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I know it defies suspension of disbelief, but what official rule can I show a rules lawyer player that "proves" a horse can't start a grapple?

If the answer needs to distinguish between animal companions, paladin's warhorses, polymorphed player characters, etc then please cover all the cases.

Also, mentioning if there is any rule giving a penalty to grappling for having the form of a horse would be nice, even if it doesn't precisely fit the question title.

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5 Answers 5

Yes, a horse may grapple.

Monster Manual p273:

Heavy horse stats with Grappling score indicated Light horse stats with Grappling score indicated

Horses have a grappling score, there aren't any special requirements excluding them from being able to grapple, and there's nothing saying horses can only react to grappling. The grapple rules, even employed literally, require a grappler to grab and then be capable of holding their opponent - the horse can do this (beginning with its mouth), so it passes.

All in all, a horse may grapple, because there is nothing mechanically preventing them from doing so.

Furthermore, the first paragraph of the Grapple entry in the 3.5e PHB:

GRAPPLE

Grappling means wrestling and struggling hand-to-hand. It’s tricky to perform, but sometimes you want to pin foes instead of killing them, and sometimes you have no choice in the matter. For monsters, grappling can mean trapping you in a toothy maw (the purple worm’s favorite tactic) or holding you down so it can claw you to pieces (the dire lion’s trick).

Holding you down purely with body weight is a perfectly legitimate grappling tactic. As @BESW mentioned, a horse can stand on you, and from there, instead of clawing you, it can stomp on you.

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The answer is that some horses can initiate a grapple, strictly speaking. The only means a horse has of obtaining a grip would be it's bite attack, since hooves are not exactly known for their ability to grip things. Only war horses have bite attacks. I suppose a non-war horse could use their mouth, but they would not be proficient.

Even then, however, a natural horse would be unlikely to initiate a grapple. Simply put, it's not how they fight. You couldn't convince a horse to grapple any more than you could convince a horse to use a dagger +5 in it's mouth. Horses are prey animals. They tend to fight to get out of a grapple rather than to start one, and they panic when they are not standing. This is why even injured horses are kept standing (also because it causes intestinal problems to lie down as a horse -- they lack the connective tissue that would keep their guts from tying in knots). As a DM I would only allow horses to grapple in defense, and they would always try to escape.

In the case of a paladin mount, they would possess the intelligence to understand what the PC wishes, but, still, this is not how a horse fights and the player's influence on their mount is not absolute. It's not dominate monster. The player would know the mount would be hesitant to even begin to do such a thing. It would be much happier if it could kick, since that is it's primary natural weapon. As a DM, I would allow the mount to grapple offensively, but the mount would really not be happy about it. If it happened repeatedly, the mount would probably do petty things to get back at the PC. Real horses are petty like this. They'll step on your foot, or bite you when you're not looking, or pin you against the stall if you annoy them. They're brats.

If a PC were to polymorph into a horse, they can do any damn fool thing they want. If they want to run up and bite some guy's arm and drag him down and sit on him, they can.

I guess my answer is: Can a horse start a grapple? Yes, it is physically capable of doing so. Would a horse start a grapple? No, it is mentally disinclined from taking that action.

If you're absolutely dead set against allowing this in any form, you can simply rule that only primary natural attacks can be used to initiate a grapple unless the monster entry specifies otherwise. Since hoof is the primary attack and hooves can't grip, there's no possibility of starting a grapple.

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Oddly enough, horses grappling isn't actually that much, if any, a suspension of disbelief. Anyone who has been grabbed by a horse can tell you how: they use their teeth.

The grappling rules are also pretty sensible about what can and can't grapple, giving a nice fiction-based rule:

To start a grapple, you need to grab and hold your target.

Can an actual horse grab and hold a target? Yes! Therefore it can start a grapple in D&D 3.5e.

The grappling rules pretty much prohibit anything that can't be reasonably judged able to grab and hold a target from starting a grapple, neatly avoiding hilariously-incomplete mechanical definitions of what can or can't grapple by just not making it a mechanical definition. Babies? Can't grapple. A normal ant? Can't grapple a human (because it can't "hold" you—only "hold onto you (for dear life)"). Armless, toothless duergar? Can't grapple. Great white shark? You betcha it can start a grapple. Muzzled horse? Can't start a grapple.


That established, what strains belief for me is that a horse can establish a grapple without some kind of penalty for only having one limb to start it with. A +9 to grappling makes sense when resisting or maintaining a grapple, but not so much when starting it "one-armed". Unfortunately, as far as I can tell there are no guidelines for handling one-armed grapplers.

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3  
The ant isn't really prevented because of the grab and hold rule (ants certainly can grab and hold things, and on some level "hold onto" counts as holding), the more relevant rule there is the restriction on grappling things more than two size categories larger than yourself. –  KRyan Dec 29 '12 at 19:22
    
True, but the fiction-based rule still creates sensible outcomes even without that mechanic-based rule. Point is that it's nice and functional. –  SevenSidedDie Dec 30 '12 at 9:30

Yes, a horse can start a grapple.

There isn't such a rule because it's possible. The word "grapple" may imply having arms and wrestling around, but the linguistic nuances of the word are irrelevant to the mechanics it describes--just like you can have your Fighter call himself a samurai without taking the Samurai class. Similarly a "cantrip" is linguistically "a playful or mischievous act or trick", but that has nothing to do with the scope or application of 0-level wizard spells. In game terms, grappling is about physical domination and constraint of movement, which a horse can achieve.

I see no problem with a horse throwing his weight around to get in a person's way, using his size to interfere with movement, battering a creature with side-blows from his flanks and hindquarters, or standing on a guy's chest and calling that a pin.

Obligatory comic link, not to be taken as solo confirmation or evidence of my above point, which stands on its own.

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Grapple - to seize another, or each other, in a firm grip, as in wrestling; clinch.

A grip, being a grasp, requires arms and/or fingers. While one could stretch this to include tentacles none of it is of use for a horse.

As one can clearly see, no horse has fingers nor arms nor tentacles. So, no horse is capable of "seizing in a firm grip". Should the horse use it's teeth, that would be a bite and hence follow the rules and have the damage of a bite. Using it's hooves would count as a bash or trample. The tail is at worst, a flick of hair. Ears? No.

So an inventory of horse anatomy shows no body parts with gripping power and hence no grapple is possible.

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