By Sam Harris

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An Exmoor or New Forest pony can survive outside in winter because he keeps moving and grows a thick shaggy coat for protection. The delicate army horses, used to living in stables, were not only tied up, but also, because the army believed long coats led to mange, clipped out as well. Imagine these hapless beasts, wind and driving rain needling their nonexistent coats, standing hock deep in mud. In vain a horse picked one foot out of the mud: the other would sink in just as far, to be pulled out in its turn, a moment later.

I don’t know if they got anything to eat or dropped from sheer exhaustion. One morning when the retreat was all over, I missed them. That’s the sort of thing that hurts a soldier in war. A fine sense of priorities: the Albert-Amiens road, August 1916. IWM Another redeeming feature about World War I was that it was the first war which had the advantage of a properly trained veterinary service. In 1913, sanction had been given for a mobile veterinary section to be attached to every cavalry and infantry brigade to pick up sick and lame animals shed during the fighting.

The counterdeterrent was to resort to heavier armour for the rider, but then if his horse was hit, the rider was so hampered by his steel trappings that he couldn’t run away, so the only answer was to arm the horse too. This meant that bigger and bigger horses were needed to carry all this weight, so we see the arrival of the heavy horse, or destrier, who was to dominate the battlefields of Europe until the invention of gunpowder ousted his supremacy. The destrier was principally imported from the Low Countries and had hairy legs and huge quarters like our Shire horses today.

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An Atheist Manifesto by Sam Harris


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