How Horses Were Used in World War 1

Animals have been used to assist humans since the dawn of time. The specific animal was dependent upon the particular workload. Horses have been used throughout history in numerous battles. As we became more and more industrialized the workload of the horse started to go back to that of more of a farm life. However, they did not completely disappear from the battlefield altogether. They were very present during World War 1. Great Britain had to import most of their horses from the allies with the majority coming from America. Canada also, supplied over 400,000 horses to the war. Germany had better prepared and started a horse-breeding program prior to the war. However, they couldn’t import horses to help with their cause and had a severe acute horse shortage.

During WWI, there were more than eight million horses, as well as, donkeys and mules that were used and ultimately died during that time. Horses were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the front of line. Horses were easier to maneuver on rough terrains and mud than some military vehicles such as tanks. Delivering messages and doing reconnaissance were just a couple of other ways of how horses were used in world war 1. They were also used to pull ambulances, supply wagons, and artillery. In some cases, it was reported that Soldiers enjoyed seeing horses and that it boosts their morale. Here are. a few ways how horses were used in world war 1.


Like most animals, the horse gave the Soldiers’ morale a boost. Horses are gentle and calm creatures that give off a sense of peace when they’re around. For Soldiers during a time where everything was in an uproar and death was around, this help give them something to look forward to. A lot of the Soldiers bonded with horses and took really good care of them, as much as they could. The relationship and bond built between the Soldiers and horses was so deep that when a horse passed the loss was felt as deeply as if a fellow Soldier had passed. This is an emotion that will be seen with war dogs as well.

Calvary Horses

How horses were used in world war 1 of this type was by strictly riding them to the front lines. Cavalry was seen as an essential part of the war in the beginning specifically by the Britain Army. This was the elite division and in the beginning of the war Britain and Germany both utilized a calvary force. The last known moment of horses being used as cavalry was the infamous cavalry charge near Mons. The introduction of trench warfare proved to be too much for cavalry charge injuring many horses and soldiers in the fight. This is when the workload of the riding horse switched to that of a puller or carrier.

Draught Horses

ww 1 Draught Horses

A draught horse is a large horse that was used to pull heavy loads, specifically a cart or plow. How these horses were used in world war 1 was for pulling buses, heavy artillery guns, and supply wagons. These horses were divided into two categories: light and heavy draught. Light draught horses doubled as riding horses as well. This was due mainly in part to guns and most of the wagons being used for supply, would not have a driver or someone manning the gun. Soldiers typically rode one horse while guiding both light and heavy draught horses. To be considered as a light draught horse; a horse had to have a pleasant gait and modest pulling power while the heavy draught horses were never ridden and were expected to dominate in pulling heavy loads. Many horses worked with the Forestry Corps, pulling felled logs and loads of timber.

These horses were very important in a complex supply chain. On the Western front of the war, the British Army needed a lot of supplies such as food, ammunition, and equipment to maintain. Keeping up with the use of these animals to assist in supply movement required the government procuring a lot of horses from the countryside, at times taking horses civilians couldn’t identify as being essential for farm work. The movement of artillery was very important. It typically took about six to 12 horses to carry a gun. If there were not enough horses to carry artillery this greatly impacted how an Army set up its firepower.

Multi-purpose (Pack) horses and Ponies

These horses carried shells and ammunitions to the front line as well as between camps. These horses were essentially called pack horses. Although a horse was limited to what it could carry their worth was in the fact that they could travel anywhere a Soldier could. This was very important because often times wagons or wheeled vehicles couldn’t go into certain places a Soldier could. This was even more apparent on roads that were swamped or muddy. They were also used to carry stuff over rough terrain like the dessert. Not only were horses used for this, but also mules and camels. Along with supplies pack horses also carried wounded Soldiers back to the rear and away from harm.

Post War

How horses were used in world war 1 was as soldiers. They were on the battlefield just as well and carried the load in more ways than one. Horses have helped turn the tide on several important battles during war. They suffered as many casualties as their Soldier counterpart and had to recover post war. In all there were more than eight million horse deaths from a range of ailments such as disease to being fired upon. Even so, they continued to be essential to the mission.

Most horses were sold for work and to other allied countries, but sadly approximately 60,000 horses were sold for meat. However, many horses were sent back to their families and it was a great reunion. This time in history will be the final time horses would be used in a mass number for war.