1557. These soldiers were equipped with a number of single-shot,...

s were to disrupt infantry with their rolling fire, preparing the ground for the heavy cavalry to deliver a decisive charge. This tactic was successfully implemented, for instance, at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh
Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, on the banks of the River Esk near Musselburgh, Scotland on 10 September 1547, was part of the War of the Rough Wooing. It was the last pitched battle between Scottish and English armies, and is seen as the first modern battle in the British Isles...


Some historians after Michael Roberts associate the demise of the caracole with the name of Gustavus Adolphus
Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden
Gustav II Adolf has been widely known in English by his Latinized name Gustavus Adolphus Magnus and variously in historical writings also as Gustavus, or Gustavus the Great, or Gustav Adolph the Great,...

 of Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 (1594–1632). Certainly he regarded the technique as fairly useless, and ordered cavalry under Swedish command not to use the caracole; instead, he required them to charge aggressively like their Polish-Lithuanian
Polish cavalry
The Polish cavalry can trace its origins back to the days of Medieval mounted knights. Poland had always been a country of flatlands and fields and mounted forces operate well in this environment...

 opponents. However, there is plenty of evidence that the caracole was falling out of use by the 1580s at the latest. Henry IV
Henry IV of France
Henry IV , Henri-Quatre, was King of France from 1589 to 1610 and King of Navarre from 1572 to 1610. He was the first monarch of the Bourbon branch of the Capetian dynasty in France....

's Huguenot cavalry and Dutch cuirassiers were good examples of cavalry units that abandoned the caracole early on — if they ever used it at all.

According to De la Noue
François de la Noue
François de la Noue , called Bras-de-Fer, one of the Huguenot captains of the 16th century, was born near Nantes in 1531, of an ancient Breton family....

, Henry IV's pistol-armed cavalrymen were instructed to deliver a volley at close quarters and then charge home. Ranks were reduced from 12 to 6, still enough to punch a hole into the classic thin line in which heavy lancers were deployed. That was the tactic usually employed by cavalry since then, and the name reiter was replaced by cuirassier. Sometimes it has been erroneously identified as caracole when low morale cavalry units, instead of charging home, contented themselves with delivering a volley and retire without closing the enemy, but in all those actions the distinctive factor of the caracole, the rolling fire through countermarching, was absent.

The caracole was rarely tried against enemy cavalry, as it could be easily broken when performing the maneuver by a countercharge. The last recorded example of the use of the caracole against enemy cavalry ended in disaster at the battle of Mookerheyde
Battle of Mookerheyde
The Battle of Mookerheyde was a battle of the Eighty Years' War fought on 14 April 1574 near the village Mook and the river Meuse.In the winter months of on 1574, William the Silent's brothers, Louis and Henry of Nassau, raised a mercenary army in Germany of 6500 infantry and 3000 cavalry, and led...

, in which 400 Spanish lanzas (light cavalry) charged 2,000 German reiters (in Dutch employ) while the second line was reloading their pistols, easily routing the whole force. It is significant that 20 years later, the Dutch cuirassiers easily routed the Spanish lancers at the battle of Turnhout
Battle of Turnhout (1597)
The Battle of Turnhout, 1597 occurred during the Eighty Years' War where Turnhout was in the border area between the Northern and Southern Netherlands. Though the town had not been walled, Turnhout was an important strategic town...

 and the battle of Nieuwpoort
Battle of Nieuwpoort
The Battle of Nieuwpoort, between a Dutch army under Maurice of Nassau and Francis Vere and a Spanish army under Albert of Austria, took place on 2 July 1600 near the present-day Belgian city Nieuwpoort.-Campaign:...

, so that according to Charles Oman, in 1603 lancers were finally disbanded from the Spanish army. Nevertheless, various variants of the caracole tactics continued to be used well into 17th century against enemy cavalry. During the battle of Gniew of 1626, the Polish light cavalry used it with success twice. The first time light cavalry units under Mikołaj Abramowicz fired at the Swedish cavalry rank by rank, but instead of withdrawing to reload, it immediately proceeded to charge the enemy with sabres. Later the same unit also tried the caracole using gaps in the line of charging husaria heavy cavalry.

It is worth noting that contemporary 16th- and 17th-century sources did not seem to have used the term "caracole" in its modern sense. John Cruso
John Cruso
John Cruso was a writer on military matters before the English Civil War, and a supporter of the Parliamentarycause during the war.Many of his works were as editor and a translator of continental works...

, for example, explained the "caracoll" as a maneuver whereby a formation of cuirassier
Cuirassiers were mounted cavalry soldiers equipped with armour and firearms, first appearing in late 15th-century Europe. They were the successors of the medieval armoured knights...

s would receive the enemy's charge by wheeling apart to either side, letting the enemy rush in between the pincers of their trap, and then charging inwards against the flanks of the overextended enemy.


Cruso, John, Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie

La Noue, F. Discours Politiques et Militaires

Oman, C. The Art of War in the Sixteenth Century
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