Women and horses and power and war."
Last week, the week of Veteran's Day, began with a filly, Zenyatta, crushing the boys in the Breeder's Cup Classic at Santa Anita. The undefeated Zenyatta will enter the thoroughbred racing history books along side other greats such as Ruffian, Personal Ensign and Genuine Risk.
We also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9. On facebook, I talked briefly about Veryl Goodnight's sculpture, celebrating that event. Veryl says that, to her, "horses and freedom are synonymous."
On Wednesday, November 11, Blue Star Equiculture welcomed our first Girl Scout Troop to the property to learn more about our horses and our mission. In honor of Veteran's Day, Pam and the Girls, Duchess and Chyna, challenged the Girl Scouts to imagine what it would have been like to have been a woman on a farm in 1918. It was a week to celebrate "girl power!"
The war effort sent lots and lots of men to Europe from the United States and England to fight the war. Women had to take the place of men in munitions manufacturing and particularly in farming. Food was needed on the home front as well as on the battlefield. So women had to take up the job of tending to the fields, which in the 1910s involved working with draft horses.
Imagine what it would have been like...the "War to End All Wars" was being waged in France in trenches... Your husband or your father or your brother might be thousands of miles away in a muddy ditch, being bombarded from miles away by huge German guns. You may not have had any sort of job besides tending to the household. Women can't even VOTE! But you're called upon to do something to ensure victory for the nation. You go to work beside a horse in the field.
After the war, women didn't want to go back to merely tending the household. They had found they had made a big difference in the world. And so in the United States and in England, and in much of the rest of Europe, women finally were given the right to vote. (England, 1918; the US, 1920.)
As for the horses, so many horses had been shipped to the front that, while there were still plenty to be found on farms and in the city, a horse shortage encouraged people to find substitutes for them so that the horses could be used for the "more important" business of warfare. Although the internal combustion engine for trucks and automobiles had been in existence for quite some time, there had not yet been much incentive to switch over to the new-fangled contraptions that few people quite knew how to use and even fewer knew how to fix. In essence, World War I's demand for horses led to the decline of the working horse in America (and World War II, with its labor shortages, would be the death knell...).
As for the horses that had been shipped to Europe, once the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, they were considered surplus. They were no longer needed to carry on the war effort. Thousands of horses from both the British and American armies were sold to various markets throughout the world. Most notably, many of these former cavalry and supply horses were sent to Egypt.
In 1930, Dorothy Brooke, the wife of a British major general stationed in Egypt, arrived in Cairo to a shocking sight. The streets were filled with former horses belonging to the British, American, and Australian forces in WWI, who had been abandoned and sold into hard labor after the war had ended. Most were now quite old, and many were little more than walking skeletons and in constant pain. The large draft horses were much bigger than native Egyptian horses and were unaccustomed to the heat of the desert. Within three years, Dorothy was able to set up a committee purchase some 5000 horses. Many of these horses were old and in the final stages of their lives and had to be humanely destroyed. But Dorothy realized that beyond the old war heroes, there were horses and donkeys who toiled everyday in the streets of Cairo and needed help. In 1934, she founded the "Old War Horse Memorial Hospital" in Cairo, which offered free veterinary service to any working animal. Today, the Brooke continues Dorothy's mission, by providing veterinary services and knowledge to the owners of horses and donkeys working in the world's poorest countries. The Brooke recognizes that the labor of an equine is often all that stands between survival and starvation for many families.
There are many, many heroes to honor on Veteran's Day. They include not only the soldiers who fought the battles, but also the women who worked the fields, and the horses who plowed the earth and hauled the supplies. We also honor the women like Dorothy Brooke who honored the equine veterans of our human wars.
Just like Dorothy Brooke honored the war horses by helping all the horses of Cairo, we at Blue Star Equiculture honor the contribution of all horses throughout our history by helping retired and homeless working horses.
For more historical photos, see our Veteran's Day photo album on facebook.