Pictures of World War I

Each Worth 1000 Words…

The REAL “War Horse”: World War 1 Horses And Lighthorse

Prior to the start of The Great war the use of cavalry was a major method of fighting in the combat fields. The cavalry horse and soldier were considered the ‘elite’ of the armies on all fronts. The Russians alone transported 36 cavalry divisions to the eastern front; this was greater than 200,000 horses. The German military set up stud farms prior to 1914 in order to breed stock cavalry horses in anticipation of the number that might be needed in the future.

This was to rapidly change as the technological advancements and mechanization of the forces were brought into play. Cavalry became a means of reconnaissance and communication on the western front. In the Middle East it was utilized in combat situations until later in the war. It was in 1917 that the Australian Mounted Division’s 4th Light Horse Brigade made what is sometimes called “the last successful cavalry charge in history”, when two regiments successfully overran Turkish trenches.

Light Horse

So it was that transportation became the major work that horses and mules were employed for during the First World War.

The light horse was used extensively by the Allied forces. Horses and mules were designated ‘light draught’ if shorter than 16 hands and less than 1200 lbs.Therse animals were used to pull supply wagons, artillery, machine guns and men and their supplies to the fronts throughout the war combat zones.

The rough, wet terrain of the European trench areas made the use of horses and mules vital since the mechanized units became bogged down! Thousands of horses were employed just to pull field guns; six to twelve horses were required to pull each gun.

In Britain horses aged three to twelve years were trained as rapidly as possible by British soldiers or ‘roughriders’. They were formed into squadrons and sent to the Western Front. The British Army used 1.2 million horses and mules during the 4 years of the First World War and 484,000 died in battle. Horses were used so much that over 8 million died on all sides fighting in the war and two and a half million injured were treated in veterinary hospitals.

Ultimate Horse

Before and during the war the Allies were able to blockade German supplies and since Germany was not self-sufficient they were unable to feed the horses who starved or were used for food for the hungry German population. Eventually the Germans ran out of horses. This made it difficult for them to move supplies and artillery, which was a contributory factor in their defeat, but more than 375,000 were taken from German-occupied French territory for use by the British Expeditionary Forces in France in 1918.

It was necessary for all the armies to have handlers, trainers, veterinary surgeons and all the people employed in order to support, supply and maintain the equines in their care. Large numbers of horses were wounded during the war. Others became lame or sick thus needing veterinary care and hospitalization.

After The War

At the end of the war General Douglas Haig said:

I believe that the value of the horse and the opportunity for the horse in the future are likely to be as great as ever. Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse – the well-bred horse – as you have ever done in the past.

This ultimately proved incorrect.

Since the First World War horses have featured in numerous novels, plays and documentaries and one of the latest films is Steven Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’. This very successful film is based on a children’s book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo.


Horses of World War 1 Cavalry Photographs