So, with that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the role horses have played in war throughout the ages and see if and why they are still employed today.
How long have horses been used in warfare?
As far as we can tell, horses were first domesticated around 6,000 years ago. Probably first used for farming, their usefulness in warfare soon became apparent.
One of the first recordings of the use of horses in war comes from between 4000 and 3000 BC in Eurasia. One of their first depictions is a Sumerian illustration from around 2500 BC showing horses pulling wagons.
By 1600 BC, new harnesses and chariot designs had made chariot warfare prevalent throughout the Ancient Near East. The first training manual for war horses that we know of was a treatise for training chariot horses, written around 1350 BC.
New training techniques emerged as formal cavalry tactics took the place of the chariot, and by 360 BC, a Greek cavalry officer named Xenophon had produced a comprehensive book on horsemanship. The development of the saddle, stirrup, and horse collar, among other technological advances, transformed the efficiency of horses in battle.
Depending on the style of the combat, a wide range of horse breeds and sizes were used. The kind of horse employed changed depending on whether it was driven or ridden and used for cavalry charges, raiding, communication, or supply. Along with horses, mules and donkeys have also been an essential part of supporting armies in the field throughout history.
The Central Asian steppes’ nomadic societies’ fighting strategies were ideally adapted to horses. Many East Asian cultures used cavalry and chariots frequently. Stirrups, which held riders securely in place while they fought, probably originated in the Asian steppes sometime around the 2nd century BC.
In the 7th and 8th century AD, Muslim armies used light cavalry in their operations across Northern Africa, Asia, and Europe. The armored knight was the most well-known heavy cavalry soldier of the Middle Ages, where a number of breeds were used in warfare, including heavy breeds for carrying armored knights and lighter breeds for hit-and-run raids or faster-moving warfare.
Armored knights went out of use around the end of the 15th century, light cavalry gained popularity with the introduction of gunpowder in battle and the demise of the knight. Although first used as a propellant in China in around 1132, firearms and canon underwent rapid development in Europe in the 15th century and were soon used extensively by the Ottomans in European warfare, and in the conquest of the Americas.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, battle cavalry had evolved to play a variety of roles and was frequently essential to success in the Napoleonic Wars. Contrary to popular belief, horses appear to be native to North America but may have become extinct there by the time the first Europeans arrived and reintroduced them.
Numerous indigenous cultures in the Americas learned how to handle horses and developed sophisticated mounted warfare strategies, and highly mobile horse regiments played a crucial role in the American Civil War.
Even while specific horse cavalry forces continued to be utilized into World War II, particularly as scouts, horse cavalry began to be phased out after World War I in favor of tank warfare.
Although horses were rarely utilized in combat by the conclusion of World War II, they were still heavily used for moving troops and supplies.
But, you might wonder, are horses still employed by armies today?
Are horses still used in the military?
Today, many of the horse’s former military uses are largely redundant. They are, however, used for more peaceful activities like ceremonies, historical reenactments, peace officer employment, and competitive events.
If they exist, formal mounted forces within the modern military tend to be used for reconnaissance, ceremonial duties, or crowd control purposes.
With the development of mechanized technology, horses were primarily replaced by tanks and armored battle vehicles. However, many of these units are often still referred to as “cavalry.”
That being said, many countries still maintain small numbers of mounted military units for certain types of patrol and reconnaissance duties in highly rugged terrain, including the conflict in Afghanistan.