Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Jonathan F. Vance


This thesis explores the use of equines by the British Expeditionary Forces throughout the First World War, particularly examining various aspects of war equine care and management. It addresses the significance behind the use of these animals in the war before delving into the reality of how equines were cared for in terms of farrier work, skin care and management, feeding and watering, as well as psychological understandings of horses, donkeys, and mules. Through the implementation of various primary and secondary source materials, this thesis considers care mistakes that were made and the corrections that were enforced to alleviate injury and illness resulting from these errors in judgement. It further analyzes the reality behind emphasis placed on such shifts, arguing that changes were primarily prioritized not because equines were living beings that deserved as much but because they were so vital to the war effort.

Summary for Lay Audience

Much research has been conducted on medicine and health as it was seen throughout the duration of the First World War. However, most of the work done in this area of war history has centralized on human medicine and how this conflict shaped how men and women were treated for various injuries and illnesses. Comparatively little has been said of veterinary medicine and the use of horses, donkeys, and mules throughout the same period. Equines were of immense importance to the Allied nations involved in this war and were heavily relied upon for transportation purposes, taking on the brunt of the work associated with moving men and supplies to and from the frontlines. With their significance in mind, attention had to be turned towards the care and management of these animals in order to limit the loss of such vital creatures.

This research project aims to consider the use of equines in the First World War to better examine the state of their care at the beginning of the war, the shifts that were made to correct early ignorances which resulted in a spike in equine mortality cases, as well as the true reality behind why such shifts in care were emphasized and prioritized. Through the use of primary and secondary source materials including veterinary diaries and records from the war, this thesis argues that changes made in equine care and management throughout this period were emphasized due to the fact that horses, donkeys, and mules were so important to the BEF war effort and therefore needed to be preserved and protected not because they were living beings that deserved as much but rather because they were so vital in the movement of troops and supplies at the Western Front. In doing so, this project aims to create awareness of the use of horses in warfare and fill vital gaps in war history surrounding this subject.