Are Horses The Unsung Heroes Of The Military?


Horses have played an instrumental role on the battlefield for thousands of years.

Their significance is so much so that our mounted cavalry regiment remains to this day.

But how has the role of horses in battle changed over the thousands of years that they’ve been used by the military?

Using horses in warfare dates as far back as 1500 BC, when they were used to pull chariots in Bronze age battles.

However, it wasn’t until 900 BC that warriors began fighting on horseback.

It is thought that the Scythians, a group of nomadic Asian warriors and enemies to the Greeks, were one of the first civilisations to fight on horseback.

Once the concept had been introduced, it quickly spread across the world as, naturally, horses provided armies with a huge advantage when it came to battle.


Of course, the traditional image of the horse in battle is that of the medieval knight mounted upon his steed, and although much smaller than today, the horses of the Middle Ages were bred to increase their size and strength so that they might carry knights into battle.

Horses were so important to European knights that they were said to be worth ‘a hundred men’ by Spanish Knight Gutierre Diaz de Games:

"There is no other beast which so befits a knight as a good horse... A brave man mounted on a good horse may do more in an hour of fighting than ten or maybe a hundred could have done afoot."

Of course, as mechanised warfare became commonplace, the importance of horses in warfare gradually declined.

However, at the beginning of WWI, millions of horses still played a vital role.

In 1914, cavalry charges were still commonly used as an offensive tactic by the British forces; this quickly changed with the spread of trench warfare, and the introduction of machine guns able to fell man and horse in seconds.

War Horse

However, horses were still instrumental in bringing supplies to the front line; WWI horses were even issued with their own gas masks so that they might be protected against the poisonous gasses commonly used in the First World War.

In many ways, horses acted as the backbone of WWI; without them, the front line could not have been sustained.

Sadly, the army lost 15% of its horses every year of the war, primarily due to disease caused by exposure to the elements.

Of course, horses are no longer take part in in cavalry charges, however, they have been used to navigate areas of Afghanistan where the terrain is too rough for automobiles.

Now, the military horse acts as a ceremonial symbol of military might more than anything else

After all, who is not filled with a sense of pride and patriotism when they see theHousehold Cavalry Mounted Regiment parading down the Mall - a symbol of our military heritage.  

Household Cavalry

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