Facts about horses in WW1

1914, World War 1. Indian cavalry marching through a French village. Photographer: H. D. Girdwood.

Ready to learn some tragic facts about horses in WW1?

During World War I, the estimated number of horses that died is difficult to determine with absolute accuracy. However, it is estimated that around 8 million horses, donkeys and mules perished during the course of the war. Horses, in particular, were heavily utilized in the war for transportation, cavalry charges, and other military operations.

Both sides involved in the conflict relied on horses to move troops, supplies, and artillery. They were also used in combat, with cavalry units playing a significant role in the early stages of the war before the introduction of modern weaponry and trench warfare. Horses faced perilous conditions on the battlefield, enduring artillery fire, chemical attacks, and harsh environments.

The loss of horses was substantial on both the Allied and Central Powers’ sides. The British Army, for instance, reported the deaths of approximately 484,000 horses during the war. The German, French, and other armies also suffered significant horse casualties. Additionally, countless horses were injured or became unfit for service due to the challenging conditions.


The British Army, for instance, reported the deaths of approximately 484,000 horses during the war.

It is worth noting that the advent of mechanized vehicles, such as tanks and trucks, gradually reduced the reliance on horses in military operations as the war progressed.

Nine facts about horses in WW1

Here are some facts about horses in WW1:

  1. Enormous Numbers: It is estimated that around 8 million horses were involved in World War I. They were used by various nations for transportation, supply delivery, and cavalry charges.
  2. Breeds: Various breeds of horses were utilized in the war, including heavy draft horses like the Percheron and Clydesdale, as well as lighter breeds like the Thoroughbred and Arabian. Each breed had its strengths and purposes.
  3. Transportation: Horses played a crucial role in transporting troops, equipment, and supplies. They were used to pull wagons, artillery pieces, and ambulances. Horses were the primary mode of transportation in the early years of the war before motorized vehicles became more prevalent.
  4. Cavalry Charges: In the initial stages of the war, cavalry units were still used for charges and reconnaissance. However, the introduction of machine guns, barbed wire, and trench warfare made traditional cavalry charges obsolete, resulting in heavy casualties for both horses and riders.
  5. Harsh Conditions: Horses endured extreme hardships on the battlefield. They faced gunfire, artillery shelling, chemical attacks, and adverse weather conditions. They had to navigate treacherous terrains filled with mud, waterlogged trenches, and debris.
  6. Care and Treatment: Horses required care and attention amid war. Veterinary services were established to treat injured horses, provide medical care, and manage diseases. Horses were prone to ailments such as mud fever, colic, and respiratory issues.
  7. Suffering and Casualties: Horses suffered tremendously during the war. They were vulnerable to wounds, exhaustion, and diseases. They faced a significant risk of injury or death from artillery fire, shrapnel, and poison gas attacks.
  8. Importance of Horses: Despite the advancements in mechanized warfare, horses remained crucial for logistics and transportation throughout the war. They were vital for moving troops and supplies in areas where vehicles were impractical or unavailable.
  9. Legacy: The use of horses in World War I marked the last major conflict in which they played a significant role on the battlefield. The war highlighted the increasing importance of mechanization and the decline of cavalry as a dominant military force.

The involvement of horses in World War I showcases the significant role they played in the logistics and operations of the time, as well as the immense challenges and sacrifices they endured during the conflict.

Horses after WW1

After World War I, horses played a significantly reduced role in military operations compared to previous eras. The advent of modern technology, particularly mechanized vehicles and advancements in artillery, changed the nature of warfare and decreased the reliance on horses in combat.

Following the war, military strategists recognized the need for mechanization to keep pace with technological advancements. The successful deployment of tanks and motorized vehicles during the conflict highlighted their advantages over horse-drawn transport in terms of speed, firepower, and protection. Consequently, many nations began phasing out horses from their military forces and transitioning to motorized units.

The reduced role of horses in the military led to a surplus of war horses after World War I. Some horses were sold or auctioned off, while others were repurposed for civilian uses, such as agriculture, transportation, and recreation. Additionally, many war horses were retired and cared for by various organizations and individuals who recognized their contributions during the war.

Although horses lost their prominence in military operations, they continued to serve important roles in certain contexts. In some cases, horses were still used by cavalry units for ceremonial and ceremonial purposes. As mentioned above, horses also remained valuable assets in rural areas for farming, transportation, and other civilian activities.

Overall, the era following World War I marked a significant shift away from the military reliance on horses. While they retained importance in some civilian sectors, their role in combat significantly diminished as mechanized warfare took centre stage.

Feature image: 1914, World War 1. Indian cavalry marching through a French village. Photographer: H. D. Girdwood.

Related posts