AskDefine | Define caracole

Dictionary Definition

caracole v : make a half turn on a horse, in dressage

User Contributed Dictionary



From French caracole (noun), literally ‘snail's shell’, caracoler (verb).




  1. A half-turn performed by a horse and rider.
    • "With curvet and with caracole!" — Henry Howard Brownell (1820-1872)


  1. To execute a caracole.
    • 1819: Prince John, upon a grey and high-mettled palfrey, caracoled within the lists at the head of his jovial party, laughing loud with his train, and eyeing with all the boldness of royal criticism the beauties who adorned the lofty galleries. — Walter Scott, Ivanhoe

Extensive Definition

The caracole or caracol (from the Spanish caracol - "snail") consists of a manoeuvre on horseback in dressage and, previously, in military tactics.

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 developed in the mid-16th century in an attempt to integrate gunpowder weapons into cavalry tactics. Equipped with one or two wheellock pistols, 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 in Western armies from about 1540.
The caracole was a tactic very much criticized by military historians who didn't fully understand its use. The caracole was developed as a light cavalry tactic to be used in combination with the fully armoured lancers that made up the heavy cavalry in those times. Pistoleers 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.
Some historians associate the demise of the caracole with the name of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1594-1632). Certainly he regarded the technique as fairly useless, and ordered cavalry under Swedish command not to use the caracole and adopt the tactics of Polish-Lithuanian cavalry. However, there is evidence that the tactic was already falling out of use by 1580. The introduction of the musket, with its superior range and penetrative power, towards 1570, made the caracole no longer a useful tactic against infantry.
Instead, according to La Noue, pistoleers 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, in which 400 spanish lanzas (light cavalry) charged 2,000 German reiters while the second line was reloading their pistols, easily routing the whole force. It is significative that 20 years later, the Dutch cuirassiers easily routed the Spanish lancers at the battle of Turnhout and the battle of Nieuwpoort, so that according to Charles Oman, in 1603 lancers were finally disbanded from the Spanish army.


La Noue, F. Discours Politiques et Militaires
Oman, C. The Art of War in the Sixteenth Century
caracole in Czech: Karakola
caracole in German: Caracolla
caracole in Japanese: カラコール
caracole in Polish: Karakol
caracole in Finnish: Karakolli
caracole in Swedish: Karakoll

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

amble, antic, beam, bob, bounce, canter, caper, capriole, carol, carry on, cavort, chirp, chirrup, clap hands, curvet, cut a dido, cut capers, cut up, dance, delight, dido, disport, exult, falcade, flounce, fool around, frisk, frolic, gallop, gambade, gambado, gambol, glory, glow, go on horseback, hack, horse around, joy, jubilate, jump about, laugh, lilt, lope, mount, pace, piaffe, play, prance, radiate cheer, ramp, rejoice, revel, ride bareback, ride hard, rollick, romp, sing, skip, skip for joy, smile, sparkle, sport, take horse, tittup, trip, trot, whistle
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