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Horses in the Military

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  • Horses in the Military

    After Outfoxed's thread, with my own references to horse themes in the military...

    Plus, what appears to be an ample number of military personnel and family members or friends on CoTH, I am curious. Is there a role for horses in the modern military? Warhorses were pretty much put to pasture after WWI. Was that right, or shortsighted?

    The modern examples I cited on OUtfoxed's thread are the only ones I know. But my knowledge is limited to popular culture and my own reading proclivities.

    Outfoxed called it a Pegasus Brigade, which was brilliant. But is it something that would be useful for the military, or not?

  • #2
    Caison's roll out on a daily basis.
    I believe the rmy and the Marines stil keep ceremonial squads.
    aside from that, my observation on the use of horses and the military is most frequently as therapy. The are many thereputic programs involving horses and the military both for emotional and physical purposes. Atleast they recognize how useful horses can be and I have seen good thing happen in the programs I have witnessed.
    Not really the classic idea of military horses but certainly very realistic.
    "The Desire to Win is worthless without the Desire to Prepare"

    It's a "KILT". If I wore something underneath, it would be a "SKIRT".

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    • #3
      I think their role is extremely limited. As of now, it is mostly ceremonial. The Old Guard in Arlington has its Caisson Platoon, which of course is used mostly for funeral processions, parades, etc. I think the examples you provided from the Horse Soldiers book, of Special Operations forces riding horses in the tough Afghan country, are probably the best modern example of equines used in/around combat. That is a very specialized example though, especially considering those were native horses and well adapted to that terrain. Especially with Special Ops, where blending in is a very important factor of their mission.

      Having standing units of (equine) mounted cavalry is unnecessary in this day in age. Combat is becoming increasingly dependent on new technology, with the idea of further removing the guy on the ground from direct fire. Drone aircraft, "fire and forget" technologies for Javelin missiles, etc, are some examples, and it's only going to get more sophisticated. No need for the bombers or fighter/bombers to get low to the target anymore, thanks to GPS guided ordinance. True, there will always be boots on the ground, and close air support will always require an aircraft to put itself in harm's way, but the ultimate goal is reducing the amount of exposure to the fighting forces.

      Was it short sighted in the 1930's to begin eliminating mounted cavalry? I don't think so. The US did not have the large standing armed forces it has today. Its core of professional military personnel were looking forward when they made that call to move to mechanized vehicles. Look at Poland in 1939 - they had horses in their cavalry units, and literally got mowed over by the German tank divisions. They were just obsolete in that capacity.

      Though a squadron of Pegasus (Pegases? Plural?) is just hilarious to think about. Great thread!

      Comment

      • Original Poster

        #4
        Good point regarding therapy. I've read wonderful things about horses in that role.

        But how about using horses in actual war situations?

        Comment

        • Original Poster

          #5
          Originally posted by Outfoxed View Post
          I think their role is extremely limited. As of now, it is mostly ceremonial. The Old Guard in Arlington has its Caisson Platoon, which of course is used mostly for funeral processions, parades, etc. I think the examples you provided from the Horse Soldiers book, of Special Operations forces riding horses in the tough Afghan country, are probably the best modern example of equines used in/around combat. That is a very specialized example though, especially considering those were native horses and well adapted to that terrain. Especially with Special Ops, where blending in is a very important factor of their mission.

          Having standing units of (equine) mounted cavalry is unnecessary in this day in age. Combat is becoming increasingly dependent on new technology, with the idea of further removing the guy on the ground from direct fire. Drone aircraft, "fire and forget" technologies for Javelin missiles, etc, are some examples, and it's only going to get more sophisticated. No need for the bombers or fighter/bombers to get low to the target anymore, thanks to GPS guided ordinance. True, there will always be boots on the ground, and close air support will always require an aircraft to put itself in harm's way, but the ultimate goals is reducing the amount of exposure to the fighting forces.

          Was it short sighted in the 1930's to begin eliminating mounted cavalry? I don't think so. The US did not have the large standing armed forces it has today. Its core of professional military personnel were looking forward when they made that call to move to mechanized vehicles. Look at Poland in 1939 - they had horses in their cavalry units, and literally got mowed over by the German tank divisions. They were just obsolete in that capacity.

          Though a squadron of Pegasus (Pegases? Plural?) is just hilarious to think about. Great thread!
          Outfoxed, I understand modern warfare enough to understand that we're not talking about a huge force. I'm thinking more along the lines of not more than 20, 200, 2000 (I have no idea) trained horse folks and double or triple that number of trained horses (mules/donkeys) that can do what may need to be done in future, unexpected conflicts.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by dizzywriter View Post
            But how about using horses in actual war situations?

            Like I hinted at above, I think the era of using horses in "battle" itself is long dead. Now, I can see them being used by Special Ops groups in the same type of capacity as they were in Afghanistan, where moving stealthily and minimizing the energy expense on behalf of the operators themselves is important. I'm sure they will continue to be utilized in such instances, but when it comes to moving large amounts of troops into a hostile environment, I think the horse's day was done when Germany rolled through Poland.

            Right now the emphasis is moving troops in quickly, with the most protection possible. Modern cavalry is the tank, and moving troops is the job of armored personnel carriers such as the Bradley fighting vehicle and the new Stryker ICV (Infantry Carrier Vehicle). These are the modern "horses."



            Edited to add:
            Interesting point. It's hard to say. My personal opinion is that it'd probably be more economical to give operators a riding course prior to deploying, or as general readiness training, rather than having a separate or specialized unit. I don't think it'd have to be very sophisticated training either, seeing that you could never depend on the native horses to be that broke (I'm thinking back in the day where military mounts were impeccably trained, ie. Spanish Riding School and Cadre Noire).

            As for having equines that would actually deploy to theatre...I don't think it'd be necessary. One has to think about the travel and stress on the horses (or mules/donkeys), the logistics of not only getting them over there, but also the supply chain to keep them properly fed and whatnot. The example of military working dogs come to mind. They deploy with their handlers, and it can sometimes take the logistics time to catch up with them. But dogs are smaller and infinitely less expensive than equines. I'd imagine that the model of using native horses just to get around is probably easier and cheaper than having our own, especially if highly trained mounts is not a factor.

            Interesting discussion.

            Comment

            • Original Poster

              #7
              Originally posted by Outfoxed View Post
              Cavalry units, and literally got mowed over by the German tank divisions. They were just obsolete in that capacity.

              I don't have in mind going against armored units, but more of scouting, recon, and other efforts to get behind the lines or get into difficult areas. If the main war aim is no longer opposing another superpower but irregulars and terrorists in remote areas, could horses offer an advantage?

              I have no idea. I just think it's an interesting question.

              Comment


              • #8
                I am not in the military myself so....take my opinions with a grain of salt. My DH is in the reserves and my brother and 4 step brothers are all military though....

                From what I have heard training in riding for special ops or even ground forces might be a good idea. As Outfoxed said having people able to use horses already available near a conflict is probably far more practical than transporting horses to the conflict for starters not to mention...why would a military already running short on funds pay to keep horses?

                So could horses be useful for the military for scouting, recon, or similar activities in certain areas? Probably.

                Could local horses be used and more cheaply than keeping "military horses?" I would think so.

                Just my thoughts...fwiw
                My blog:

                RAWR

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                • #9
                  LOL....DH and I have this conversation regularly. DH is SF in a recon-oriented job.

                  There is a school in the army that teaches basic horse care, skills and how to "pack" and use a pack animal. It is a vital skill for small manueverable forces in areas like Afghanistan. SF units all have a vet and farrier. While it isn't a program that has been given the utmost importance, soldiers who have those skills are considered to have an advantage in those types of units. In the regular army? It's just not applicable. Too large.

                  THe horses the army has stateside are not appropriate to use in that capacity and it wouldn't be smart to transport horses when they go in to that type of situation. It's much easier to acquire local horses and move the soldiers to the horses.
                  Equestrian Photography

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                  • #10
                    While using horses in select recon missions is a good idea, transporting horses from the US to the desert environments is not practical, as stated before.

                    The other problem is stealth. In the desert there is not a lot of cover, so being high on a horse is not as practical as being on foot, lower to the ground. A comparatively larger horse will also have more difficulty with quick maneuvering than a smaller human-keep in mind, you are using native horses with questionable training. In Afghanistan, horses were used in the more mountainous regions and would still be useful there.

                    You also need to feed and rest horses. A convoy can switch drivers and keep going for a long time - most convoys come with a tanker truck for refueling, and certain vehicles can carry more gas.

                    You also have the safety factor. A man on a horse is easier to pick off than a man in an armored vehicle. Several men on horses are easier to separate and pick off than a group 'safely' tucked away in an armored vehicle. Armored vehicles also do not have the 'spook factor'. At least none that I have seen. The only advantage a horse *may* have is that it may avoid trash on the road and hence IUDs, but the many disadvantages outweigh that one advantage, especially with new technology making IUDs less 'dangerous' (to put it another way - armored vehicles are offering more protection).

                    Also, when soldiers are going through towns, horses will make them stand out more - no one really rides the horse through town. They also are, again, easier to pick off.

                    So, basically, other than special ops, horses are not practical in the military.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Not military, but support them.

                      Its probably far better for military to use indigenous horses rather than bringing in a force of "US horses".

                      Unfortunately, the armed forces don't always have the best record in making sure that animals in the service get back home. There are times when the folks in charge make sure the working animals make it home and other times when they are left behind, much to the dismay of those working with them.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I'm a Navy vet, but have been participating in the National Cavalry Competitions since 2006, studied the history of cavalry for many years, and am a Life Member of the U.S. Cavalry Assn.

                        Prior to the invention of automatic weapons and long ranged artillery aircraft and electronic communications the cavalry had serveral important roles: scouting, raiding, excort, messager duties, and shock in battle. After the development of modern weapons, communications, and surveylance most of these roles were lost to the horse soldier. He was largely dismounted and put in an Abrams, Bradley, Striker, Hummvee, Kiowa, Apache, etc.

                        Still, sometimes a mouted soldier was a valid solution to an opertional problem. The Portuguese used dragoons (a form of mounted infantry) in Angola. The former Rhodesian Army did likewise (the unit was so successful it was continued in diminished form by the Zimbabweian government). The Chilleans maintain as many as four regiments of dragoons for border security. I understand that there are some mounted units in the PLA and Russian Army that have operational roles.

                        In the U.S. Army there are ceremonial mounted units at Ft. Hood, Ft. Irwin, Ft. Huachuca, Ft. Riley, and Ft. Carson. The Old Guard maintains the Caisson Platoon at Arlington. There's one Marine Corps mounted color guard in CA. The Marines also teach a mule packing course a few time a year in CA. I've heard of some mounted secrurity patrols as some very large Air Force Bases, but don't know any specifics.

                        Insurgent forces also use mounted troops. The Northern Alliance in Afghanistan was one (if you've not read The Horse Soldiers which details U.S. assistance to them in the overthrow of the Taliban you're missing a good story). The Janjaweed (sp) in the Sudan used them. The Taliban might use them.

                        Horses are romanic as all get out, but "romance" in military thinking can get a lot of people very dead. History shows us that that there still can be a very limited role for the mounted soldier, but it's a highly specialized, not a general, role. That means it will be expensive and stick out in budget requests. At a time of massive deficit you can guess where that will go.

                        So to answer the question, yes there is a role but it's minute and highly specialized. The maintenance of a large formation of mounted soldiers would be impractical. In the Army we've got people we could draw upon for these specialized needs and can train others in rather short order if requried.

                        Perhaps an argument could be made to keep some small mounted formations in the National Guard system where they could also be used for crowd control, search and rescue, etc.

                        G.

                        P.S. Sorry for the poor typing and spelling but I'm using a friend's computer and his is not set up like mine.
                        Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I had a group of Navy pilots at my barn they arrived knowing nothing and took to riding like ducks and water. They were great at taking instruction and easily could have done any recon job. We did some trips into the mountains,they would hop off to kill a snake here and there (and YES ate it for lunch) they could ride any horse handed to them even the straight off the track ones. They totally understood SAR strategy and certainly would have left work to go search anytime.
                          Any of these guys would have jumped at the chance to do horsey recon in Afghanistan or Iraq, as it was they only got to see the countrys thru the cockpit.


                          Oh and they also looked pretty darn spiffy in show breeches and boots cuz heck, it's only 8 or 10 jumps and there are usually lots of ladies at a show,lol
                          I can explain it TO you,but I can't understand it FOR you

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            From a US military analyst's perspective:

                            I think training to ride and care for equids is valuable in the context it's already been discussed. Equids are one extra and sometimes preferred mode of transportation which are poorly suited in most circumstances but invaluable in certain very specific cases. Due to the specialized nature of missions in regions when equid transportation is useful, the use of US property equids would be impractical at best dangerous at worst. By using indigenous equids warfighters can utilize the mode of transportation without risking tranposrt of equids to the region, acclimatization (think about the acclimatization for our athletes at Beijing), specialized diets, etc.

                            That being said, many MWRs do sponsor a stable facility on bases that allow military members to board their horses. Different MWRs run their facilities differently, some with better management than others. I do know that Oceana Stables at NAS Oceana runs their facility like any other professional boarding barn and the military does in fact own horses at the facility. Just down the road from NAS Oceana is a therapy organization that works very closely with the military to assist vets with rehabilitation through interaction with and riding horses.

                            A friend of mine is active duty Army (helo mechanic) and wears his uniform to compete in the Adult Eq... pretty cool
                            "Beware the hobby that eats."
                            Benjamin Franklin

                            Comment

                            • Original Poster

                              #15
                              Thanks for all the great responses! This is fascinating and I'm learning a good deal.


                              When I first posed the OP, I had in mind discrete, highly specific tasks more suited for horses and other equids rather than anything mechanized. One reason the question occurred to me is that I once had a trainer that had been a mounted officer with Soviet border patrol. Plus, the book "Horse Soldiers" which I liked. So, I figured there must be something horses might be good for in the military, I just didn't know what.

                              I agree that using indigenous equids makes more sense than shipping US horses. But in Charlie Wilson's War, they had to ship US donkeys (or mules, I forget which) to Afghanistan. If I recall, there simply weren't enough donkeys in Afghanistan to carry all the weapons.

                              Comment

                              • Original Poster

                                #16
                                Originally posted by IBWmassage View Post
                                LOL....DH and I have this conversation regularly. DH is SF in a recon-oriented job.

                                There is a school in the army that teaches basic horse care, skills and how to "pack" and use a pack animal. It is a vital skill for small manueverable forces in areas like Afghanistan. SF units all have a vet and farrier. While it isn't a program that has been given the utmost importance, soldiers who have those skills are considered to have an advantage in those types of units. In the regular army? It's just not applicable. Too large.

                                THe horses the army has stateside are not appropriate to use in that capacity and it wouldn't be smart to transport horses when they go in to that type of situation. It's much easier to acquire local horses and move the soldiers to the horses.
                                My nephew just got transferred to Fort Campbell before deploying to Helmand province. He's a great guy but I won't even ask if you know him because I just looked on the map and the base looks huge.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Down here in AZ, the Border Patrol uses horses alot, but as far as the military goes, we get better intelligence from the current inventory of UAVs rather than old type of recon/scouting and they (UAVs) do not put any military personnel at risk.

                                  (retired Army and still working for the Army as a civilian)
                                  We do not have an overpopulation of dogs, we have an under population of responsible dog owners!!!

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                                  • #18
                                    dizzywriter- it is a huge base. Do you know what unit he's with?

                                    Ft Campbell is one of those bases with a govt owned facility (JumpWithPanache mentioned MWR- it's Morale Welfare Recreation- they handle all the non-training activities available to soldiers and their families) and govt owned horses. They run a trail ride program and horse camps in the summer. We're currently building a small cross country course. It's a great program and many units use it to expose soldiers to horses so that if they have to, they have basic skills for in theater.
                                    Equestrian Photography

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      I can tell you that, in Switzerland, riding schools were required to provide the army with so many specific horses for a few weeks every year, for their practice of military maneuvers.
                                      In the Alps, horses still have a valid function to move troops and supplies where nothing else can go, other than mountain goats or people, that can't carry that much.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        For those interested, this is a great website with some neat pictures of slightly more modern cavalry usages:

                                        http://www.olive-drab.com/od_army-horses-mules.php

                                        Though, like many have said, I can't see much operational application for them today.
                                        life + horses
                                        beljoeor.blogspot.com

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