“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.








Author: janeflynnsenseandsentimentality

I am an independent researcher and writer affiliated to The University of Derby, UK. I was awarded a PhD in 2016 for my thesis: 'Sense and Sentimentality: The Soldier-Horse Relationship in the Great War'.

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