1900 – The Horse in Transition
The Horse in World War I 1914-1918
Theirs Was not to Reason Why
The entry of the United States into World War I in 1917 tipped the balance in favor of an Allied victory. But long before the United States sent its men into the struggle, it had sent another resource – its horses. World War I was the twilight of the use of cavalry. Except for limited skirmishes in the Middle East and the Western front, the cavalry fought mostly on foot. In previous wars the cavalry swept across a battlefield to surprise an enemy force. But now tangles of barbed wire were not easily penetrated, and the machine gun could decimate man and horse alike with chilling efficiency.
The Death of Millions of Horses in the War Depleted the World’s Equine Population
The war used horses in great numbers for non-cavalry purposes. It is estimated that some six million horses served and substantial numbers of these were killed. By 1914, the British had only 20,000 horses and the United States was called upon to supply the allied forces with remounts. In the four years of the war, the United States exported nearly a million horses to Europe. This seriously depleted the number of horses in America. When the American Expeditionary Force entered the war, it took with it an additional 182,000 horses. Of these, 60,000 were killed and only a scant 200 were returned to the United States. In spite of the innovations of World War I, one reality remained the same; the horse was the innocent victim.
In one year, British veterinary hospitals treated 120,000 horses for wounds or diseases. Like human combatants, horses required ambulances and field veterinary hospitals to care for the sick and injured. The motorized horse van was first used as an equine ambulance on the Western Front.