#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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#ShelfieSunday: Le cheval et la guerre du XVe au XXe siècle

By Kathryn Renton

Daniel Roche and Daniel Reytier, Le cheval et la guerre du XVe au XXe siècle (Paris: Association pour l’académie d’art équestre de Versailles, 2002).

     The application of new, industrialized technology in World War I changed warfarecheval dramatically, instrumentalized by tanks, and later helicopters, that replaced horse cavalry. Yet, despite the use of new technologies for weapons and transportation, powered by steam, gas, or electricity, and telecommunications that moved information faster than by horseback, horses continued to influence modern warfare — for example, used in large numbers as dependable “all-terrain” logistical units for supplies and reinforcements in World War II — and left an enormous imprint on the terms and forms used to structure battle tactics and military hierarchies. 

     This cultural memory of the horse that features in the work of social historian Daniel Roche, who dedicated three volumes (La culture équestre occidentale, XVIe-XIXe siècle : l’ombre du cheval) to the topic of—as his phrased it in a summative essay for Past and Present—“the culture of the horse.” Following a career illuminating the history of everyday things, Roche has argued that the horse was not just one facet of life that could be interchanged for any other as a simple tool; rather, the horse created a culture around it as a form of social interaction, cultural expression, economic value and political force. The outlines of that culture changed over time, but persist in many pockets—even those as subtle as equine metaphors and aphorisms used without second thought in conversation. 

   War and military associations represent a fundamental facet of the culture of the horse, and Daniel Roche and Daniel Reytier produced an edited collection called “The Horse and War from the fifteenth to twentieth century” (Le cheval et la guerre du XVe au XXe siècle) in 2002. The volume explores the value attributed to the horse, as a military technology, as well as the cultural structures that emerged in concert with this perceived function of the horse. Many forms of equestrian exercises could be attributed to military training, but acquired a cultural life all their own in court performance, equine or veterinary science, and diplomacy or public affairs. Fittingly, the volume was sponsored by the Equestrian Academy of Versailles, dedicated to preserving and performing historical forms of horsemanship. Each individual essay, situated chronologically, pursues a different angle of horse training, equipment, stable management, and tactical engagements ranging over continental Europe. As a whole, the volume demonstrates the flexibility and adaptation possible in equestrian techniques and technologies as they evolved alongside the demands of military realities. 

     This volume, while only available in French, speaks to the general revision of histories of the so-called Military Revolution that privilege the use of infantry formations and firearms in shaping the direction of modern warfare. Rather than a story of the declining relevance of the horse and its medieval accoutrements of knights and armor, Roche’s approach to the culture of the horse demonstrates its evolution as a vibrant and active element of military (but also political and social) engagements into the twentieth century. Modernization and industrialization did not self-evidently render the horse obsolete (an argument shared by Anne Greene in Horses at Work), at the same time that other scholars of military history question the characteristics and requirements of the fiscal-military state model (see Rogers, Duffy, and Storrs). 

     If the in-depth discussion of techniques for training and deploying horses are perhaps of more interest to a specialist, the volume itself is meant to be accessible to a general audience. The luxurious format of the book, including full-page color photos, illustrates the vivid impact of mastering these cultural and logistical demands to conduct war as “politics by another means.” 

Bibliography: 

Daniel Roche, “Equestrian Culture in France from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century,” Past and Present 199, no. 1 (2008): 113–45.

Daniel Roche, La culture équestre occidentale, XVIe-XIXe siècle: l’ombre du cheval (Paris: Fayard, 2008).

Daniel Roche and Daniel Reytier, Le cheval et la guerre du XVe au XXe siècle (Paris: Association pour l’académie d’art équestre de Versailles, 2002).

Daniel Roche and Daniel Reytier, Les Écuries royales: du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle (Paris; Versailles: Association pour l’académie d’art équestre de Versailles ; Château de Versailles, 1998).

Ann Norton Greene, Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America, 1 edition (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2008).

Michael Duffy, The Military Revolution and the State: 1500-1800 (Exeter: Exeter Univ. Publ., 1986).

Clifford J Rogers, The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995).

Christopher Storrs, The Fiscal Military State in Eighteenth-Century Europe: Essays in Honour of P. G. M. Dickson (Aldershot, Hants, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008).

#ShelfieSunday: Crowdsourcing

     We put out a call for a crowdsource bibliography on twitter, and the crowd went wild! We’ll be adding these suggestions to our bibliography, and look forward to more. For this one, we talked about equines in war, 1800 to the present, which will be our theme for November, and flatracing which we will talk about in December. We still have space for a couple of reviews, so take a look through the recommended reading list! If you’re looking ahead, January is ancient equids and still wide open.

 As a reminder, our full bibliography is available as a zotero file. Contact us for a copy!