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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Clipper Folly: A Sad Chapter in Horse History from World War I

11 November 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog at

Looking over today's post about World War I and Armistice/Veteran's Day made me remember the post from last spring when I showed the mysterious post card of British farrier Ted Adams in his army uniform astride this nice big horse. Look below to see what he wrote on the back on the photo; it's quite mysterious. Click here to go back and read the original post, when I said I had a theory what happened to the horse.

I forgot to share my theory with you, but it seems like this is the right time of year to do it, and this is a good story--though a sad one--that you can tell when the conversation lags this fall.

Hundreds of thousands of horses served the British and American forces in France during World War I. They lived in the open, tied to simple picket lines. When the first winter came, the horses were allowed to grow thick coats to keep them warm, but they soon were riddled with lice and itchy with various rashes, mange, and fungus, which spread easily from wooley horse to wooley horses and on down the picket line.

The British Army's solution to this nuisance was to order that all horses be clipped from head to toe so vermin would have no place to hide, and so fungus could be exposed and treated.

Clipped horses are fine in the warm stables back home in England, but these horses lived outside. If they had blankets, they were often soaking wet.

Many of Britain's best horses died that first winter--not from bullets, not from exhaustion, not from disease. They died from cold and wet.

You'll notice that Ted Adams' fine big horse has been clipped from head to toe; only his legs were left. Look in the background and you'll see that there are no leaves on the trees. Ted himself is wearing what looks like a winter uniform.

By 1918, the British had figured out that a sensible compromise was to clip the legs and belly. But by the end of the war 256,000 horses had died. Virtually all the horses who survived the war were sold to French butchers or abandoned in the Middle East, as was the custom.

These four Royal Artillerymen are setting to work on this horse with a hand-cranked clipping machine. Double-click on the photo to see the enlarged view. All photos in this blog post were provided and documented by the astute military photo-historian I know online only as "Sunnybrook". (That's the way she likes it.) She is one of the treasures that makes the Internet a fascinating place.

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