Yesterday I told you about one horse who escaped the WWI draft in Britain due to the love of her owner and the compassion of a General. Some people did ask me, "What would a pony have done in the war anyway?" As I stated in that post, most horses conscripted to service were not war horses. Britain's cavalry force at the start of WWI numbered only about 100,000 men. Even with 2 horses apiece and mounts for senior officers in other branches, the number of horses required for combat service would in no reach the numbers actually used during the war.
Although the use of cavalry was considered a premiere battle tactic at the start of WWI, the advent of trench warfare soon changed that opinion. The majority of horses, as well as mules and donkeys were used to transport supplies, weapons and troops to all points where they were needed. Donkeys and mules received the more difficult duties, most involving rough terrain, narrow precipitous passageways, or harsh weather conditions. Donkeys need little forage, are naturally agile and can withstand heavy loads. Mules, crosses between horses and donkeys, seem to have genetically received the best of both parents being patient, and sure-footed like the donkey, but with the size, strength and vigor of the horse. Any wonder the United States Army chose the Mule as its mascot?
These loyal beasts of burden did receive care from their troops, but they were also considered an expendable and renewable resource – easier to come by than a soldier or truck. They were caught up in war and many died of disease, starvation and the cold. Many others were simply euthanized due to injury or wounds suffered in battle. Still, of the over 2.5 million horses treated in veterinary hospitals during the war, a surprising 2 million recovered and were able to return to duty – better odds than for soldiers.