#ShelfieSunday: The Warhorse in the Modern Era: The Boer War to the Beginning of the Second Millennium

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Review by Jane Flynn

Read her blog here.

Hyland A., The Warhorse in the Modern Era: The Boer War to the Beginning of the Second Millennium, Black Tent Publications, Stockton on Tees, 2010.

     Ann Hyland’s book The WarHorse in the Modern Era: The Boer War to the Second Millennium is the third and last in a series that together cover the role of horses in military history from the Medieval period to the present century. Hyland is a prolific author and has published on the horse in the Ancient World, on Quarter Horses and on, in Foal to Five Years, the development and training of young horses. Strangely, however, her work on war horses seems to have gone largely unnoticed, despite growing public and scholarly interest in human-animal interactions.

     In The WarHorse in the Modern Era Hyland examines the tumultuous final instalment in the horse’s long association with war. The War Horse in the Modern Era begins with the The Boer War campaign of 1899-1902. She illustrates why the South African campaign proved a turning point in how military horses were supplied and managed. The book follows a logical progression, continuing by covering the use of horses (and mules) in The First World War and into and beyond the Second World War; again comprehensively covering everything from purchase and supply, to veterinary care, transportation, equipment and feeding. Each chapter is divided into manageable and easily-navigated sub-sections.

     A great strength of Hyland’s book is that it has been written by a horse person for horse people. It would also be of interest to military historians and animal-studies scholars. In this sense it is a very refreshing read; successfully avoiding the sentimentality that has so often undermined serious consideration of the horse in history. The War Horse in the Modern Era is a book packed with useful information about every aspect of the war horse’s utilisation and has clearly been very thoroughly researched. It is, however, a book that rarely ventures into analysis. It is informative, but it does not enter into discussion and primary sources can at times feel as though much more could have been made of them. This is a shame, as on the rare occasions Hyland does enter into debate her writing is perhaps at its best. For example, on the subject of how historians have sorely neglected the important part played by horses during The Great War:

     Many historians seem to have written the cavalry off without giving credence to the effectiveness it often showed, and the sacrifices the horses made. How many writers give accolades to the artillery, but failure to mention that … it was the horse that enabled it to be positioned effectively. (p.109.)

     Similarly, and although a glossary of terms is given, this is a book that often assumes its readers have a comprehensive equestrian vocabulary upon which to draw. That being said, it is rare that writing on horses in war has gone into this sort of depth and for that reason The War Horse in the Modern Era is an admirable, and welcome, addition to the genre.

Editors’ Note: This review was originally going to run in November, when we featured other books on horses in warfare. However, unlike Hyland’s Medieval works, this book proved remarkably difficult to find! We suspect The War Horse in the Modern Era: Breeder to Battlefield, 1600 to 1865 will be likewise difficult. If you have a copy and you’d like to review it, or lend it to a reviewer, let us know!



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