Cuirasseur fires his pistol during a caracole.For almost a hundred years prior to this battle, cavalry had frequently begun their attacks with pistols or even arquebuses instead of with lance or sword, and the method most often used was the caracole. With a handheld firearm, a horseman could inflict casualties from meters away without risk of his mount or himself being skewered at the end of a pike or two. Should shooting inflict sufficient casualties combined with a visible wavering of morale an infantry formation could loosen just enough to allow cavalry to charge in. Once inside a breaking infantry formation, cavalry could revert to their centuries-old tradition of slashing, trampling and butchering. And what worked against infantry could also be applied against enemy cavalry.

Adoption of the caracole resulted in a more subdued cavalry, content to shoot from outside the reach of pikes, or take sets of shots at opposing cavalry or musketeers. The grand charge with swords upraised was done only if the enemy had its front sufficiently disrupted. Otherwise, the cavalry withdrew, and to withdraw following a caracole was tempting.

As writers today tend to envision the caracole, it was a method of bringing to the fore a portion of the cavalry formation and having them fire together (more or less). A caracole usually worked by the foremost rank moving into position as a line. This animation illustrates the maneuver. The motions bear resemblance to musketeers firing by extraduction. After firing, the shooters retired to reload.  But today's writers may well be overcomplicating their descriptions of that motion.

Writers (and riders) during the 17th century had a more simple concept of the caracole.  For them, this was nothing more than the horsemen turning in place, a mounted version of "face to your left/right."  The word 'caracole' was also used for a kind of sharp turn while moving, even that of an entire cavalry troop on the march.  German writers prefer to use "wenden" (Eng.: 'turning') instead of 'caracole.'

With this uncomplicated version, firing was still usually done by the rank or by the file, with by the rank preferred. Having fired, the horsemen either moved to their unit's rear either as a file or the rank wheeling to the rear.