War horses are a legend unto themselves. It’s been 100 years since America’s great war horses (and mules) strode up the ramps onto ships that would carry them to Europe to provide power for what was then called “The Great War”.
It was also called “the war to end all wars”. It may not have been that, but it certainly was the end of the war horse as the main transport provider for world-power nations at war. And it couldn’t have been done without them: motorized vehicles simply couldn’t get through the mud that horses and mules plodded through — and that sometimes sank and drowned them.
The wholesale sacrifice of horses on both sides was at once sickening and inspiring.
While horses from the United States were hard at work on the war front long before this country officially declared war on Germany, it will be this year, 1917, when the official centennial is celebrated.
Our American-born war horses will be front and center in this year of remembrance, thanks to an announcement today from the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission that a special project of an international charity originally founded to help abandoned World War I military horses in the Middle East, will be an official partner in the commemoration. Through Brooke USA’s “Horse Heroes” initiative, war horses will not be forgotten in the events that will unfold this year.
Horse Heroes is a campaign launched by the charity earlier this winter. At its core is the goal of remembering the approximately one million horses from the United States who served the war effort of Great Britain, France, and other countries, as well at the United States. The charity will launch a fundraising request that would earmark one dollar for each of the one million horses — and put it to good use helping the horses of today.
Through the Horse Heroes campaign, the charity seeks to raise a million dollars — one dollar for every American war horse in World War I — to benefit horses in need in the developing world today.
Horses and mules carried men to battle and wounded men to safety. They transported food, water, medical supplies, guns, ammunition, and artillery to the front lines through appalling weather, over unforgiving terrain, in horrifying situations, and surrounded by dead and dying men and animals. Yet they continued to do their part, in spite of being terrified and often while sick and wounded themselves, and they worked until they were annihilated by guns or poison gas, or simply died in their harnesses from exposure and sheer exhaustion.
Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, Chairman of Brooke International offered some insight into what horses meant to the war, where fully two-thirds of the horses were sourced from North America. “Their contributions were enormous, but so were their mortality rates and their suffering. Of the one million American equines who went to Europe, only 200 returned. In total, eight million horses and mules died in WW1,” he revealed.
“Neither the men nor the horses wanted to be there, but nevertheless these forgotten equine heroes devoted themselves wholeheartedly, day and night, as true partners to the men who needed them. The American horses and mules provided immense support to the British, French, and American armies, and without their sacrifices, the war’s outcome — and now the world — would be very different.”
The charity has its roots in WWI, as its founder, Dorothy Brooke, rescued 5,000 former war horses and mules who had been abandoned by their armies after the war. Today, the charity that still operates in her name, has become the world’s largest international equine welfare charity.
The charity compares the hardships faced by many horses, mules, and donkeys in the developing world today to the hardships faced by the horses working on the front and behind the scenes in World War I.
Last year alone, the charity reached two million horses, donkeys, and mules in the developing world with programs to improve their welfare. By providing scientifically-proven, practical and sustainable programs, the charity teaches owners how to improve the welfare of their animals. They also provide free veterinary care for many of them.
Brooke USA, headquartered at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, supports sustainable equine welfare programs across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Central America through fundraising and stewarding donations to the areas of greatest need.
How can you donate or learn more?
Who is Fran Jurga?
Fran Jurga is a freelance writer and researcher in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She is the author of several popular and award-winning blogs about horses, including her “Hoof Blog”, The Jurga Report for Equus Magazine, and the fan blog for the Spielberg film War Horse in 2011, a connection revived by this story. In 2017, she has been awarded a fellowship to research horse and hoof history at the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, Virginia. Email Fran to find out how you can hire her as the writer on your next project!