A Long Overdue Update…

As ever, there’s a lot been happening at SoldiersandtheirHorses.com.

Earlier in the year, I gave a talk at The Peak Mining Museum, in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire. In April I was guest speaker at The Western Front Association’s Chesterfield branch. Ongoing projects include a chapter for Life With and Without Animals to be published in Humanimalia later next year. In it, I focus on the wartime illustration that ‘started it all’ – as they (who?) say!

Goodbye Old Man: An Incident on the Road to a Battery Position in Southern Flanders, has also been brought to the fore by my tutoring on The Brilliant Club’s Scholars Programme. I have been thoroughly enjoying introducing my students to the myth and reality of the soldier-horse relationship – and the assignments they write are truly inspiring.

There’s been a spot of reviewing of papers (for Society and Animals among others) and I’m now also a reviewer of student assignment nominations for The Scholar – The Brilliant Club’s student magazine.

More recently, I have had a chapter proposal accepted for another edited volume on War and Animals. I’m starting work on this as we speak – because I can’t bear ‘lastminute.com’ panics. Here is a taster of what it will be about:

“Poor Dolly … she also was suffering from shell-shock. …  The fact of the matter is she evidently remembers it as keenly as I do.”

In 1918, an article in The New York Times reported on the shared war experiences of horse and man. It described how horses, like soldiers, felt an understandable reluctance to return to a place where they had been ‘frightened or injured’. It argued that horses, like men, were also subject to ‘shell-shock’. Many soldiers not only recognised this shared suffering, but found they were better able to express their own physical and mental strain through the relationships formed with their horses. Conversely, their first-hand accounts also provide us with an opportunity to better understand how their horses responded to the difficult and dangerous conditions of war.

Soldiers and their horses daily encountered dangerous and stressful situations, and likewise a gradual ‘wearing down’ of their physical and mental resilience. During The Great War, it is notable that ‘debility’ was cited as having been a greater cause of ‘horse wastage’ than enemy action. The sympathetic consideration, or empathy, engendered by the soldier-horse relationship significantly slowed, but could not halt entirely, this deterioration of the horse’s well-being. The tragedy was of course that those (human and equine) who proved the most resilient were undoubtedly also those who suffered the hardest and the longest. As General Sir Jack Seely wrote, ‘Truly the horse might cry out more loudly than any other creature, “Give peace in our time O Lord”.’

Conferences Galore!

It is only now that I realise quite how many conferences I’ve been busy with over the last couple of years. The difficulties created by the ‘ongoing situation’ has meant that most of these have been online, and so travel has not been a barrier to attendance. Realising that academia.edu now offer the ability to upload recordings and videos, I have been busy adding several of these papers to my site. All of these can be found by visiting my academia.edu page at:


Papers include: “Songster’s Tale” – about a horse called Songster and the Loughborough Yeomanry; “So Much Meat in Various Shapes” – a cheerful little paper about the industrialization of horse disposal in The Great War; and “Poor Dolly” – about the shared impact of warfare on soldiers and their horses.

I hope you enjoy the new papers – please let me know how you get on. Either on here (in the comments) or on academia.edu!

“So Much Meat in Various Shapes”

On 2nd – 3rd June I will be presenting at the ‘Multispecies Knowledges and the Industrialization of Animal Exploitation’ conference. The conference comes out of the ‘Culture of Unsustainability’ research project based at the University of Turku, Finland. It promises to be a really interesting couple of days – with many countries, cultures, species, historical periods, animal-human relationships, and ethical considerations represented!

More information about the conference can be found at : https://sites.utu.fi/unsus/en/

At the conference, I will be talking about the industrialization of horse disposal during The Great War under the title, So Much Meat in Various Shapes.

Songster’s Tale

I am delighted to announce that I will be presenting on Saturday 10th April (tomorrow!) at the New England Historical Society’s annual conference. This is the first time I will be presenting as part of a group who put forward a panel proposal, so it will be great to meet up with my fellow ‘Animal Historians’ and hear about their current work. Charlotte Carrington-Farmer (Roger Williams University) will be talking about Mule breeding for export in C18th New England, while Allen Horn (Eastern Connecticut State University) will be speaking about a horse called Little Sorrel in the American Civil War.

This time, I’ve also moved a little away from my usual presentation style; going for a more story-like approach. My aim is to talk about the soldier-horse relationship by following the exploits of Songster – The Leicestershire Yeomanry’s much-loved veteran of The Great War. To say that he was a ‘character’ is certainly an understatement – He was described as having been ‘as artful as a barrowload of monkeys’! Today, he is remembered as ‘Loughborough’s very own War Horse’. I am really looking forward to sharing Songster with a new audience in New England!

Here is a link to the conference:


And, here’s my abstract for the conference:

When peace was declared on 11th November 1918, the painful process of mourning and reconciliation began. In the United Kingdom, and although horses rarely featured in official memorials to the War’s dead, the British people nevertheless found ways to remember its war horses. As a relatively ‘safe’ topic, veterans talked about their horses, and told stories of their shared adventures and exploits. Veterans wrote about their horses in their memoirs, and shared these memories with their families. Local communities celebrated their veteran war horses, and took great pride in each individual’s exploits and longevity well into the 1930s. This paper explores the soldier-horse relationship ‘in life and memory’ by following the wartime exploits and subsequent memorialisation of Songster – a notable equine veteran of The Great War whose memory is still cherished by the people of Loughborough today.

A Positive Review!

(a.k.a. ‘Thank goodness people are reading Soldiers and their Horses because I thought it might have been another Covid casualty.’)

What strange times we are living in. And yet, and thank goodness, it seems Soldiers and their Horses is making its way out there in the big, locked-down craziness. I was delighted to find this (very positive) review by A.A. Nofi on the Strategy Page website:

Horses and Men in the Great War

In her first book Dr. Flynn, an independent scholar who writes and blogs on history and horses, has done an impressive job of telling the story of the horse in the British Army from the Boer War through the end of the Great War. This was a period that witnessed significant progress in the treatment of military horses.

Prior to the Boer War the British Army had been very negligent in its treatment of horses. Flynn notes that the army was surprisingly resistant to the establishment of an independent veterinary service, which did not occur until 1881. And even then, in her discussion of the early history of the army’s veterinary service, we that it lack influence and the army continued to neglect an adequate remount service. The result was horrendous losses of horseflesh during the South African War, due to a not only to poor procedures for recruiting horses, but also in the lack of proper care for them.

Flynn weaves together military requirements for horses, the development of an effective remount service, the linked questions of how to train horses and riders, the rise of Britain’s animal rights movement, problems of maintaining the feeding, health, and well being of the animals, and “wastage”. Of particular interest is Flynn’s look at the moral issues related to the military use – exploitation – of horses (and other animals) and the soldier-steed relationship against the brutal mathematics of war.

A volume in the Routledge series “Studies in Cultural History”, Soldiers and their Horses is an excellent book both for those interested in the Great War and those with an interest in the military horse.”

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs SymposiumReviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

Find out more here:



“Poor Dolly” – Horses, Soldiers and Shell-Shock – ISAZ Conference 2020.

On 3rd-5th September I will be giving a paper at the International Society for Anthrozoology Annual Conference. Originally planned to be held at Liverpool University in June, the conference will now be taking place remotely with papers given ‘live’ online. I am hoping to record this paper, so watch this space.

At the conference, I will be talking about the shared impact of warfare on soldiers and their horses in The Great War. Soldiers often observed how their horses also suffered from stress and fatigue. Many soldiers, not only recognised this shared suffering, but found they were better able to express their own physical and mental strain through the relationships formed with their horses. As one soldier commented:

“Poor Dolly! I had no idea that she was suffering from shell shock. But she’s really not as bad as her old master. The fact of the matter is, she evidently remembers it as keenly as I do.” (The New York Times, 1918.)


This paper focuses on primary source material of the period, and specifically the first-hand accounts of soldiers written during, and in response to, their experiences of working with horses and mules in The Great War. These will be considered alongside contemporary thinking about ‘shell-shock’. These will be used to explore how soldiers expressed themselves through their horses, and why the horses were often later remembered as the cause of their physical and mental survival.

Main Findings

Soldiers lived and worked alongside their horses for months and often years. They daily encountered dangerous and stressful situations, and likewise a gradual ‘wearing down’ of their ability to cope with these pressures both physically and mentally. The soldier-horse relationship enables us to further explore the demands made of horses in both modern and historical contexts.

Principle Conclusions and Implications

This historical context allows us to further consider spaces shared by humans and horses past and present. It encourages thinking, for example, about the role of horses in equine assisted therapies; the most pertinent perhaps being in the rehabilitation of military veterans today.








Life With and Without Animals – Derby 2020

I am delighted to announce that I will be presenting at the second Uncommon Worlds conference, Life With and Without Animals, to be held at Derby University on the 6th and 7th November 2020.

I will be speaking about the place of the war horse in Britain in the inter-war period. The period between 1918 and 1939 being very much an example of a society that increasingly lived ‘with and without’ the horse.

Further details about the conference and its themes can be found here:


Dorothy Brooke and the Old War Horses

Inspired by interest in a post I placed on Horses and History (Facebook group) last week, I decided to revisit For Love of Horses; Glenda Spooner’s by turns moving and inspiring account of Dorothy Brooke’s work on behalf of the old war horses in Cairo.

Brooke 1001

In 1930, Geoffrey Brooke was appointed Brigadier commanding the Cavalry Brigade in Egypt. As horse lovers, and keen horse people, the Brooke’s were already aware of what they were likely to find in Cairo – even twelve years after the end of The Great War. At the War’s end, the War Office had been faced with the problem of disposing of the many thousands of Army horses, donkeys and mules that had become surplus to requirements. Here is what I said about this in Soldiers and their Horses:

In Egypt, it was estimated that there were 100 thousand horses and mules to be disposed of; the alternatives being destruction, repatriation, or sale. Destruction, although it had been employed to great effect in France and Belgium, was considered too impractical and costly. Repatriation was ruled out because horses took up shipping that could be used to bring soldiers home. In the War’s Eastern theatres, an opportunity to recoup the investment the Army’s unwanted horses represented, and the promise of a speedy resolution to a ‘sticky problem’, meant it was decided (despite moral objections) that the British Army’s horses and mules be cast ‘by sale or otherwise’. Thus, the horses and mules were disposed of in a manner that, although economic and efficient, was not entirely humane:

Selling was the only course. The instruction was that animals in the Eastern theatres of war were to be disposed of to the best advantage “by sale or otherwise.” At the same time commanding officers were instructed to use a liberal discretion in destroying animals, especially those that were of British origin, which could not be repatriated and for which good homes could not be found on the spot. (The Times, 1918)

Mrs Brooke was later to discover (upon good authority) that the ‘lack of transport’ excuse had not been substantially valid. Rather, she concluded that the easiest solution had been the most acceptable. A few efforts had been made in 1919 to induce the authorities to change their minds, but to no avail.

The fate of the old war horses had always haunted Dorothy Brooke, who herself admitted how she had “hated to remember but could not forget”. On her arrival in Cairo her fears were realised. However, at first she remained undecided. Was the problem one so vast as to be insurmountable? Being new to Cairo, would interference be classed as meddling – and simply make her unpopular? Might it even cause political trouble? In the end, her mind was made up when out riding one morning with her husband and daughter. Her horse shied, and when she looked to see what had startled him, she found ‘a pile of whitened bones – big ones – lying on a pile of rubble’. The size of the horse’s skeleton lead her to conclude that this could only have belonged to an English horse. It was at this point that she began to enlist support in the United Kingdom, and from the S.P.C.A. in Cairo.

So her work began. Mr Strong, her ally at the S.P.C.A., initially estimated there might be two hundred ex-Army horses and mules left alive. Eventually, this turned out to be a figure nearer five thousand. It was perhaps a good thing that the size of the task was not discovered until later. Indeed, Dorothy Brooke herself admitted that she may have been dissuaded from starting had she realised the magnitude of what she had taken on. Her mission was to save as many of these horses from suffering as she could – and her determination to accomplish this task was truly inspiring.

Perhaps most striking was her pragmatism. For many horses, the only option was to euthanize them as soon as possible after purchase. The toll this must have taken on her can only be imagined. The morning after her buying day became her Black Friday. Spooner tells us:

It was her job to look carefully over all the horses and to decide which of the rows of wretched candidates should be the first to go. She tried to pick the worst cases first, leaving those who were still able to appreciate food, comfort and kindness for a few days longer. Week after week, month after month, she did this job. (Spooner G., For Love of Horses)

It was not all so sad. Many horses went on to make remarkable recoveries from their post-war experiences – and to end their days as cherished representatives of the many who had not returned to the United Kingdom. Two ‘lucky inmates’ were photographed one Armistice Day when they had had time to pick up strength and condition:

Brooke 2002

In 1934, the International Horse Show at Olympia staged a parade of Old War Horses that had seen service in the 1914-1918 War. Mrs Brooke sent home a horse to represent the five thousand rescued by her. And so her work continued until her return to the U.K. on the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Her rescue of that first five thousand horses and mules was to lay the foundations of an institution bringing relief for horses – and help for their owners – which continues to this day.


‘Army Remounts, 750,000 Horses Released, Methods of Dispersal’, The Times, issue 41970, 11th December 1918.

Flynn J., Soldiers and their Horses: Sense, Sentimentality and the Soldier-Horse Relationship in The Great War, Routledge, New York, 2020.

Spooner G. ed., For Love of Horses, The Diary of Mrs Geoffrey Brooke, The Old War Horse Memorial Hospital, London, 1960.