- "I have seen war in all its forms. I have seen feral world savages braining each other with stones, and I have monitored the death of a whole planet at the hands of a virus bomb. I have seen Space Marines drop to certain death, and win. I have seen Titans crush whole platoons underfoot. But there is no more stirring sight in war than the charge of massed cavalry."
- — Dravin Gratz, 14th Tharinga Regiment
Rough Riders are specialised mounted cavalry units found among numerous Astra Militarum regiments from Feral and Frontier Worlds where riding animal mounts remains a commonplace military skill. Many primitive cultures from such worlds retain the use of such mounted units in warfare. The Imperial Guard often employs these mounted cavalry units on the field of battle, where they are especially suitable for uneven terrain that is unsuitable for tracked vehicles. They also act as scouts, patrols, and fast response troops, able to operate on their own for extended periods of time deep behind enemy lines.
- "Sound the charge! These traitors are in for a surprise."
- — Captain Yonast d'Lancier, 77th Mordian Light Patrol
Since the days of ancient Terra, the cavalry charge has been one of the most impressive displays of battlefield power available to humankind. Be they oddly armed mercenaries on barely trained horses, or ranks of gleaming knights atop sturdy thoroughbreds, the ancient warriors of old could smash through infantry like a Melta charge through hull plating, and the sheer psychological effect of such a charge could end battles as quickly as the damage it inflicted. In the endless wars of the late 41st Millennium, where tanks and God-Machines stride the battlefield and voidships with thousands of crew hang in orbit unleashing megatons of explosive death, the cavalryman and his trusted steed still have a vital role to play
The Imperial Guard often makes use of specialised cavalry units known as Rough Riders. Even with its legions of machinery and armoured fighting vehicles, the Imperial Guard has a place for these mounted warriors. The majority of Rough Riders units are raised from worlds where it is still common for warriors to fight from horseback. On these planets, fierce nomadic clans and warrior horse-lodges have perfected the art of mounted cavalry techniques through years of bloodshed. Rough Riders retain many ferocious customs of their technologically primitive homeworlds, such as ritual scarring and tribal tattoos. Their steeds are bred for toughness and agressivity, and are often just as dangerous and ill-tempered as the warriors who ride them. In addition to selective breeding in environments often very different from that of ancient Terra and the use of genetic engineering, many mounts used by Rough Riders units are given bio-chemical treatments to enhance their combat potential, such as the Krieg Mounts utilised by the Death Riders of the Death Korps of Krieg regiments. While the majority of Rough Riders are raised from feral, underdeveloped worlds, this is not exclusively the case. On some more advanced planets the honour of riding a living steed to war is reserved for the elite classes, formalised horse-warrior aristocracies that have accumulated generations of cavalry experience.
A Rough Riders squad of skilled mounted cavalry can be an effective assault and skirmishing force, able to move rapidly over the broken ground, climb steep slopes and gallop along narrow ravines. However, it is more common to separate out mounted regiments from their counterparts and allocate Rough Rider squads to fight alongside conventional infantry regiments where they serve in a variety of roles. Rough Riders are used to operating out on their own beyond the normal lines of communication, often deep inside enemy territory. They are able to forage and subsist off the land, and can function for extended durations with only the minimum of basic supplies. They possess a tactical advantage by employing living mounts rather than vehicles, which require neither fuel nor maintenance, and unlike their mechanical counterparts, cannot be as easily traced with Auspex or scanner. As such, Rough Riders are often utilised to harass enemy troop movements by means of hit-and-run tactics.
Rough Riders are a potent force on the battlefield, utilising mobility and speed to spearhead an attack as easily as carrying out a flanking manoeuvre. Rough Riders carry a variety of weapons, but the most deadly are the explosive-tipped Hunting Lances derived from the lethal spear heads used by the cavalry on their homeworlds to hunt down large carnivorous animals. This weapon is constructed of a hollow, lightweight metal shaft tipped with a spear point, which is also connected to the impact fuse of the weapon's shaped charge. This small explosive charge is constructed to direct the blast and fragmentation towards the target and away from the user. Once detonated the user is left with only the shaft, which is then discarded. In close quarters combat against densely packed enemy, or in close confines, the lance is very unwieldy and all Rough Riders carry at least one back-up weapon. After the initial "shock" impact of the charge has been expended, a rider will reach for a Lasgun or Auto-Pistol. The thundering momentum of a cavalry charge as it crashes into the ranks of the enemy leaves only death and carnage in its wake. Those foes not impaled are trampled to death beneath the heavy hooves of the Rough Riders' powerful steeds. Another weapon often utilised by some Rough Rider regiments is the cavalry spear, a heavy weapon designed for use as part of a mounted charge. These weapons are utilised by certain Rough Rider regiments that eschew the use of the traditional hunting lances, preferring something they can use multiple times over the course of an extended encounter.
Rough Rider Regiments
There are a number of different Imperial Guard forces that employ Rough Rider cavalry within their units, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Attilan Rough Riders
- Death Riders of Krieg
- Ezelti Lancers
- Gantor Riders
- Kanak Skull Takers
- Kharak 21st Heavy Lancers
- Krum XVI Ironsides
- Martreb 99th "Ragers"
- Paladius Freelancers
- Praetorian Guard Hussars
- Pyran Dragoons
- Remus Crushers
- Rinon 3rd Rough Riders
- Savlar Chem-Riders
- Tallarn Desert Raiders
- Vostroyan Hussars
Notable Rough Rider Mounts
- "What is it like to ride into glorious battle atop a noble, loyal steed? If I ever find out, I'll tell you."
- — Gellen Kegn, Luggnum Sewer Rats 83rd Aethexe Cavalry
The following are just a small selection of some of the varied and exotic steeds that have found their place upon the battlefields of the 41st Millennium with the Imperial Guard's Rough Riders:
- Aethexe - The Aethexe is a large and aggressive reptilian predator with a foul temper and an impressive capacity to devour raw flesh at startling speeds. Its large body is supported by massive, muscular forelegs that allow it to power forward through its native jungles on the world of Werslaug and seize prey before tearing it apart with its vicious jaws. By contrast, its hind legs are short and stubby, keeping its mighty frame stable and low to the ground. Several regiments on the Spinward Front in the Calixis Sector have been assigned to master the riding of this creature, including the Kharak 21st Heavy Lancers. The Kharak are renowned for both their effectiveness on the battlefield and the incredibly low rate of injuries their riders suffer from the insatiable Aethexe; after generations of training the beasts, less than one in four soldiers suffer mount-related incidents that require the implantation of bionic limbs during their active duty careers. The 83rd Luggnum Sewer Rats were also assigned Aethexe as cavalry mounts in a move by the Departmento Munitorum that surprised all involved, most especially the members of the 83rd, who had been expecting equipment for the closequarters tunnel clearing for which their regiment is renowned. Pressed into service as Rough Riders, however, the Luggnum adapted to their circumstances and the 83rd became a capable if not exceptional Rough Rider regiment that earned several minor distinctions on Hervara. The Aethexe proved capable of surviving the ash-wastes at least as well as their riders, and so the Luggnum 83rd was instrumental in securing portions of the Drury-Cobhan line exposed to the volcanic surface of the planet.
- Giant Reptile - Utilised by the fearsome Catachan Jungle Fighters, who field Rough Riders mounted atop the mighty reptiles native to their deadly jungles, giant reptiles are a relatively common lifeform throughout the galaxy, especially on Death Worlds and feral worlds where they are often the main predator type. A giant reptile typically ranges in size from that of a Space Marine Assault Bike to that of a Land Raider, is possessed of considerable strength and ferocity, and has vicious natural weapons ranging from sharp bony protrusions and claws to jaws capable of ripping open the hull of a Rhino APC. It is quite common for the worlds from which the Space Marines recruit to have such lethal predators stalking the inhospitable terrain, and for young Aspirants to prove themselves by slaying one of these immense beasts and taking a trophy to prove his ascent to manhood. Needless to say, few make it back alive. Carnosaurs prowl the blasted wastes of the Triath Sector, and the infamous Arcanadonts, top of the evolutionary ladder on the honeycombed Mining World of Mordant, are sold across the Segmentum as vicious pets and status symbols at a great cost in both life and raw meat.
- Grox - Easily one of the most common and well-known creatures within the Imperium, a Grox is an enormous reptilian beast used for everything from farming to food. Given their role as livestock, the creatures are overly aggressive and excessively territorial. However, it is these very traits that mean that, when properly motivated, Grox make for adequate -- if dangerous and difficult to control -- steeds. Groxwhips are said to have been named for herding these creatures, but few are willing to attempt using such an instrument on a Grox lest they provoke its considerable ire. When enraged, the creatures become nigh-impossible to control. However, they also have a tendency of running rampant across anything in the proximity -- including one's foes -- causing considerable havoc and devastation as their riders desperate cling to their backs and wait for the storm to subside. As such, certain regiments on the Spinward Front have been known to use these creatures as pack-beasts and occasional mounts. The presence of Grox on a battlefront can have a positive impact on morale despite the creatures’ nature, however, as their cooked flesh is, if nothing else, better than field rations. Further, given their massive stature, only a few Grox need to fall in any each engagement to keep their meat in steady supply. Of course, eating one’s steed might seem a bit macabre to some Guardsmen, while others take to it with considerable gusto.
- Horse - The mainstay of most Rough Rider regiments throughout the Imperium, Terran horses are the result of countless generations of selective breeding to make them powerful runners that are highly responsive to their riders. Rugged and reliable, these trusty steeds have carried the Imperial Guard to victory across innumerable battlefields on thousands of worlds.
- Krieg Death Rider Horse (Krieg Steed) - The Death Korps of Krieg have their own unique Rough Rider formation known as the Death Riders. Like the individual Krieg soldiers, their mounts, called Krieg Steeds, are faceless creatures, clad in heavy rebreathers and devoid of any hair. These creatures were once standard Terran horses, but years of genetic manipulation has created a superior breed, one that willingly charges into the thickest of fighting without a single thought for its own safety or survival.
- Marru - Discovered by the Brygun Dynasty of Rogue Traders on a world deep within the Koronus Expanse, the majestic winged feline creatures known as Marru were brought to the Calixis Sector where they became an instant marvel within many noble circles. Their pelts and exquisite wings sat within grand banquet halls, and living specimens were paraded to entertain and fascinate the aristocrats. Marru breed at a tremendous and almost uncontrollable rate, and what had once been a rare beauty was fast becoming an innumerable pest. It was Krynus Brygun, one scion of that Rogue Trader dynasty, who first determined that the creatures could be used as passable if capricious mounts and began selling the creatures to certain elements of Imperial Guard regiments in the Spinward Front.
- Mukaali - The Mukaali is a creature perfectly adapted to a life of stifling heat and shifting sands. Tall and long-necked, a Mukaali have wide padded feet that help them move across soft sand drifts and other perilous desert terrain. Mukaali tend to be passive creatures and extremely slow to anger. This makes them unsuited to combat, yet they are still used by numerous Rough Rider regiments, especially those that hail from the sands of Tallarn. Mukaali are particularly useful as mounts because of their sheer stamina, which allows them to cross vast swaths of inhospitable environments without rest. These hardy beasts can go for long periods of time without food or water. This makes them an attractive proposition for long campaigns where re-supply is difficult. In fact, Mukaali are usually much more resilient than their riders, and so their ability to endure is rarely put to anything resembling a true test. Those Tallarn Desert Raiders Rough Rider regiments that employ Mukaali use the beasts to strategically outmanoeuvre their foes, using the tireless creatures to ride for days so that they can strike from angles unexpected.
- Venumex - No records exist of when the Venumex was introduced to the Calixis Sector, although small colonies of this peculiar carnivorous lizard are found on jungle-heavy worlds across the sector and even within a few worlds of the Koronus Expanse. The Venumex is gangly, lean, walks on two legs and is perfectly adept at hunting smaller animals for food. It also produces a mild toxin that it can spit from its mouth to slow larger prey. The Venumex has been used on several worlds that other mounts cannot tolerate, and the Rough Rider regiments that have been assigned these creatures as mounts speak highly of their durability, if not their friendliness or pleasant smell.
- Ursir - Large, six-legged omnivores from the frozen world of Modrubeo IV in the Koronus Expanse, Ursir are the favoured mounts of the Martreb 99th "Ragers." Known on their homeworld for attacking their prey with their slashing claws and crushing jaws, these muscular predators are covered in a thick fur that slowly adapts to the colour of their current surroundings as they shed. Despite their size, Ursir move with a loping gait that allows them to cover vast amounts of terrain much faster than expected. Ursir are independent creatures, but can be ridden by those patient or wilful enough to try. They are particularly deadly fighters when enraged, capable of rearing on to their hind legs to smash their prey with their front legs, though this manoeuvre often proves equally dangerous to first-time riders—especially when the Ursir decides on its own to strike. On the Spinward Front in the Calixis Sector, many a squad of Severan Dominate troopers has broken and fled in the face of the ferocity of Ursir cavalry.
- Ucernox - The Ucernox is a massive, moderately territorial herbivore that hails from a forgotten world in the Koronus Expanse, characterised by its bulky quadrupedal frame, thick and segmented hide, and imposing horns, one of which sprouts from its nose and another pair of which form an imposing crest on its head. The Beleroph Rogue Trader dynasty brought this creature to various Agri-worlds across the Calixis Sector in the hopes that it could be harvested for food and used as a plowbeast. However, the Ucernox's seemingly placid nature belied a stubborn cunning and a tendency to erupt into occasional, extreme violence that caused most farming populations to simply release the creatures into the wild. When the war began on the Spinward Front in the Calixis Sector's Periphery Sub-sector and resources on certain worlds grew scarce due to heavy tithes, several Agri-worlds gathered the wild creatures and sent them as part of their requisite contributions. Though the Ucernox were initially slaughtered for food, certain regiments such as the Rinon 3rd Rough Riders, who had recently lost their horses to a plague, discovered that it was easier to ride the creatures than eat them. Besides their thunderous charges, Ucernox are notable for being one of the few mounts capable of carrying an Ogryn into battle without cybernetic augmentation.
- Codex: Catachans (3rd Edition), pg. 16
- Codex: Imperial Guard (2nd Edition), pp. 17, 39-40, 73, 77, 90
- Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign
- Imperial Guard (5th Edition), pg. 44
- Imperial Guard (3rd Edition, 2nd Codex), pp. 46, 58, 60-61
- Imperial Guard (3rd Edition, 1st Codex), pp. 19, 29
- Only War: Hammer of the Emperor (RPG), pp. 119-120, 132, 138-142
- White Dwarf 181 (UK), "Rough Riders of Attila: Imperial Guard," pp. 7-9
- White Dwarf 111 (UK), "Rough Riders and Whiteshields," pp. 12-18
- Games Workshop: Creature Features Rule Set (Archived)