Speed Painting Horses

From talking to most wargaming friends its pretty obvious that one of our most common complaints or difficulties is actually getting units finished and painted so they can be used on the wargames table. Sometimes there is added pressure to complete a unit for a particular game for example but in the main what I hear mostly is the pressure to make inroads into reducing the size of that all too big leadpile.

This is commonly accompanied by groans about and complaints of how much time actually completing a unit takes. We complain of how glacial the pace of painting seems to be, coupled with the difficulty of turning a unit out with a respectable enough paint job given the quality of painted examples that we see on the internet today.

When that desired unit is a mounted one, some wargamers are even more reticent because of the additional time needed and the added discipline of painting  horseflesh to a good standard

With this is mind I wrote an article on speed painting horses for Miniature Wargames a few years ago which Henry Hyde the editor kindly published. So a few weeks ago when I decided I would paint a batch of 15mm Napoleonic cavalry I thought I would write another guide and post it here.

I’ve always found painting horses enjoyable and tend to paint them in large numbers when I do and on this occasion my original plan was to paint 3 regiments of Prussian Cavalry each of 24 figures – these consisted a regiment of dragoons, one of Hussars and a Landwehr  cavalry regiment. The figures themselves are of course 15mm AB figures from Eureka Miniatures sculpted by Tony Barton. I really do enjoy painting AB figures, the sculpts are so nice and seem to suit my painting style and the castings by Eureka have the barest minimum of flash.

I glued the horses to old bottle tops with PVA but then I thought what the hell, I just as well paint all my remaining AB cavalry and so added a few Prussian command figures, 12 of the new Imperial Guard Mamelukes and finally the French ADC set that Nic at Eureka kindly sent me as a present with my last birthday order – thanks again Nic!

I paint in large numbers because I find it quicker but most importantly to me its allows me to vary the individual horse colours quite considerably. I prefer the varied look this produces despite the fact that regulations in some armies of the time stipulated certain horse colours for particular regiments or squadrons. I’ve taken wargamers licence and ignored this. The second thing that I decided was that I wouldn’t paint many black horses as these weren’t heavy cavalry so I aimed for a range of browns.

As usual after washing the figures and preparing the figures I undercoat them with Humbrol Black enamel diluted with white spirit. When dry and ready I decided to chose a few basic colours to use as a basecoat to which I would add others in order to produce the colour variation in subsequent layers. I took the first few pictures and then unexpectedly at this point I thought I’d add some 28mm Horses as the technique used works for 28mm figures as well with the advantage that  the pictures might be clearer at the larger scale. To this end I’ve added some horses from Perry Miniatures – Russian Napoleonic Hussars to be precise

Step 1 – Get paint on the horse

As you can see from the size of the brush used, this is a coarse procedure with absolutely no finesse whatsoever. The idea is not to actually attempt to paint the horse accurately but rather just to get some paint on the horse or covering the horse. Use a side to side motion using a light flick of your wrist, just like when dry brushing, taking no notice of any detail. It doesn’t matter where you get the paint, the mane, tail, tack, its OK, the aim is to be quick, first covering one side then the other and then finally stab the horse a few times with a little paint on the brush to get at any crevices and the underside.

Hence its quick, I’m using a large brush with dilute paint in a side to side flicking motion – this is what makes it quick rather than trying to accurately use a fine brush to paint only the horse flesh, avoiding tack etc as one might ordinarily paint – that’s too time consuming and isn’t necessary. The results might look awful now but as we go on in the same manner the shading and quality comes. Agreed it won’t result in a prize in any painting competition but it will result in decent units on the table in a fraction of the time it would take with a more measured, accurate and usual painting technique.

I’ve used a range of basecoats, GW Mournfang brown (used to be bestial brown), Vallejo leather brown (from the Game colour range), VJ Cavalry Brown, VJ Flat brown and finally a dark VJ German Cammo Black Brown. I pick a random number of horses from each regiment and paint them all in one go, the different regiments are on different coloured or coded bottle tops. Doing this to each horse takes no more than 30 seconds

As I said the result looks pretty poor at this stage with relatively poor coverage and a bit of a mess!

Step 2 – Variation

As you will see in the pictures below a number of lighter colours are now added. Again this is done with a large brush, but this time with the paint only at the tip of the brush. Again a non accurate dry brushing flicking technique is used with the emphasis on speed. The paint should be thicker than used for the basecoat and mainly rubbed off on the worktop cover. The aim is just to get a little lighter paint on the raised or more prominent surfaces of the horse.

I suppose you could use triad paint systems for this, I don’t, I used a range of lighter colours as in the pictures. This painter on youtube has some interesting and helpful combinations but I didn’t follow these.


He also applies the paint accurately which is the opposite to what I’m advocating, his results are excellent but my main aim is speed. Again take a few horses from each regiment and a apply the second coats.

Here are a couple of combinations

Mournfang Brown with added orange, desert yellow and scrofulous brown

Leather Brown with desert yellow, Buff and pale sand for Palomino type horse.Dark browns are varied by adding the yellow, orange and cavalry brown. Cavalry brown is varied by adding red, orange and yellow. Black horses can also be lightened in this way with very small amounts of darker browns. At this point a range of Bays, chestnuts etc are beginning to appear. Again even more variation can be added by applying more or less of the lightening colour

Step 3 A dilute wash

I said there was little point in being accurate with the application of paint as the next step covers up any poorly covered areas. Generally I use a black wash – Army Painter Dark Tone as its no longer possible to get GW Badab Black which I thought was much better than their current washes as these are not easy to dilute.

Yes I agree looks even messier now and you go from this

to this!

Step 4- Second Highlight

Once the wash has dried repeat the second highlight step but this time with even less paint on the brush and a lighter flicking action barely making contact withe the surface of the horse. Now they’re beginning to look presentable

Step 5 – The time consuming step – painting tack, mane and tail and hooves. and now they are looking presentable at last. I cannot think of a way of speeding this up as the painting needs to be accurate, at least on the tack

(Stupidity confession moment – I decided to paint the shabraque on the 28mm horses to make the pictures appear a little better- unfortunately I forgot I was painting Hussars and applied a green colour thinking they were my mounted Jager horses! I will have to repaint them red)

There’s quite a bit of variation by now

Step 6- A bottom wash

This is the penultimate step and is essentially another black wash but just applied below the knees of the horses. Sometimes I use a dilute black paint rather than a wash for this. It has the advantage of producing dark lower legs which I think look good and is useful for cutting down on the need for painting white lower leg markings. At this stage I do give the same wash to the occasional horses mane and tail in the interest of yet more variety

Step 7 – The Final step – paint any individual markings including those on the face, the nose and the fetlocks if desired but most have already been adequately painted by the preceding step

So the end result and variations……

Starting with Mournfang Brown

With Leather Brown

Dark or Flat Brown

Cavalry Brown

And finally a group photo!

The colour variations are probably easier to see if you expand the pictures.

So, there we are, quick and easy. The emphasis is on speed using a dry-brushing technique

I got through 24 28mm horses and 101 15mm Horses in just a few sessions. I took the first pictures on the 21/11/18 and finished painting yesterday 1/12/18. I wish now I’d logged the exact number of hours

So now I’m off to paint some riders………………


About valleyboynz

A Welsh wargamer living in NZ
This entry was posted in 15mm Napoleonics, 28mm Napoleonics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Speed Painting Horses

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this and it’s just what I needed. I have a whole bunch of knights on steeds on order for a medieval project so I have a lot of mass painting to do. 👍🏼

  2. Pete S/ SP says:

    Great tutorial. I like your paint tips for lighter horses- I must try some as I tend to just do mine all dark brown.



  3. Hi VB. Nice tutorial. I’ve tended to avoid painting horse by going for mostly infantry! I also stick the riders down first as I use superglue and want a good metal to metal bond. Suppose the technique will work with riders attached if a little more careful around the figure. Some useful suggestions for colour combos to try there. Might make me change from my usual chestnut brown!

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