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Mounts can be given barding to duplicate the effect of armour at 4x the cost. However, barding makes no statement about armour proficiency, nor does the stat block for some of the more obvious mounts (Riding Horse, Warhorse, etc.).

If a mount is given barding, is it proficient in it? If not, how is it possible for them to gain proficiency?

The penalties for wearing armour without proficiency are no spellcasting and disadvantage on ability checks, saving throws, and attacks that use Strength or Dexterity.

Assuming they are not proficient, do mounts with barding have disadvantage on Strength and Dexterity -based ability checks and saving throws?

And finally, non-humanoid creatures are not explicitly stated to use either Strength or Dexterity in their attacks, but I would assume physical attacks have to use one of these two, so:

Assuming they are not proficient, do mounts with barding have disadvantage on attacks?

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As far as I can tell, rules are scarce on this subject. All we have is:

PHB, Chapter 5, page 144: (on wearing armor, in general)

Armor Proficiency. Anyone can put on a suit of armor or strap a shield to an arm. Only those proficient in the armor’s use know how to wear it effectively, however. Your class gives you proficiency with certain types of armor. If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can’t cast spells.

Summed up: Anyone wearing armor must be proficient, or face the consequences.

PHB, Chapter 5, page 155: (on barding as equipment, price)

Barding. Barding is armor designed to protect an animal’s head, neck, chest, and body. Any type of armor shown on the Armor table in this chapter can be purchased as barding. The cost is four times the equivalent armor made for humanoids, and it weighs twice as much.

Summed up: You can put armor on an animal, and it's price is four times that of normal armor.

PHB, Appendix D, page 310: (variant rule on warhorse specifically)

Variant: Warhorse Armor An armored warhorse has an Armor Class based on the type of barding worn (see chapter 5 for more information on barding). Its Armor Class includes the horse’s Dexterity modifier, where applicable.

Summed up: A warhorse can wear armor. Warhorse, as opposed to Riding horse. Since this is a variant rule, it implies that without the variant rule in effect, all animals (not only warhorses - and war-dogs, war-elephants etc too, I presume) can wear barding.

But do they require proficiency? As per the general rule on armor proficiency quoted at the top; yes. How would an animal go about acquiring such a proficiency? We're not told. Also, we're not told what the difference is between a riding horse and a warhorse, and if/how the first can become the latter.

However, when the RAW is lacking, we just keep rolling. The spirit of the game has always been "make it up as you go". So here is what I would suggest: A non-war-trained mount is not proficient with armor. A war-trained mount is. I believe this is relatively consistent with the rules above.

Also, we need to come up some rules for training a war-animal. Say a month or two of rigorous training in the hands of a skilled person?

Yeah, and just so I've mentioned it: A lawyer might argue that barding and armor are two different things. I'd argue that it's the same thing with different names, depending on the wearer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure about the following: "Since this is a variant rule, it implies that without the variant rule in effect, all animals ... can wear barding." I do not see how this is supported by the text - it just seems to be offering a variant warhorse (specifically an armored warhorse) whose AC is determined by the barding they wear instead of 11, the AC listed in the vanilla warhorse statblock. The phrase "Anyone can put on a suit of armor" does kind of sound like RAW approval for all animals to wear armor. But it also says anyone can use a shield so, uh... \$\endgroup\$ – gul Apr 18 '18 at 9:18
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It's unclear and up to the DM

This is a very tricky scenario because we're looking at absence of rules in conjunction with interpolations of other rules. I'm going to cover the two cases and provide how Crawford looks at this and how I've had it work at tables I've played at.

Let's start with the two cases:

1. Yes, they have proficiency and don't suffer penalties

Barding has an implicit suggestion that animals are proficient purely by stating:

Barding is armor designed to protect an animal’s head, neck, chest, and body. Any type of armor can be purchased as barding.

The armor is specifically designed for them and it seems odd to create an equipment option specifically for animals and not state that they aren't proficient so they get penalties. It also provides a list of applicable armor and only includes the strength requirements - again suggesting that there isn't an issue with proficiency.

We also have the Monster Manual (pp.9) which states in a call-out box:

Assume that a creature is proficient with its armor, weapons, and tools. If you swap them out, you decide whether the creature is proficient with its new equipment.

This doesn't say that all beasts (technically monsters) have armor proficiency, but given that there is armor for every beast via barding, it implies that it can.

2. No, they don't have proficiency and suffer penalties

On the flip side, they don't actually say that they animals are proficient in all armor types, so it can be stated that without the explicit rule stating they have proficiency that they don't - and all animals wearing armor suffer the penalties for doing so without proficiency.

Looking at the same Monster Manual quote above, it could also be reasoned that unless the stat block has armor in it, then it doesn't have proficiency because it doesn't normally have it.

Crawford confirms that it's up to the DM

Jeremy Crawford was asked this specific question, and he confirms that the rules are loose here:

@jesselsmith: When wearing barding (PHB p. 155), do animals need proficiency in that type of armor to avoid penalties(PHB p. 144)?

@jeremyecrawford: The rule on monsters and armor is purposefully generous and is ultimately in the DM's hands. See MM p. 9.

Of course, we don't need to listen to him, but the fact that in this we're not taking specific direction but that he's acknowledging that the rules don't seem to fully cover it that supports my above statements on the rules seem loose on it.

At my tables

We've always allowed beasts to have barding and give it to them without penalty. The player typically pays the penalty in terms of the 4x markup on the price - and the whole point of getting armor is to buff it, not to have a buff/debuff trade off. We've never experienced any issues and it's a way to help to keep friendly party animals alive better which generally leads to more table happiness.

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D&D 5e like most tabletop RPGs is designed to simulate some type of reality for the players to experience. Some RPGs simulate a fantastic reality, some base their reality on our own world, and other are a mix. D&D 5e is a mix of historical medieval elements and totally fantastic elements.

Warhores and barding are an example of of a real world element being simulated by D&D 5e.

One Page 44 of the 5e Basic D&D Players rules we have a rule that an individual has to be proficient in the use of a specific armor or suffer various penalties.

What makes an individual proficient? They are granted a proficiency by their class.

On page 6 of the 5e Basic D&D Players rules we learn that a class is the following.

Class broadly describes a character’s vocation, what special talents he or she possesses, and the tactics he or she is most likely to employ when exploring a dungeon, fighting monsters, or engaging in a tense negotiation.

A vocation where the character improves over time due to experience. Making armor proficiency is something gained by training.

Applying this to horses we find that on Page 310 in Appendix D of the PHB that there is specific variant to allow warhorses to wear armor in the form of barding to improve their armor class. We know from history that the difference between a warhorse from a riding horse is their training. So it is reasonable to assume that warhorses are trained i.e. proficient in the wearing of armor.

One thing to note that you can introduce additional complications via the Encumbrance variant. A warhorse has an 18 strength so if you feel that use of heavy armor barding should impose additional penalties then the use of the encumbrance variant would be a way to do this via RAW.

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The armor proficiency rule is specific to classes and their features. The barding for a warhorse is another specific rule, yet it does not require that a warhorse have armor proficiency. The barding rule further overides the warhorse example by adding that any armor on the Armor Table can be purchased as barding. The only assumption that needs to be made is that it is being purchased for the purpose of being worn by an animal. The rule for barding is specific and has no requirement for an animal to have proficiency in armor. Having a saddle on a mount does not require the mount to be proficient in saddles.

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