Training For War
In this page we explore the stateside training that both soldiers and animals received prior to being shipped to France.
Early moving picture clips from the U.S. National Archives show that some things have changed in 100 years, but much remains the same in the world of horsemanship and stable management.
We will also look at the work of the Army Remount Service during and after the war, and its widespread influence over horse breeding in the United States well into the twentieth century.
Training the Soldiers
Horsemanship instruction at Camp Jackson, SC, 13 October 1917.
This photo begins to explain the challenges of training men who had never been near a horse in their lives.
Many men came in contact with horses and mules while serving in the army. It was not just those who rode, who might belong to the cavalry or simply be officers entitled to a riding horse for transport. Far more men found themselves behind or beside a horse or mule that was pulling a wagon, gun, ambulance, water cart, or field kitchen. It was these men the animals knew best, though they were usually not the ones who knew most about the animals, except for the knowledge they acquired as they served in the battlefield.
The Cavalry and the Military Seat
As the world evolved toward the eve of World War 1, the U.S. Cavalry was going through several evolutions of its process of training horsemanship and riding. Between 1900 and 1910 there were continuous changes to the courses offered at Fort Riley, Kansas, the headquarters of the cavalry in the U.S.
A major shift was happening in the world of horsemanship in the early 1900s. Army personnel who rode horses during World War 1 were living through those changes, and a glance at photos show a clear indication of the influence of the old and new schools of thought.
The old school was represented by what was called the “military seat.” Men sat quite upright, but their knees and lower legs were usually in front of their torsos. The high pommel and cantle (front and back) of military saddles held them in place even during the abrupt pace changes and lateral movements of battle using a sabre or lance. Cavalry troopers and all those who rode horses as simple transport (officers not in the cavalry) usually adopted some form of this seat.
Although they were supposed to adopt the military seat, the troopers who rode artillery and supply animal harnessed to vehicles often subsided into a far less military bearing, and the regulations are full of admonitions not to allow the men to slump in their saddles, a posture that put excess weight far back on the horse or mule’s back and invariable led to sore backs (on the part of the animals.)
Cavalry officers were given far more training in equitation (how to ride) than any other soldiers. It was these men who began to be influenced by the new ideas, primarily the philosophy of the French cavalry school at Saumur and by the ideas of Frederico Caprilli, an officer in the Italian cavalry in the late 1800s. Though known as an unorthodox rider, Caprilli eventually became an instructor in the Italian cavalry school at Pinerolo, for he produced horses and men who were fearless riding cross country over obstacles of every kind.
“For riding over fences or cross country, he altered traditional methods of equitation which were used throughout continental Europe. Instead, he devised his idea of the “forward seat.” By 1904, his theory of riding was officially adopted by the Italian cavalry, and cavalry officers from throughout Europe came to Pinerolo to learn his methods.”1
Caprilli advocated letting the horse find its natural balance when jumping. For the rider he developed a system whereby the rider bore much of his weight on his thighs, knees and his feet in the stirrups while maintaining a very light contact with the saddle.
Today this is known as riding in “two point” – the two points being the upper leg/knees and feet, without the seat touching the saddle, or “three point” – when the seat is also in the saddle.
The rider strove to maintain his center of gravity over that of the horse at all times, that is, approximately over the withers. Riders using the forward seat were much further forward over their horse’s backs than those using the traditional military seat.
The forward seat allowed horses greatly increased freedom to use their heads, necks and backs, especially over fences and at faster gaits such as the canter and gallop.
The Italian school emphasized cross-country riding rather than formal parade ground drills or even mounted fighting skills. Caprilli ranks among the great innovators in the history of equestrian training, with his legacy continuing in the show jumping community and in the twentieth century popularization of both the “balanced seat” (a slightly more upright version of the forward seat) and the “hunt seat”, a blend of the older cavalry seat and the balanced seat.
The Caprilli influence was felt at the U.S. Cavalry’s Mounted Service School at Ft. Riley, Kansas as early as 1910. Photos of the U.S. Olympic team in the 1912 Olympics, the entire team made up of cavalry officers, show classic forward seat position.
It is easy to see the difference between this and the older military seat when looking at jumping photos, and it is clear which seat makes the horses more athletic and happier. In 1915 the Cavalry Journal published an extract from General Orders No. 6, Headquarters First Cavalry Brigade, Fort Sam Houston, Texas espousing the ideas of what would become known as the Forward Seat. The body of the rider must be inclined forward when approaching a jump, the reins must be held loosely during jump and landing, and the fallacy of “supporting” the horse with the reins was soundly denounced; “the horse is never “supported” by pulling on his mouth.”2
Riders using the military seat were leaning back, balancing themselves on the reins, forcing the horse’s head up, the mouth wide open, and the back dropped and hollow. Often the horse’s front and even rear legs dangled rather than being folded up to allow clean passage over the fence.
By contrast, horses whose riders were using the forward seat showed a clean and efficient line over the fence, with neck and head extended, mouth closed, and back curved slightly upward in what is known as the bascule – a French word meaning see-saw and referring to the arch of the horse’s back over the jump, which is visualized as the fulcrum in the middle of the see-saw.
The Mounted Service School
By 1906, there was an official recognition that the courses in horsemanship taught by the French at their cavalry school at Saumur were the ideal toward which the U.S. wanted to move. Two officers, Capt. Walter C. Short and Capt. Guy V. Henry, were sent to Saumur. Both held positions in command at Ft. Riley, and Capt. Henry was sent to West Point to take the same form of equitation training there. Guy Henry subsequently became a well-known author and recognized expert in riding and jumping in the mid-twentieth century.
By 1907, the official name of the school at Ft. Riley was changed to “Mounted Service School,” and the courses were focused on riding expertise, cavalry tactics, and horse care. The courses offered included hippology (horse anatomy, diseases, care, habits, and general handling); horseshoeing; equitation; harness and transportation; and cavalry drill.
But this change of curriculum had an unintended effect; by 1908, all subjects not directly related to horses were dropped. Even weaponry was eliminated, though it was reintroduced shortly thereafter.
The school during the years immediately prior to World War 1 “suffered much discouragement. Lack of conception in the service generally as to the real object of the School, distrust as to the practical utility among the troops of its principles and methods, opposition among older officers who clung tenaciously and jealously to the old ways and customs, lack of funds, personnel, stables, riding halls, and quarters, - all these things (were) overcome only through patience, tact, and much compromise, during which, however, it was highly essential to keep in mind the ultimate goal in view.”3 During that period Capt. (later Colonel) George H. Cameron guided the School and made it into a solid and well-functioning organization.
By 1915 the U.S. Cavalry Journal reported very favorably on the school and its equitation training: ”The young officers who make up the class are very intelligent and fit and at present are largely comparatively recent graduates of the military academy [West Point]. It goes without saying that they “know how to ride,” most of them fearlessly and competently. Some of them look well on horseback and some do not; and generally it is purely a coincidence if any two ride alike. It is difficult to fix on any one inept feature obviously common to all, but perhaps it is a sense of antagonism between horse and rider, more or less in evidence, the horse bearing his burden under protest and the rider too alert; an antagonism more conspicuous among civilian riders and reaching a climax with the cruel methods of the cow-boy.
“Whether this impression is substantial or merely fanciful, does not essentially matter because in a few weeks a change has taken place gradually and become clearly discernable not only in the student officer’s riding, but in his whole attitude toward a horse: i.e., toward any horse given him to ride, however undesirable the mount….confidential relations have somehow been established between man and horse.”4
But when the U.S. went to war in 1917, all of the instructional personnel at the School were ordered to the battlefield. Thus, at a time when they could have been most useful in training army personnel in all things related to horses, they were disbursed to various other duties. Graduates of the Mounted Service School were highly desired for their horse management expertise, but there were no more graduates until after the war.
Only one cavalry unit saw action in France, and it was very brief. Most of the cavalry troopers who went to France were put to work in stable management positions – a good use of their skills, but a disappointment to the men who had been trained to fight and instead were in the rear lines brushing horses and mucking out stalls!
Teamsters and the Quartermaster Corps
While the cavalry was looking to France for modern ideas on horsemanship, the Quartermaster Corps continued the old ways, because harness, wagons, and other vehicles had not changed since the U.S. Civil War.
Delivering supplies, ammunition and food fell to the teamsters, that is, the drivers of supply wagons. The Manual of the Quartermaster Corps wasted few words on what teamsters were expected to know – there is a distinct sense that this was all old knowledge, that it was being set down because it needed to be in writing somewhere, but not much formal instruction should be needed by those who were given these duties.
“Teamsters must have a thorough knowledge of adjusting the harness to the animals and of driving. They should also be familiar with the methods of receiving, stowing, and securing the loads on the wagons.
“No reading matter of any character will be taken on herd to distract their attention from the care and watchfulness over the animals that they may not stray off or stampede.
“Teamsters will look over the feet of their mules every morning the first thing and every evening after unhitching, clean out the feet and see if the shoes are loose. It is a good idea to tap the shoes lightly with the knife handle or hammer; if the animals flinch there is something wrong.
“In pulling heavy loads or on heavy ground if there is any liability of the team stopping, the teamster should stop the animals before they get stalled. Many animals will not pull again on a load in the same place where they have met with a resistance which has impressed them as insurmountable. If the team should get stuck, it may be induced to try again by turning the tongue slightly to the right or left and then getting all off altogether.
“In starting a team with a heavy load or in any situation where it is necessary to get the united power of the animals, the reins should be hold fairly tight so that the animals may be made to feel the aid and guidance of the driver.”5
Pack Train Personnel
A separate manual was published for pack train management, and it was recognized that this branch of the supply corps had some special expertise. Packers, also known as muleskinners, were not regarded as a sophisticated bunch, but they had skills that few others had – that is, how to handle a mule. Again, despite the special manual, there was no special training course for these men. They learned on the job, from more senior troopers.
“All pack trains should make practice marches of from 5 to 10 miles per day, when not otherwise employed, so as to keep the animals in hard muscular condition, and in order that daily examination may be made as to whether the "rigging" is properly fitted. Any defects in the "rigging" or equipment should be noted in order that steps can be taken to remedy them.
“On these practice marches the men will be instructed in their duties, both in bivouac and in camp; and the animals will be trained.
“Manual of Pack Transportation, Quartermaster Corps, 1916, contains a great deal of useful information on the subject of packing.”6
But the rules, however learned, had to be followed:
“Packers found in any way maltreating animals under their care should be subjected to rigorous disciplinary action. This rule will be rigidly complied with by all members of the pack service.”7
There were other personnel attached to the pack train, such as cargadors, who were second-in-command to the pack master. They were expected to “keep the animal’s bodies sound, and failure to do this will prove his unfitness for the position.” The cargador also did “repairs to aparejos and equipment, and was responsible for making up of all cargo, equalizing the packs, and loading animals according to their strength and condition.” His duties included some paperwork, such as keeping a “memorandum of all cargo received and to whom Issued, together with dates, marking and tagging packages when necessary.” There were even mundane aspects to his job; “In bivouac he will see that all halter shanks are gathered and placed on rigging, and all blinds placed on cargo before being covered up. He will be responsible that all aparejos are marked with the number of the animals respective coronas, and that all coronas are kept clean.”8
Horseshoers were essential personnel for any army. They attended a four-month course that included significant practical experience as well as theory and knowledge of equine anatomy.
Horseshoers performed the services that farriers perform in the century following the war; during the war, the term “farrier” referred to a trooper trained in equine disease management, a sort of equine medic, or assistant to the veterinarian.
Horseshoers were responsible for keeping all the animals shod and trimmed, which could be an enormous job in the mud of France. For a pack train, for instance, the horseshoer must “keep on hand for field service 200 shoes properly fitted, together with the number of nails necessary, he will also be equipped with other requisites for properly shoeing the train. He will fit and shoe all animals of the train, and must have a thorough knowledge of the approved methods of fitting shoes, and of the intelligent care of the hoof.”
He also assisted as the train was on the move, by keeping the animals close to the bell animals, keeping correct count of the animals as they were turned loose, reporting any accident promptly to the packmaster or cargador.9
He also kept watch while the train was traveling, riding up behind and keeping watch on the feet of the animals, to anticipate what would be needed at the next halt – it was expected that some of the animals might have to be reshod. With multiple halts per day, this must have been a never-ending task. He also was responsible for picking up all shoes cast by the animals so that they could be replaced at the halt, “provided the shoes are serviceable. It will he his duty to put in additional nails should he observe that shoes on the animals are loose.”10
Even the pack train cook had equine duties! In addition to getting all meals ready on time, the cook was responsible for getting the animals rounded up and for heading up the pack train, leading the bell animal and setting an appropriate pace. Cooks must have been known to want to take along more mess equipment than was specifically allowed, because the regulations state that, “Carrying heavy or unnecessary utensils on the march Is prohibited.”11
Artillery and Gun Crews
Horses pulled guns, and therefore the gun crews had to know how to care for the horses. They also had to know at least a bit about riding, because the horses were not driven by a driver sitting on the gun carriage, but rather they were ridden while in harness, one horse in each pair wearing a saddle as well as harness and that pair being guided by the rider. Old films taken at training camps in the U.S. show first lessons in everything from how to get on the horse, to driving cross country. Horse care such as clipping (using a hand cranked clipping machine!) and shoeing are also included.
- Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association, Vol XXV, No. 106, April 1915, p. 718.
- The Rasp, 1921, p. 27.
- Cavalry Journal, April 1915, p. 572.
- Manual for the Quartermaster Corps, 1916, U.S. Army, Government Printing Office, Washington. p.500
- Ibid, Manual for Quartermaster, p. 501.
- Ibid, Manual for Quartermaster, p. 503.
- Ibid, Manual for Quartermaster, p. 503.
- Ibid, Manual for Quartermaster, p. 503.
- Ibid, Manual for Quartermaster, p. 503.
- Ibid, Manual for Quartermaster, p. 503.
Training the Animals
Training for horses and mules before and during the war varied widely depending on whether the animals were intended for use by the cavalry, or as general riding horses, or as draft or pack animals.
Given enough time, the cavalry could produce as well-trained a horse as anyone, civilian or military, could want. Likewise, the Quartermaster Corps excelled at training pack mules, and was more than adequate at bringing along draft animals.
All of the standards, though, were put aside when the pressure of war became extreme.
The U.S. Army Cavalry Drill Regulations of 1916 have extensive instructions on training both cavalry horse and trooper. For training riders and to some extent horses, the U.S. cavalry used the French cavalry manual from its school as Saumur, and the U.S. even published a summary of answers to exam questions from Saumur as an official U.S. publication.
Cavalry horses were brought along in progressive stages of training that, for a young horse, ideally lasted two years. During the first year there were three distinct phases covering work in hand unmounted, preliminary work mounted, and finally further conditioning and training.
During this first year the horse wore a single snaffle bit in the first two periods and progressed to wearing two snaffle bits during the third period. While not common today, this was preparation for the fourth period, the entire second year, in which the horse wore a double bridle with a curb and snaffle bit, technically referred to as “bit” (the curb) and “bradoon” (a snaffle with smaller rings so as not to interfere with the curb bit shanks).
First Year In The Cavalry
The first period of training, unmounted, addressed the basics of being a cavalry horse: leading or “being ponied,” that is, being led by a rider on another horse; longeing (pronounced "lunging"), that is, working on the longe line, a webbing tape about 30 feet long held by the trainer around which the horse was taught to circle at various paces, various sizes of circle, and obeying voice commands; saddling; and finally being mounted. The first time for mounting was chosen at a moment when the horse was tired from being ponied followed by being longed wearing a saddle. Finally, he there was training to bear the sabre, with its scabbard and weight flapping against the horse’s side while on the longe line.
“The work, it is understood, is interspersed with halts, caresses, and frequent rests.”1
During the second period the horse began extensive mounted work, both inside the riding hall and outdoors, with the latter preferred. “The mingling of old horses with the remounts has a very good influence at the beginning…" – how familiar this concept is to anyone who has ever brought young horses along! “In general, the instructor should plan to work from one-half to three-quarters of an hour in a riding hall or other inclosure (sic) daily; followed by work outside from one to two hours. The basis of all training is freedom in the forward movement. From the first the horse must be taught to respond to the legs. This is best obtained out of doors. If horses are worked too much in a riding hall they lose impulsion and get behind the bit.”2 Again - nothing has changed in the nature of horses or in wise training in the last hundred years!
The second period continued with first lessons in obedience to the aids – that is, learning the meaning of the leg aids to move forward and sideways, and the rein aids to slow down or turn. Reversing, serpentines, figures of eight, circles of various sizes, half turns, and many changes of gait were used to teach the horse the meaning of the aids and make him alert to the rider. Backing up was introduced, but only from the ground.
Conditioning during the second period began to directly address the job the horses would have as cavalry mounts: “By long, slow walks out of doors, short periods at the trot, and still shorter and very quiet periods at the gallop, the young horses may easily be brought in a short time to gallop 1 mile in 5 minutes, and to march, by a reasonable alternation of the gaits, 10 miles in 2 hours.”3
One day a week in the second period was devoted to preparing the young horse to take his place in the ranks of the cavalry troop. People nearby handling guns and sabres; the packed saddle, with its blanket roll, scabbard, and saddle bags; guns firing, flags flapping, marching in a column and side by side in a line; leaving the ranks and riding off alone, working quietly apart from the rest of the horses and returning quietly to them – all these skills were needed by a well-trained cavalry horse.
In the third period, again still in the first year of training, the horse increased work out of doors, with longer rides and more work up and down hills for conditioning. More precise obedience to the aids was taught, with the riders asking for more frequent changes of gait and direction, and more of the school figures such as figure eights, half turns, lightness on the bit, straightness, and handiness – the latter obtained as the horse learned to shift his weight to his hindquarters to allow sudden and balanced changes of direction and gait.
All these skills would be important to a field hunter, a general riding horse, or a cow pony as well – these are skills that horses of any era should know. Skills that not all horses might learn were also taught – for instance, to understand rein commands with the reins being carried in only one hand by the rider.
Jumping was also started in the third period, first in a chute and on the longe, gradually increasing the height to 3 feet. When the horse was “thoroughly obedient and willing he should be led in the open over varied obstacles, such as ditches, little brooks, up and down steep slopes, etc.”4 This leading was done from the back of another horse, a skill which both riders and horses were expected to be thoroughly proficient in.
The jumping training continued with small obstacles outdoors during the mounted exercises, “always of such dimensions as to present no real difficulty or danger of injury to their legs and so arranged as to seem to have been encountered in route. It is by frequent jumping and not in the height of the jumps that the horses become skillful and bold.”5
Conditioning continued and by the end of the third period the horses were expected to be able to gallop 2 miles in eight minutes without fatigue, and to march with full field equipment with reasonable alternation of gaits 15 miles in three hours. They were also taught to carry double, to swim if there was a body of water available, and to be accustomed to the use of the pistol while passing targets and to running “at heads” with the sabre, at the walk, slow trot, and canter.
This completed the basic training of cavalry horses during wartime, though commanders were advised to seek every opportunity to improve the conditioning and training of their horses even more during war than in peacetime.
Second Year In The Cavalry
The fourth period, the entire second year of training, brought the horse from a well broken, serviceable mount to a place of considerable sophistication. Most average riders would not be able to provide this level of training and might not even understand what made such a horse a pleasure to ride – but they might well know that something was very different from the average horse they were accustomed to.
The fourth period focused on refining the skills already taught, making the horse more responsive, finely tuning the gaits, maneuverability, suppleness, and agility of the animal. The curb bit is much more powerful against the horse’s jaw than the snaffle, allowing great subtlety of signaling but also the danger of pain and evasion by the horse if the rider has a heavy hand and this was noted in the Drill Regulations: “the instructor himself should adjust the bits to each horse with the most solicitous care, and should not hesitate afterwards to return to the snaffle in individual cases, due to the delicacy of the horse’s mouth or, as often happens, to the poor seat and heavy hand of the rider.”6
Mobility of the shoulders and lightness of the forehand, suppleness of the jaw, poll, and spinal column, and engagement of the hindquarters were all stressed. Jumping obstacles 3 feet high or 8 feet wide was a standard expected to be easily reached by all troop horses. As well, galloping 3 miles in 11 minutes and marching 25 miles with full field equipment in 4 hours were expected. Considerable attention was given to teaching the horse to back, and the rider was cautioned not to back the horse as a regular exercise.7 Clearly, there was a well-understood risk of the horse evading the rider by falling behind the bit (that is, sucking back the head and neck to the point that the rider has little place to use the reins with subtlety) and, even worse, getting behind the leg – the reluctance to go forward freely and to stretch into the reins with a soft neck, poll, and jaw. Too much emphasis on backing might easily bring on one or both of these evasions.
Much care was given to selecting riders for the remounts. The Drill Regulations state clearly that the troopers chosen to train young cavalry horses “should be chosen for the love of horses and their patience and gentleness. All concerned in the training should be well-instructed and skillful riders or there is no hope of success.”8 Each trooper was assigned three horses at a time.
The listing of precepts for the instructor will be recognized by horsemen the world over:
- Never begin work without being absolutely sure of what is to be done.
- Proceed in the horse’s education from the known to the unknown; from the simple to the difficult.
- Always use exactly the same effects to obtain the same results.
- Remember that in the execution of every movement position should precede action.
- Never ask anything of the horse while he is still under the impression of the preceding movement.
- Never combat two resistances at the same time.
- Never attribute to ignorance or bad temper of the horse the consequences of ignorance of lack of skill on the part of the rider.
- Introduce the new features near the end of a lesson; then caress the horse and dismount.
- And in bold type: “It is pertinent to these rules to remember that during the whole course of the young horse’s education a little progress every day should satisfy; demand that, but no more.”9
Officer's Chargers and Gun Horses
In sharp contrast to the explicit and detailed description of a progressive training cycle for cavalry horses was the complete lack of any cohesive program at the Remount Depots run by the Quartermaster Corps. Yet, riding horses were issued from these depots to officers who were entitled to a mount, and many draft horses were also ridden as a part of their draft duties – vehicles often did not have drivers but rather one horse in each pair was ridden and the team controlled in that manner.
The Quartermaster Corps regulations contained no real details as to how training was to be accomplished for either animals or soldiers. The Manual for the Quartermaster Corps, 1916, summarizes the condition of horses at the remount depots, in a paragraph tucked in between one addressing the issuance of boat flags and the next addressing the number of bicycles to be issued to military posts. Paragraph 2673 on remounts reads (in its entirety):
“As the young horses furnished from the remount depots will generally have been handled only with a view of making them gentle and accustoming them to weight carrying and preparing them to receive their military training, they should, upon receipt by posts or by organizations to which they are assigned, receive a careful course of training under the supervision of a graduate of the Mounted Service School [i.e., a cavalry officer or trooper) whenever it is possible to obtain one, otherwise under a carefully selected and competent officer, before being placed in the ranks for regular military duties as troop and battery horses. Such training will continue as long as is necessary to qualify the horses thoroughly for the ranks, generally not less than one year. If the horses thus turned in are less than 5 years old, they should have only moderate field service; 6 years old, full field service. In this training the fundamental principles laid down in the service manuals or taught at the Mounted Service School will be followed.”10
It is small wonder, then, that many officers chose to bring their own mounts to the army with them. Private mounts were fed and housed at government expense, and if the officer wanted to bring more than one horse, he could purchase feed, bedding, and medicines from the post for the second horse. Apparently the labor of caring for these horses was not something that was accounted as a cost, and there was a long tradition of officers, both active duty and retired, keeping their own horses at the army stables.
Draft Horse Training
For driving animals, the Army offered no specific guidance on training. There were, however, significant regulations on the practical aspects of driving teams, how often to take rest breaks, and things not to do – for instance, not to start one pair of animals of a four-horse team to pulling before the slack had been taken up in the traces by all four horses, this taking up of slack being known as being “in draft.” Per the Manual For The Quartermaster Corps, draft animals were never to be driven out of a walk, except those used on buckboards, spring wagons, and other light vehicles, and which were usually specially chosen for the purpose, might be driven at a trot when necessary.11
Pack Animal Training
Perhaps training draft animals was such a common skill in the farming community that it was not felt necessary to commit all the details to paper. But such was not the case with regard to pack animals. An entire manual devoted to their training and management was first published in 1901 and went through various editions with the final one published in 1917.
Written by Henry W. Daly, chief packer for the Quartermaster Corps, it remains a definitive resource to this day. Little that was worth knowing about packing and mules escaped Mr. Daly, who worked for the Corps as a civilian for most of his career, including the period when he instructed at the Military Academy at West Point before the Great War started. In 1917 he was appointed a captain in the Quartermaster Corps, and was honorably discharged in 1920, having reached the rank of major.
Daly had a great fondness for mules, averring that they liked to be petted and responded best to gentle treatment. His pack mule manual is filled with detailed descriptions of exactly how to tie various knots, build pack saddles, and treat mules.
Much of the pack mule training relied on the instinct of mules to follow each other and the bell horse, to which they always deferred. The bell animal was usually a mare, even more likely to be deferred to, and often was an army mare that could no longer do heavy work but could still walk fairly long distances. For more on mule behavior, click here.
One behavior that was highly valued in a mule train was having the mules trained to line up to be loaded. Daly describes the process of teaching this:
“Pack animals should be early taught to “come to the rigging.” The first and necessary requisite is to teach them to come in from the herd-ground properly. That is, they should string out behind the “bell” animal, and should not bunch together like a flock of sheep. A thoroughly organized train, if brought up in a bunch, may take their places at the rigging without trouble; but a “shavetail,” or unorganized train, never will.
“As the animals approach the rigging from the rear, in single file, packers should take station on either side of the column.
“One packer holds the bell animal, facing the third rigging from the head rigging. By the time all the animals are in place the “bell” will have been crowded down, opposite the first or head rigging. The mules are then guided, so as to form a line, facing the rigging, on the flank of the “bell” animal…. To more readily teach them to come to rigging, the animals may be fed there, the feed covers being spread on rigging for that purpose. This practice should be discontinued as soon as possible.”12
Later he elaborates on the same sort of training, this time in a corral, describing setting up a guard rail to which to tie the animals as they are learning the process. During the training they may be fed, but the packers must prevent them wasting grain or kicking each other. “A small switch or aparejos stick in the hands of each packer will cause the animals to give attention – this should be used for correction, not for abuse, which must not be permitted under any circumstances, remembering the more abuse the animal is given the more unruly or ugly it becomes, until it is classed as an outlaw; the animal is dumb – the packer is presumed to be intelligent and human.” The mules are then turned loose starting with the bell horse and working down the line successively, leading the bell horse toward the opposite end of the corral, and causing each animal to follow in a line. “Packers should now go among them and approach as many as will permit, stroke the animals on the neck and back and call them by given name; animals like to be petted.”13
Mules, when trained to carry a loaded pack, adopted an ambling gait if asked to move faster than an ordinary walk. They did this without any special training, because the pack moved less than if they quickened their walking strides. But some mules did not have this instinctive skill, and Daly describes how to encourage them to develop it. “To acquire this ambling gait a young pack train should be taught to travel 5 miles an hour and under no circumstances should mules be allowed to straggle out, i.e., keep them in close order, one mule following the trail or step of the other. After a few practice marches they readily acquire this ambling gait. Occasionally, one or two mules in a train seem to have difficulty in acquiring this ambling gait. Do not overload such an animal in the endeavor to teach him; instead, place the cincha sufficiently forward on the aparejos so that the elbow will rub against the cincha during travel; as soon as the elbow becomes sore the mule, to escape the cincha, will take short and quick steps in order to keep his place in line and thus readily learns this ambling gait.”14
- Cavalry Drill Regulations, United States Army, 1916. Government Printing Office, Washington, p. 357.
- Ibid, Cavalry Drill Regs, p. 357.
- Ibid, Cavalry Drill Regs, p. 358.
- Ibid, Cavalry Drill Regs, p. 359.
- Ibid, Cavalry Drill Regs, p. 360.
- Ibid, Cavalry Drill Regs, p. 361.
- Ibid, Cavalry Drill Regs. P. 364.
- Ibid, Cavalry Drill Regs, p. 352.
- Ibid, Cavalry Drill Regs, p. 353.
- Manual of the Quartermaster Corps, 1916. Government Printing Office, Washington. p. 421.
- Ibid, Quartermaster Corps Manual, p. 500.
- Daly, H. W. Pack Transportation. Quartermaster Corps, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1908. P. 122-123.
- Ibid, Daly, p. 142-143.
- Ibid, Daly, p. 135.
The Remount Service
As the Quartermaster’s annual report for 1919 put it, “At the outbreak of the war with Germany there was no Remount Service worthy of that name.”1
At the beginning of the war, purchase of horses and mules for the army was the responsibility of the Quartermaster Corps, Transportation Division. Later, after multiple reorganizations during and after the war, the Remount Service became a household name in the U.S. horse world. But at the beginning of the war, the animals were bought by the same group that bought wagons, motor vehicles, harness, and spare parts.
Supplying all the needs of the mobilizing army fell to the newly-selected Remount Branch director, Capt. John S. Fair, a Cavalry officer tasked to work in the Quartermaster Corps organization.
In addition to supplying horses and mules, he had to lead his group in developing procedures, staffing plans, designs for remount depots, regulations, and all the other background framework of the self-sufficient army organization that the Remount Service was to become.2
This, without any real source of staffing, for remount duties had been considered as part of other, more important career paths, and rarely were officers and enlisted men broken free from these other duties willingly. From this unpromising beginning, by the end of the war, the Remount Service counted 948 officers, 30,661 enlisted men, and 789 civilians. (all but 5 of the civilians were stateside). 3
Because animals were a permanent part of the army transportation structure, there were already three remount depots in the United States when the U.S. entered the war in April, 1917. They were located at Front Royal, Virginia, Fort Reno, Oklahoma, and Fort Keogh, Montana.
There were also two auxiliary remount depots in Texas, at Fort Bliss and Fort Sam Houston, (these latter a response to the needs of Mexican border patrol duty).4 As well, there was a purchasing headquarters at Kansas City, Missouri. The country was divided into four zones, headquartered at the three permanent depots and the purchasing office in Kansas City.
In total, the Army owned only a few thousand horses and mules in 1917, the reasoning being that there was an abundant supply in the civilian sector that could be made available on short notice if they were needed for military purposes.
But “no one had ever dreamed, and even if they had it was only vaguely, that the United States would ever be called upon to put a huge army into the field. No one knew for certain it would be – perhaps a million men; in a few days the figures jumped to possibly two million men, and when it was finally decided that five million men would be called to the colors and it was realized that an army of that size would require approximately one million horses and mules, there was consternation among those responsible for the procurement, care and issue of such an unheard of number of animals.”5
Greg Krenzelok, in his extensive website covering all aspects of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, explains how the next few months unfolded:
“When it became certain that the Army would need a large number of horses, some of the most celebrated horsemen and riders in the country offered their services as buyers. Some fifty of them were commissioned as captains in the Quartermaster Reserve Corps and sent to the various purchasing headquarters for short training in the proper types of horses and animals required by the Army. These buyers purchased a large number of excellent animals.” 6 This approach got the system moving and was used for a few months, but eventually was found wanting.
In his 1918 Annual Report, the Quartermaster General said: “due to the inexperience of officers from civil life who were assigned to duty purchasing animals for the Government and in charge of remount depots where these animals are cared for, many animals were purchased that are below the standard required and that do not come up to the specifications called for in regulations”….7
By July 1917 a system had been established that prevailed for the rest of the war. “Any responsible dealer, breeder, or farmer who was capable of supplying the Government with one or more carloads of animals at any sanitary shipping point was afforded an opportunity to place animals before inspection and purchasing officers in each zone.” 8
To accommodate the rapidly increasing needs of the army, there were eventually 33 auxiliary remount depots established, plus two animal embarkation depots (for a detailed account of the embarkation depot at Newport News, click here).
As the animals were purchased they were shipped by rail to the remount depots for training and conditioning. Shortly before the armistice was signed there were approximately 400 officers and 19,000 enlisted men in the remount service, all engaged in the care and training of the tens of thousands of animals then owned by the army.9
Many Stayed In the U.S.
As is often the case in war, supplies did not get to where they were needed – in this case, living animals, many of which remained in the U.S. because of lack of ships to carry them across the ocean.
In total, of the 243,560 animals used by the American Expeditionary Forces in France, only 67,725 were shipped from the U.S. – the rest were bought from U.S. allies in Europe (and undoubtedly some of those had originally been among the million animals bought from the U.S. by the French and British!) The total expenditures of the Army, both abroad and at home, for horses and mules during the war period was $85,038,694 with about 40% of that being spent in the U.S. and the remainder in France, England, and Spain. For more on shipping to Europe click here; for a detailed look at the numbers, click here.
When the war ended the animals that were being held at remount depots across the U.S. were auctioned to local buyers, mainly dealers because the animals could not be tried out prior to purchase and farmers would not buy animals they could not try.
The sales netted about 60% of what had been paid for the animals, with horses going for 44-54% of their cost but mules selling for 70-90% of cost – and the army carefully noted that the best animals had been retained and not offered for sale.10 Also noted was a savings of over $19,000,000 in feed and animal care costs for the 170,355 animals that were sold – an amount just over the actual total sale revenue, and further softening any perceived loss from the sales.
The remount depots varied widely in size. Front Royal, Virginia was the smallest, with 2 commissioned officers and 12 enlisted personnel and an authorized capacity of 500 animals (but during the war had an average of 784 animals in residence.) The largest was at Camp Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina, with a capacity of about 10,000 animals. Most others were in the 4-5000 range.11
The depots were located in 23 states spread over most of the U.S., incidentally providing war economic stimulus to states that might not otherwise have benefitted from the vast federal wartime spending:
The depots were established partly to facilitate rail transport, but also to be near the mobilization camps for each army division. At the camps, in addition to caring for the riding and draft animals, there were schools to train horseshoers (4 months), teamsters (2 months), packers (2 months), saddlers, and stable sergeants for the combat divisions. 12 These same services were offered at the depots in France.
Remounts in France
When horses and mules arrived in France they first went to remount stations, which served as sources of supply for animals needed at the front. The Engineer Corps was in charge of construction of the stations, and built stables to accommodate 48,000 animals.13 Most of this construction was accomplished in the first months of the war, and clearly, all of it was done within the 19 months that the U.S. was involved in the war – and extraordinary accomplishment, but just one among many as the American Expeditionary Force grew in that same period from zero to two million men.
All told, there were 33 remount depots in France, some built by the army and others taken over from the French, with a total capacity of 63,500 animals.14
In addition to receiving animals that had just been shipped to France, the depots took all animals that were found wandering in the battle zone, and all that were discharged from veterinary hospitals. All of these animals were recycled into battle service.
After the War
The greatest impact of the Remount Service to the horse industry came after the war was over.
Even in 1917, the Quartermaster Corps was having difficulty purchasing quality riding and cavalry horses, though draft horses meeting Army standards were plentiful.
In his 1918 report, the Quartermaster General described a program begun in 1913 in conjunction with the Bureau of Animal Industry (part of the Department of Agriculture), of placing good quality stallions around the country to provide farmers with quality sires to be bred to their own mares for a nominal fee. But, the Quartermaster cautions, this still will in all likelihood not meet the government’s requirements because the quality of the mares could not be controlled.
Thus, the army decided to purchase mares and begin a breeding program of its own at the Remount Depots. Over time, this was expected to provide a steady source of quality riding animals. But the scale of what was needed during World War 1 should have damped this enthusiasm; there was never a desire on the part of the government to go into the horse breeding business to the degree that would have provided even a tiny fraction of what was needed during that war. Instead, a few hundred offspring per year came from the Army in-house program.
The civilian side proved much more of an impact on the quality of horseflesh in the U.S..
By 1921, the Remount Service had taken over all responsibility for the nationwide horse breeding program from the Department of Agriculture, and from that time onward, the perception of the general public was that the Remount Service was the source of good breeding stock for American farmers.
Significant effort was expended to select the stallions and keep them healthy. The vast majority were Thoroughbreds, but a few Morgans, Standardbreds, and Arabians were also included. There were one or more stallions stationed in nearly every state.
To some extent, mares were also selected from those presented by the public as candidates for breeding, in that notably unhealthy or unfit mares could be refused.
The resultant foals were the property of the mare owner, but it was assumed that if a future war required the purchase of horses, that the government would favor and perhaps pay a premium for animals produced from these sires; in the meantime, the upkeep of the horses cost the government nothing and a source of quality riding horses was assured.
Government cost for standing about 500 stallions was about $125,000 per year as of 1928 (This figure takes into account an appropriation of $150,000 offset by $25,000 collected in stud fees). About 18,000 mares were being bred per year, from which came about 12,000 foals.15
In the next two decades its production was considerable. Though operating on a reduced scale caused by manpower shortages, rising costs, and reduced military demands for horses, the Army Horse Breeding Plan even in the 1940s during World War II gave origin to 39,000 foals from about 500 government-owned stallions. In the 1945-46 breeding-foaling season, 450 to 500 Government-owned stallions were bred to more than 11,000 civilian-owned mares; the resulting foal crop totaled 7,293 horses.16
This still would not have come close to supplying the needs of World War 1. What did come from the nationwide program was a general improvement in the quality of grade, or half-bred, riding horses throughout the country, a legacy quite apparent at the time the program was discontinued in 1948 and still noticeable even in the latter half of the twentieth century.
- War Department Annual Reports, 1919, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., page 747.
- Cederwald, Major A.A.., Q.M.-Res. The Remount Service Past and Present, The Quartermaster Review, November-December, 1928, p. 27.
- Ibid, Cederwald, p. 28.
- Ibid, Cederwald, p. 27.
- Ibid, Cederwald, p. 27.
- Krenzelok, Gregory. U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group. Accessed online at https://www.facebook.com/US-Army-Veterinary-Corps-Historical-Preservation-Group-127549193983683/
- Report of the Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army To the Secretary of War, 1918. Washington, Government Printing Office, page 33.
- Ibid, War Department Report, page 748.
- Ibid, Krenzelok
- Ibid, War Department Report, page 751.
- Ibid, Krenzelok
- War Department Annual Reports, 1919, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., page 750.
- War Department Annual Reports, 1919, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., page 618.
- Ibid, Cederwald, p. 28.
- Ibid, Cederwald, p. 29.
- The U.S. Army Veterinary Service in World War II, U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History, p. 512, accessed online at http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwii/vetservicewwii/chapter13.htm