Horses, probably the last thing that should be on a battlefield.

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Waterloo50

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First off, I have to admit that I know very little about horses, I’ve never owned one and I wouldn’t know how to ride one either. If I was to be totally honest I’d have to say that they always strike me as unpredictable animals that could cause serious injury to themselves and the rider especially if they are not controlled properly.

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Whenever I’ve come into contact with horses they always seem very skittish, it seems to me that it takes very little to frighten them which brings me to my point. Today I was riding my motorcycle down a very twisty and narrow country lane when I happened upon a couple of people riding their horses, whenever I see a horse on the road I always stop and cut my engine because I know that my motorcycle is quite loud and the sound of it can cause a horse to panic, today, I didn’t have time to stop and cut my engine and the result was that the two horses became a little bit lively, one of the horses slipped on the wet road as it tried to bolt through a hedge, in fact the rider really looked like she was struggling to get the horse under control, everything was okay though and luckily both horse and rider were okay.

Today’s incident with the panicked horse made me wonder how horses can be trained to ignore the loud noise of a battlefield, Ive seen horses freak out at the most simplest of things, I’ve seen a horse run when a small bag was blown across the road, every sudden movement appears to frighten and unsettle them.

I believe I’m correct in saying that many of the horses that served in the cavalry (both sides) were privately owned which probably means that those horses had never been trained to be in a battlefield environment, how was a horse trained or was it a case of wait and see how the horse reacted under fire. Finally (I did say I know nothing about horses) was there a particular type/breed of horse that the cavalry had a preference for? I’m really hoping that you horse types can educate me.
 
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NH Civil War Gal

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If you Google "Mounted Cowboy Shootout" you will see firing on horseback (black powder I believe to shoot balloons). I like to go watch it and hope to get into it with one of my horses. To get horses use to firing, they hold a day long clinic and have special ear plugs for the horses. It's a process of desensitization. Having said that, horses like people, come in all different temperaments from highly reactive to totally laid back. There is no special breed for any of this.

I was at Antietam in September and there was mounted cavalry there. He had a 17-year-old Thoroughbred (off track racer) who was so laid back that even though she was near the cannon going off and the musketry she never flicked an ear. I've seen others at reenactments that tend to suddenly not like all those sounds so much. It's a matter of training and doing it over and over.

There is a great 1938 Pathe News Reel on how the London Police train their mounted horses for crowd control. For the ones that don't wash out, it was a 6 month process. I think the setting was in Hyde Park if that helps to search for it. I don't have the link.

You are a gracious and good motorcycle rider to cut the motor! However sometimes you just can't control everything. I'm sure it was a surprise to everyone. In that case, horses are a flight animal. One of my horses wouldn't bat an eye even at that, the other might be just a bit jiggy. It's all in the training and desensitization AND how much they are used and out and about with new things. Traffic is just one of those scary things that scare me too because most drivers are just so rude, so I really, really, really appreciate how thoughtful you are!!!
 
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diane

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Yes, riding on a road with motor vehicles is something I don't like to do unless my cows are in that road! (Then I'm there to get them out...) Always appreciate courtesy from motorists - thank you! Don't ride any more - sure miss it.

Like NH Civil War Gal says, it's getting them used to it - like hunting dogs. Some, like Lee's horse Traveller, never get used to it. Traveller was always causing Lee some problem or other - in one case injury - because of his skittishness under fire. Other horses don't give a durn - like Sherman's favorite, Sam. He would just sit there as if nothing was going on - even got shot through the neck while grazing and never missed a bite. Every horse Forrest had was well trained for combat duties - his one surviving war horse King Philip was just about as good at fighting as his master! He developed a life-long antipathy for the color blue, too... A war horse has to have a well trained rider - there are several stories of cavalry horses getting their ears lopped off by swinging sabers. In Custer's case, he actually shot his critter dead trying to nail a buffalo. :unsure: But, most of the Southerners brought very good horses to the war - a good horse was a life saver.
 

Waterloo50

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If you Google "Mounted Cowboy Shootout" you will see firing on horseback (black powder I believe to shoot balloons). I like to go watch it and hope to get into it with one of my horses. To get horses use to firing, they hold a day long clinic and have special ear plugs for the horses. It's a process of desensitization. Having said that, horses like people, come in all different temperaments from highly reactive to totally laid back. There is no special breed for any of this.

I was at Antietam in September and there was mounted cavalry there. He had a 17-year-old Thoroughbred (off track racer) who was so laid back that even though she was near the cannon going off and the musketry she never flicked an ear. I've seen others at reenactments that tend to suddenly not like all those sounds so much. It's a matter of training and doing it over and over.

There is a great 1938 Pathe News Reel on how the London Police train their mounted horses for crowd control. For the ones that don't wash out, it was a 6 month process. I think the setting was in Hyde Park if that helps to search for it. I don't have the link.

You are a gracious and good motorcycle rider to cut the motor! However sometimes you just can't control everything. I'm sure it was a surprise to everyone. In that case, horses are a flight animal. One of my horses wouldn't bat an eye even at that, the other might be just a bit jiggy. It's all in the training and desensitization AND how much they are used and out and about with new things. Traffic is just one of those scary things that scare me too because most drivers are just so rude, so I really, really, really appreciate how thoughtful you are!!!
Over here in the UK it’s a legal requirement to stop or give a horse a wide berth, most of the people that I know stop their vehicles and turn off their engines, it’s the done thing.

Your post is interesting in that it raises a question. At the start of the war, I’d always imagined that there wasn’t always a great deal of time available to train horses, Perhaps that changed as the war progressed but I’ve always assumed that it was a case of men enlisting in the cavalry because they owned a horse and were competent riders but that of course doesn’t guarantee that their horse would be any good on the battlefield. I’m wondering if it was the case that the cavalry practiced large formation attacks or was it a case of follow the horse in front and hope for the best, what would happen if it’s later found that the horse panicked under fire, would the horse be used in some other role.
 
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Waterloo50

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Waterloo50

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Although I can ride, I wouldn't call myself a horsewoman. Still, I think horses are quite smart enough to be taught to be effective on a battlefield. Though some may be skittish, as @NH Civil War Gal says they have distinct personalities. Many "war horses" were taught not only to tolerate battle field conditions but to actively participate in battle.
Thanks for the reply, any idea how war horses were taught to tolerate battlefield conditions.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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Over here in the UK it’s a legal requirement to stop or give a horse a wide berth, most of the people that I know stop their vehicles and turn off their engines, it’s the done thing.
It's actually the law here, only with dealing with one thing and another if a horse is skittish, it is hard to get a license plate number.

was it a case of follow the horse in front and hope for the best, what would happen if it’s later found that the horse panicked under fire, would the horse be used in some other role.
It was often a case of follow the horse in front and hope for the best - especially as new horses were brought in. I' talking about the average cavalryman. Not the Gods of the Civil War on horseback. I was just done reading a snippet about how a farmer gave a 2-year-old untrained colt to some Confederate boys and they christianed him a "cavalry horse." They put a saddle on for the first time and someone got up and that horse took off and buck and twisted for over half a mile. All the "boys" wanted him after that! After a couple of days, while spooky, the writer said he made a darn good horse. Now we aren't talking a solid riding horse for the average rider to take home and put in his backyard. This is an incredibly green broke horse, pretty wild, that young bucks can ride and this horse follows the other horses.

I've also read accounts of a horse becoming so hysterical under fire that they would shoot them (in the midst of battle) because they would be a danger to everything around them. I don't know what would happen if a horse just plain didn't work out. I know for the Federals, they had regular inspections for condemning animals, equipment, harness, etc. and I'm guessing the horse might be condemned or sold off.
 
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NH Civil War Gal

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Thanks for the reply, any idea how war horses were taught to tolerate battlefield conditions.
I think by constant drilling and practice in the campgrounds using artillery. AND by eventually becoming worn out and tired and underfed and being on forced marches a lot just didn't have a lot of fight left in them.
 

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From my own experience of riding horses I would say its all about the bond between man and horse, if the horse feels that you are confident and relaxed then it will pick up on that, the problem that I had when I rode my friends horses was that I hadn't developed a bond with any of them which made riding them quite difficult, I'm going to say that the bond between rider and horse is an important factor in developing trust and I think that owners of horses during the civil war would have known the personality of their horses in fine detail, they would have known beforehand if their horse could cope with loud noises and chaos.
 
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Rusk County Avengers

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Its all about training, and a healthy bond between the rider and horse. One doesn't just jump up on any random horse and ride off, (as the saying goes, "Always be careful around strange animals."), and as far as training a horse to gunplay and cannon fire, its a long process best left to someone who knows what their doing. As for back during the CW, Southerners, and Midwesterners had less problems with adapting horses to battle than their urban cousins as actually riding horses were a common part of everyday life. Horse look a lot different to people who know them, as compared to people who don't.

Anyone who rides a horse will eventually be thrown, and for me I did not know the wisdom of not riding "strange animals" when a brother wanted me to test out a horse for his girlfriend's daughter when I was younger and got a broken wrist for my trouble, (and then had to chase that horse across 70 acres with my hand hanging at a bad angle from my arm!) but riding is an awarding experience. I miss the days when I was a kid doing it all the time. Which reminds me of an appaloosa we had who literally had an alcohol drinking problem, and when he went a long time without being rode, one never got off to answer the call of nature as he was quite skilled in getting away and heading home without you! Loved that horse, and by God the best horse I rode for jumping over obstacles.

As for driving down the road an encountering horses, I do it all the time on rural county roads, but I recently learned the horror of driving a truck with a loaded trailer on busy roads in Missouri and coming over a hill going 70 mph, to see a wagon immediately in front of you in the middle of the road. Them Amish folks need to be more careful! Unlike most people they throw caution to the wind where horses are concerned and act like they own the road far too often.
 

Waterloo50

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It's actually the law here, only with dealing with one thing and another if a horse is skittish, it is hard to get a license plate number.



It was often a case of follow the horse in front and hope for the best - especially as new horses were brought in. I' talking about the average cavalryman. Not the Gods of the Civil War on horseback. I was just done reading a snippet about how a farmer gave a 2-year-old untrained colt to some Confederate boys and they christianed him a "cavalry horse." They put a saddle on for the first time and someone got up and that horse took off and buck and twisted for over half a mile. All the "boys" wanted him after that! After a couple of days, while spooky, the writer said he made a darn good horse. Now we aren't talking a solid riding horse for the average rider to take home and put in his backyard. This is an incredibly green broke horse, pretty wild, that young bucks can ride and this horse follows the other horses.

I've also read accounts of a horse becoming so hysterical under fire that they would shoot them (in the midst of battle) because they would be a danger to everything around them. I don't know what would happen if a horse just plain didn't work out. I know for the Federals, they had regular inspections for condemning animals, equipment, harness, etc. and I'm guessing the horse might be condemned or sold off.
I’ve read here on CWT that confederate horsemen had to replace their horses out of their own pocket, a horse would have been an expensive commodity so I imagine that they would have done all that they could to keep it in excellent condition, perhaps I’m looking at the relationship between Calvary-man and his horse through rose tinted glasses, maybe there was no particular bond between horse and rider and the horse was just a commodity which is totally different to how people with horses are today, most horse owners today talk about their horse with affection, they mention the personality and particular traits of their horse, the idea of a horse being run into the ground and then sold or even shot because it’s been condemned seems a bit harsh but it was a different time and there was a war going on.
 

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I’ve read here on CWT that confederate horsemen had to replace their horses out of their own pocket, a horse would have been an expensive commodity so I imagine that they would have done all that they could to keep it in excellent condition, perhaps I’m looking at the relationship between Calvary-man and his horse through rose tinted glasses, maybe there was no particular bond between horse and rider and the horse was just a commodity which is totally different to how people with horses are today, most horse owners today talk about their horse with affection, they mention the personality and particular traits of their horse, the idea of a horse being run into the ground and then sold or even shot because it’s been condemned seems a bit harsh but it was a different time and there was a war going on.
I read a very disturbing story about Sherman's March . Instead of shooting broken down horses the Union army would hit them over the head to kill them . I guess they didn't want the broken down horses falling into Confederate hands . One of these horses recovered enough to walk many miles to catch up with its former rider . It was in very bad shape and was killed , but you can see the bond that must have developed with the trooper who rode it for so long .
 
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diane

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There was definitely a bond. Forrest's horse, Roderick, was shot four times at Thompson's Station. Forrest took his son's horse and Roderick went to the rear to get tended, but he broke loose and ran to catch up to his master. Being a beautiful racing horse, he caught up and was shot fatally just behind Forrest. The general was furious with the handlers for letting Roderick get away from them, but when he heard the whole story he was overwhelmed and cried. That horse had a lot of heart. King Philip died of colic safe at home, having been shot up and slashed up a number of times, and that brought tears also. However, both horses saved Forrest's life in combat. At Parkers Crossroads, Roderick got Forrest across a dangerous and slippery ridge under fire, and just before Selma King Philip made a very remarkable leap over a supply wagon and saved Forrest.

War horses were popular at the soldiers' reunions - almost more than the generals who rode them! The men would go to great lengths to preserve them, as in the strange case of Baldy, Meade's horse. Baldy died but they saved his head - well, the skin of it around a plaster cast...! Little Sorrel was always exhibited for the people to see, having outlived Jackson by a good many years. Even when he got too old to stand up they would hoist him up to stand - which is how he came to die. One hoist too many - the poor old guy's back broke. So they stuffed him and he's still there today. These horses were special to the men - they served to locate the commander and ascertain movements on the battlefield. Not to mention inspiration. The sight of Forrest mounted on Iron Grey (their name for King Philip) always raised a rebel yell!
 

Nathanb1

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Horses are...special.

In the corner of my den is a 3+ foot high trophy won by my a cutting horse my dad trained (1962 World's Champion Appaloosa Cutting Horse)...Mackey was a stud, which should theoretically make him a little more difficult to control, but at that competition in an event called trail ride, for one obstacle Mackey had to walk up to a cage holding a bobcat. The cat lunged and Mackey--did nothing. Most of the other horses freaked out.

My own mare was just as calm as could be--except for two things. The constantly repeated one was any kind of flapping cloth. Better hold on and hope you were sitting tight in the saddle. The other was easier to avoid--I was riding her along a county road one day and came across a pasture full of miniature horses. Gee whiz! You'd think they'd recognize another equine, right? Heck, no! We had quite a rodeo before we got past.

My first horse, a gelding, was so calm he was generally asleep--which didn't bode well for sudden flights of quail. It was something like a bomb going off...but when a rattler coiled up right under us and started rattling, he never even noticed.

You have to train horses--and like others have said, you just never know how they'll take it. Daddy always took us to events early so they horses could get used to lights, crowds, etc...it's sort of important to remember that "country" horses were probably used to gunshots anyway, especially in the South, where hunting on horseback was a tradition.

LOL...Custer's horse ran away with him during the Grand Review after the war. Just goes to show!
 

archieclement

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Its all about training, and a healthy bond between the rider and horse. One doesn't just jump up on any random horse and ride off, (as the saying goes, "Always be careful around strange animals."), and as far as training a horse to gunplay and cannon fire, its a long process best left to someone who knows what their doing. As for back during the CW, Southerners, and Midwesterners had less problems with adapting horses to battle than their urban cousins as actually riding horses were a common part of everyday life. Horse look a lot different to people who know them, as compared to people who don't.

Anyone who rides a horse will eventually be thrown, and for me I did not know the wisdom of not riding "strange animals" when a brother wanted me to test out a horse for his girlfriend's daughter when I was younger and got a broken wrist for my trouble, (and then had to chase that horse across 70 acres with my hand hanging at a bad angle from my arm!) but riding is an awarding experience. I miss the days when I was a kid doing it all the time. Which reminds me of an appaloosa we had who literally had an alcohol drinking problem, and when he went a long time without being rode, one never got off to answer the call of nature as he was quite skilled in getting away and heading home without you! Loved that horse, and by God the best horse I rode for jumping over obstacles.

As for driving down the road an encountering horses, I do it all the time on rural county roads, but I recently learned the horror of driving a truck with a loaded trailer on busy roads in Missouri and coming over a hill going 70 mph, to see a wagon immediately in front of you in the middle of the road. Them Amish folks need to be more careful! Unlike most people they throw caution to the wind where horses are concerned and act like they own the road far too often.
Never been thrown, but I used to have a Palomino that took about 3 ft of PVC pipe to ride, but it was a racer, spirited ones seem the ones to race
 
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diane

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You know, I was just thinking about John Wilder's adventures with mules! Now there's a whole 'nother ball game. He got his crowd of mules for his mule brigade but only the leads were saddle broken. The rest...were not about to be! There's a whole hilarious description one of his officers wrote about Wilder's men trying to ride...or even get near...the mules! (That officer learned all the latest cuss words, too...!)

Even trained horses can get spooked, though, and the outcome can be pretty awful. Not sure of the unit numbers but at Chickamauga think it was the 48th Illinois battery's horses suddenly tore off like a horde of demons had them - right through the Ohio infantry. They were not just hauling their rears but hauling the artillery - something like 46 soldiers killed or injured.
 

DixieRifles

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Its all about training, and a healthy bond between the rider and horse. One doesn't just jump up on any random horse and ride off, (as the saying goes, "Always be careful around strange animals."),
I also heard in some recent news article that horses can sense your attitude or fear etc. I can't recall exactly. But I would think they pick up on your fear and that sets them on high alert. And what rider can be calm and controlled during a major battle???

There is another problem that I experienced on a Shetland pony we kept for awhile. It was an old pony and you had to be deliberate to get it to ride to the opposite end of the pasture. Once you turned his nose back in the opposite direction you better hang on. He bolted for the barn while taking every corner so close that you knew your leg would be ripped open by a barbed wire. Wonder if this was a problem in the Army? They didn't actually have a barn in the field but was there a problem of a horse getting fed up with the confusion and headed back towards home or to join the other pack?


And I thought this discussion was going to be about how big of a Target a horse was on the battlefield.
 
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