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5,000 Years of War Horses

Eileen Battersby, writing for the Irish Times, tells the history of the horse, and how once the bit and saddle allowed man to ride, the horse was predominantly used for military campaigns and combat. Below is a teaser. We urge you to read the article through to get an idea of what horses have fought and died to contribute to mankind’s relentless pursuit to defend himself and control others.

      The first World War, the setting for Steven Spielberg’s new film, marked the end – almost – of 5,000 years of mounted combat, writes EILEEN BATTERSBY.

THE DIRECTOR Steven Spielberg insists that his new movie, War Horse, based on the 1982 novel by Michael Murpurgo, is not a war film but a story about a boy and his horse. Yet the image that will haunt audiences is that of the hero, the beautiful horse, a stark reminder of all the beautiful horses that went to war and died.

There was a real-life model for the war horse in the film. His name was Warrior, and he went to war in 1914 with his owner, a British general named Jack Seely. Both survived, defying even the horrors of the Somme. Warrior was celebrated as a hero and died in 1941, in the middle of another war, a few weeks short of his 33rd birthday. Although revered, he was not buried with the expected pomp and ceremony. Instead his body was donated to the war effort and used for meat.

More then 5,000 years have passed since man first began riding horses. For much of that time the animal, now mostly associated with sport, was involved in war and military campaigns.

Ms. Battersby closes with:

    Whenever people recall Tennyson’s immortal lines “All in the valley of death / Rode the six hundred”, most mourn the loss of the hapless horses involved in the famously pointless Charge of the Light Brigade, which took place in 1854, during the Crimean War. Between 600 and 660 mounted men and horses were involved in this futile act, which has become iconic. There were 118 human fatalities; 335 horses died or were later destroyed because of their wounds.

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We are so grateful to Steven Speilberg for his film War Horse, spurring new dialogue so we never forget what horses have given, and continue to give, mankind.

Animals in War Memorial (Park Lane, London)

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