Horses at the front and the legend of Warrior

Every fall Canada remembers and honours the sacrifice of those who have served, and continue to serve, our country. This article is a quick look at the silent heroes of the First World War – the millions of horses that served bravely alongside British and Commonwealth Forces.

It is estimated that eight million horses gave their lives in service during the First World War (1914-1918). These horses laboured alongside soldiers performing a variety of duties, from hauling ammunition and supplies to leading the charge as cavalry mounts. Horses were shipped from across the Commonwealth to the front lines, arriving on European shores after incredibly lengthy and arduous journeys.

The conditions on the Western Front were extremely beleaguering for both man and animal. The horses faced exposure, starvation, exhaustion, and the relentless onslaught of artillery alongside the troops. The relationships that developed between the horses and the soldiers were profound – there are many stories of men risking or giving their own life in order to protect their cherished mounts.

One of these friendships proved so powerful it became a legend. This is the story of "Warrior" and General Jack Seely. Seely arrived in France in 1914 at the age of 51 and served as British Commander to the three regiments of the Canadian Cavalry from 1915 to 1918. He hailed from the Isle of Wight, where he had served as MP. Seely was accompanied by his favourite horse, Warrior, a bay thoroughbred gelding he had bred from his beloved mare, Cinderella. When Warrior arrived on the Western Front, he was six years old.

Warrior became an instant favourite of the troops and served as an important symbol of indomitability. Warrior was brave, fast, and tough.

He was also incredibly lucky.

Warrior experienced too many near-misses to count, surviving against incredible odds. Warrior carried Seely across all major battlefields of the Western Front and was one of the very few horses to return home from the Great War. Warrior’s fame as the "horse that Germans can’t kill" was cemented when he and Seely led the cavalry charge at Moreuil Wood on March 30, 1918. This was a monumental achievement that halted the German advance despite overwhelming numbers and a terrible loss of life (both human and equine). As history would have it, this was one of the last great cavalry charges.

Warrior was injured in 1918 shortly before the end of the war but recovered in time to take his well-deserved place in the victory parade at Hyde Park. Three years later Warrior won the Lightweight point-to-point horse race in his hometown of the Isle of Wight. The date of this victory was March 30 – four years to the day he led the charge at Moreuil Wood.

Warrior lived out his life alongside his dear friend and fellow veteran Jack Seely. He passed away at the ripe old age of 33. His incredible life has inspired books, paintings, plays, and most recently Steven Spielberg’s 2011 film War Horse.

The story of the special relationship between Warrior and General Seely is a powerful narrative about the special bond that forms between human and horse.

These powerful connections can accomplish the impossible – something that is proven every day at the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association. The relationship between horse and human underlies therapeutic riding – an activity that became a common practice for rehabilitating injured soldiers following the Great War. Currently, equinebased therapies are a wellrespected treatment for military members overcoming PTSD.

This Remembrance Day, CTRA would like to recognize the service and sacrifice of the members of our forces – both past and present, both human and horse.

Jennifer Barnes van Elk is the communications officer for the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association

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