Men and women weren’t the only ones going overseas during the First World War; horses also made the journey to serve in the military. Prior to American involvement in the conflict, British and French armies purchased horses from the United States and Canada. More than 600,000 horses and mules were shipped from North America during the course of the war according to the National Army Museum located in London, England. Horses filled a variety of roles within the army: riding horses were used in the cavalry as officer’s mounts, draught horses pulled heavy artillery guns or supply wagons, and smaller horses and ponies carried shells and ammunition. Horses were able to go into areas that carts and motor vehicles could not, especially on roads destroyed by shelling or covered with thick mud. Horses were also used to pull ambulances and transport wounded soldiers to field hospitals.
Army veterinary corps cared for the horses – who were often treated for bullet wounds, gas, and even shell shock. The horses suffered from cold temperatures, long marches, and poor food throughout the course of the war. Mud-borne infections and equine diseases were also common along with fatigue and lameness. Despite this, animals still received better care than in previous wars.
Fremont County supplied horses to the British and French armies as early as 1914 for the war. There was department within the British government whose main objective was to supply horses for the army. William Bleasley was a representative for the English government according to an article in the Cañon City Record on April 26, 1917. Since 1914, the article mentioned that more than three hundred horses came from Fremont County for use by the British and French. The article also noted that twenty more horses had been purchased at the time and would be sent to Canada to be trained for service before going overseas. The armies paid between forty and fifty thousand dollars for the horses. All were between the ages of five to nine years and measured fifteen hands and one inch (or sixty-one inches). Other qualities such as eyesight, knee-action, and wind were all accounted for as well. The horses chosen by Bleasley were to be split evenly between the artillery and cavalry branches. The horses varied between a thousand to sixteen hundred pounds. Their weight determined which army branch the horse was sent to.
If you’re interested in learning more about Fremont County and World War I, come see our exhibit here at the museum, “From Here to Over There: Fremont County in the Great War”. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 AM – 4 PM.
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.