Ancient equestrian tactics used against modern foe

Close up image of mounted patrol police horse. SHUTTERSTOCK.

Horse patrols are being brought back all over the world to help enforce social restriction orders

By ASHLEY COWIE | ANCIENT ORIGINS (4 May 2020) — Police forces around the world are deploying horses to maintain social control as communities begin to crack under the pressure of social restrictions.

Archaeologists know horses were ridden in Eurasian warfare between 4,000 and 3,000 BC, and Sumerian illustrations dating to 2,500 BC depict horses pulling wagons for soldiers. Just today Ancient Origins published a new article about the discovery of a 2nd century Parthian warrior who had fought amidst fleets of skilled mounted bowmen using horses as mobile platforms from which to deliver their kill shots.

In the early 18th century the French “Maréchaussée,” who became the gendarmerie, was the world’s first completely mounted national police force who patrolled extensively in rural areas with no roads, a situation that made horse-mounted policing a necessity in European states until the road building projects of the early 20th century. But now, in the face of a new, less obvious enemy, horse patrols are being brought back all over the world to help police forces support social restriction orders.

Australia prefers four legs over two

Modern policing requires modern technologies, but sometimes more ancient methods are deployed, and in regards to the new patrols of mounted police in Australia’s public spaces Senior Sergeant Glen Potter, the head of Western Australia’s Mounted Police section, told ABC News , “If you’ve got one horse, it’s like having 10 coppers on the ground”. Police horses provide stability and force in turbulent situations, said Mr. Potter, especially when officers are struggling to keep order at “mass protests, riots, and large-scale events,” and they are also deployed in Australia’s remote areas in search and rescue operations.

As Australia releases its grip on social lockdown and its nightlife slowly returns people are starting to feel comfortable congregating in groups. In light of this police horses will become “much more visible to the average punter,” said PC Potter. This week, Western Australia’s highly-trained team of 20 police horses and mounted officers hit the streets after weeks of downtime due to the coronavirus pandemic and Senior Sergeant Potter said, “As tough as it’s been for everyone, it has been a silver lining for the horses, as they can now be retrained”.

Unprecedented crowds in the UK need proper horsing

In the UK the head of South Wales Police, Chief Constable Matt Jukes, says horse mounted officers will be patrolling “parks, beaches, and forestry” to ensure people are not breaching COVID-19 restrictions. While the chief constable is confident most people are following guidelines and staying at home, despite warnings over social distancing, according to a BBC report last weekend saw “unprecedented crowds” gathering at tourist destinations such as Barry Island Pleasure Park and Porthcawl on the south coast of Wales in the county borough of Bridgend, 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the capital city, Cardiff.

Dukes said the police “don’t want people gathering on the beach fronts and in the forestry in our area” and he urges the public that if they’re looking for a way to “creep in between these rules, you are missing the point” reminding people that COVID-19 is a national emergency and people “do need to act in ways which are responsible”.

That’s not all

The Dubai Mounted Police Unit, who you can watch parading on YouTube, are also keeping communities safe during the coronavirus pandemic by carrying out nightly patrols to ensure members of the public are adhering to stay-home orders

Much of modern China is like medieval Europe, and in this instance I don’t mean the fact they eat 10 million dogs a year, or hold Christians and Muslims in prison camps, but there are virtually no roads in a large part of the country. This means Chinese police have had to ride on horseback for hundreds of miles through extremely snowy conditions to reach nomad communities in the northwestern Xinjiang region, one of the most remote areas in the world, to inform them about the dangers of the virus.

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FEATURED IMAGE. SHUTTERSTOCK. Close up image of mounted patrol police horse. Not filed with original story.

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Thailand scrambles to contain major outbreak of horse-killing virus

A horse in Thailand is isolated behind netting that keeps out midges that spread African horse sickness. WIPAWAN PAWITAYALARP

By Christa Lesté-Lasserre, Science Magazine, Apr. 16, 2020

Thailand, already battling the spread of coronavirus, is now contending with another deadly viral outbreak—in horses. With hundreds of horse deaths reported there in the last 3 weeks, horse owners are rushing to seal their animals indoors with netting, away from biting midges that spread the virus for African horse sickness (AHS). Some scientists suspect that zebras, imported from Africa, led to the outbreak.

The disease’s sudden appearance, far from its endemic home in sub-Saharan Africa, has surprised Thai veterinary authorities, who are ramping up testing for the disease and ordering the vaccination of thousands of horses, donkeys, and mules. It is the first major outbreak of the disease outside Africa in 30 years, and AHS experts are worried that it could spread to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. “A sustained, persistent outbreak of [AHS] that spreads to other countries would be devastating, not only to the racing industry and companion animals, but also to some of the poorest workers in the region relying on working horses, donkeys, and mules,” says Simon Carpenter, an entomologist at the Pirbright Laboratory in the United Kingdom.

 Without controls, the virus could even travel via wind-borne midges across seas to herds on island nations, gradually working its way to Australia, which has more than 1 million racing, sport, and feral horses. The nation is “engaging with other countries to develop a regional response to this outbreak,” says Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Mark Schipp.

The AHS virus infects horses, donkeys, and zebras, and is typically transmitted by Culicoides midges that live in warm, tropical climates. The virus causes severe heart and lung disease that kills at least 70% of infected horses, but spares zebras and most donkeys, which act as reservoirs for the virus, says Evan Sergeant, an epidemiologist at AusVet Animal Health Services in Canberra, Australia. Treatment options are mostly limited to palliative care, although euthanasia is sometimes recommended because of the brutality of the disease, which causes high fevers, swollen eyes, difficulty breathing, frothy nostrils, internal bleeding, and sudden death.

Aside from brief outbreaks in areas off the African coast, AHS has been contained in Africa since 1990, when veterinary authorities resolved a 3-year-long outbreak in Spain and Portugal caused by the importation of wild African zebras, Carpenter says. The virus hasn’t been reported in Asia since a major epidemic that ended in 1961. That epidemic spread from the Middle East to parts of India and led to hundreds of thousands of equine deaths.

The only commercially available AHS vaccine is based on a live, weakened version of the virus that sometimes produces mild symptoms and can even spread to other horses. Still, it has successfully eradicated previous outbreaks, according to Carpenter. “It’s not an ideal vaccine,” he says. “But it’s nowhere near as bad as the disease itself.”

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FEATURED IMAGE: A horse in Thailand is isolated behind netting that keeps out midges that spread African horse sickness. WIPAWAN PAWITAYALARP

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African Horse Sickness Quadruples in Thailand, Tuesday’s Horse, 8 Apr. 2020
Thailand hit by African Horse Sickness, Tuesday’s Horse, 2 Apr. 2020

Horse racing off and on

Horses jump out the gate at Penn National racecourse.

Horse racing is continuing in many parts of the world despite the Coronavirus threat. However, more race venues are beginning to cease racing. While these track closures continue, there is great concern about what racehorse owners will do with horses who are not racing. It is a costly enterprise maintaining a racehorse, and no one has a clue how long this will go on.

Here’s news of a recent racecourse closure. The Guardian reports:

Fears for animal welfare as first Australian state bans horse and dog racing amid coronavirus crisis

Tasmania has banned horse and greyhound racing “effective immediately” in the latest wave of shutdowns intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus, while the racing industry in other states is quietly trying to make arrangements to house thousands of furloughed racehorses should the ban become national.

Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein announced the ban on Thursday, cancelling all race meetings for four weeks but allowing training facilities and people responsible for the care and wellbeing of the animals to continue operating.

Explaining the decision, which followed an outbreak of Covid-19 in the regional hub of Devonport, Gutwein said he was concerned that large groups of people were continuing to gather at the races, even though spectators have been banned.

New South Wales Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi has called on other states to follow Tasmania’s lead, saying it was “absolutely crazy that greyhound and horse racing is continuing in the middle of a global pandemic”.

Other Cancellations

 Ireland shut down racing last week, following the United Kingdom. Hong Kong and Japan are still running.

Racing Victoria said it would continue racing after Victoria introduced tough stage-three social distancing laws this week. Jamie Stier, the executive general manager of integrity services, said the industry was “continually reviewing our biosecurity protocols” and “learning from our collective experiences over the past three weeks”.

Both thoroughbred and harness racing was suspended last week due to coronavirus scares, but the sport resumed when tests were returned negative.

Churchill Downs’ blog,, published the following on Mar. 12:

“A number of jurisdictions are conducting racing without spectators, including Hong Kong, Australia*, and Japan.

“Live racing has been canceled in South Korea (through April 5), France (at least through April 15), Ireland (through April 19)**, New Zealand (through April 21), South Africa (through April 17), India (all tracks for an indefinite period), South America (Uruguay indefinitely), and Mexico (indefinitely)”.

*Except Tasmania. **Shut down last week (see above). Our notes.


There are 35 active racetracks in the USA. It is hard to keep up, but there are some running. Most of those are racing without spectators. Santa Anita was recently shut down by the Los Angeles County Health Department. Other racing in California continues.

Racehorses in peril

RSPCA chief scientist Bidda Jones said it was “inevitable” that horse racing would be suspended in Australia.

“Nobody quite knows what the capacity is for farms to take horses leaving racing because we’ve never been in a position whereby, if there was a shutdown of racing, so many would be leaving at one time,” he said.

Jones added however that a shutdown posed “a huge risk” to horse welfare and the industry needed to prepare so it was not attempting to retire a large number of horses at once.

Julie Fiedler from Horse SA said that widespread job losses caused by the shutdown of the hospitality industry and other coronavirus control measures would cause a “silent animal welfare tsunami” as people became unable to afford to care for their horses. Major saleyards such as Echuca and Pakenham in Victoria have suspended their horse sales, leaving knackeries the only option for a quick sale.

“If it goes on for an extended period of time, people are going to have to reevaluate the cost of keeping a horse,” she said.

At the mercy of racing

So what should and what will horse racing do about the horses? Here racehorses are, yet again, in peril, and at the mercy of racing.

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Related Reading

» Despite coronavirus lockdown, horses were still racing at Sacramento’s Cal Expo. Until now. Sacramento Bee. 1 April 20.

Of hippos, horses and restoration

THE GUARDIAN (U.K.) reports:

When the drug lord Pablo Escobar was shot dead in 1993, he left behind a zoo stocked with wild animals alongside his multibillion dollar cocaine empire. The lions, giraffes and other exotic species were moved from the luxurious Hacienda Nápoles estate east of Medellín to new homes, but nearly three decades later, dozens of hippos, descendants of animals left behind, are thriving in small lakes in northern Colombia, making them the world’s largest invasive animal.

Now scientists say that contrary to the conventional wisdom that large invasive herbivore mammals have strictly negative effects on their new environments, Escobar’s “cocaine” hippos show how introduced species can restore a lost world.

A team of conservation biologists has compared the traits and impacts on the ecosystems from large invasive herbivore species like the Colombian hippo with their extinct counterparts from the Late Pleistocene (around 116,000-12,000 years ago) period like mammoths, giants sloths and giant wombats. They found some modern day invasive species restore parts of ecosystems not seen since before humans began driving the widespread extinctions of megafauna.

Their new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesfound that some introduced herbivore species are an almost perfect ecological match for extinct species from the Late Pleistocene, such as modern day wild horses known as mustangs and the extinct pre-domestic horses in North America, while others bring back a mixture of traits.

The study authors came from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia, the University of Kansas, the University of California Davis and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in the US., Sussex University in the UK, the Universidad de Alcalá in Spain and Aarhus University in Denmark.

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The Brumbies of Oz

Australia suffers one of the highest rates of plant and animal extinction in the world due to habitat clearing and the introduction of invasive species, from cane toads to cats. Australia’s wild horses, also called Brumbies, are often blamed for the devastation. Proven, scientific evidence against this notion is ignored, and the horses are shot and killed “to protect the lands”. Here is a recent example of suggested shootings.

Following the 2020 Australian wildfires earlier in the year, it was reported that as many as 17,000 wild horses were “destined for the knackery (slaughterhouse) or shot in trap yards” to help restore burnt out lands. Here is one incident that was used to argue for this unconscionable plan.

Wild horses were sighted nibbling at newly sprung grasses among the scorched earth after their wildfires. Their enemies saw this as a prime opportunity to sway public opinion against the horses and accept their removal and death by arguing that the horses were impeding healing of damaged lands. This is not based on science and certainly not humane.

First of all, wild horses roam as they forage; they are constantly on the move. Additionally, no horse, wild or otherwise, grazes all the way down to the dirt, as other foraging animals do, like say ahem, cattle.

Secondly, wild horses are constantly on the move which means their nutrient rich manure is spread, packed down into the ground by their hooves, fertilizing as they go. Horse manure does not destroy the earth, but instead enhances soil structure, water- and nutrient- holding capacity, and reduces the soil’s susceptibility to erosion.

So you see how errant the call for the destruction of wild horses in Australia is. Move some of the horses to areas where the worst damage was done to help bring the lands back, but in no circumstance destroy them.

We will be having more on this debate, so stay with us.

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