Our Heroic Horses – War Horse

Alison JamesAlison's Commentary

Healing is at hand for man and the equine kingdom!  Few extol the virtues of horses, but in the theatre production of the novel War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, the horse takes center stage. In this extraordinary stage presentation, the puppeteers bring Joey the horse, part hunter, part draft horse, to life. His body, head, ear, tail movements and behavior are so engaging that the artificiality of depiction is forgotten. It is through puppeteering that the horrors of this play’s backdrop may be revisited.

As a foal, Joey comes into the life of a struggling farmer’s family.  From the onset, Joey’s life is not his own: he is wretched from his mother, paraded at auction, bought for the ultimate purpose of financial gain and is reluctantly trained to pull a plough by the son Billy Narracott for his father’s bet.  A bond is forged between son and horse, but the rigors of the Great War set in and Joey is eventually sold for profit into the military.

The battle of the West Front waged 440 miles from the Swiss border to the North Sea amid dug-out trenches and “no man’s land”. Man and horse became fodder for barbed wire, automatic machine guns and tanks.  A total of eight million horses died in WWI and an estimated 10 million soldiers lost their lives during this War to End All Wars.  One million English horses were taken to France to be used by the British.  Only 62,000 of them were brought back. The U.S. suffered more than 300,000 human casualties in its engagement to help bring about the Allied victory in 1918.

Horses are non-predatory, peace-loving and non-territorial creatures.  They served in this war, as they have throughout man’s history and suffered, as we are reminded, prolonged horrendous conditions and deaths. They were worked till they dropped or were killed.  After the war was over, many were left behind and slaughtered for their meat, a merciless end for their service and suffering. Recognition of all that horses have provided us throughout our history is so long overdue. In War Horse, awareness of their plight and man’s selfish denial of them as soulful beings is put in the spotlight. But despite the horrendous intertwining of man and horse during the First World War (and so many others, of course) there is a light that shines through the amazing performances in War Horse: it is the devoted service of the horse to man.

As a breed and as individual beings, horses have their own destiny — karma too.  In Linda Kohanov’s book Way of the Horse, we are treated to profound insights as to the emotional nature and archetypes of horses, and many insights as to what they can teach us.  Today, equestrian centers and healing retreats are springing up where it is possible for us to visit them in order to experience what they may teach us. When they are allowed to step outside the traditional role of beasts of burden or racehorse entertainment, they can demonstrate sensitivities and behavior that is edifying spiritually and energetically. Linda Kohanov  reveals what she discovers when she taps into their consciousness; horses do indeed carry past-life memories from the battlefield and emotional scars, just as we do.

Unequivocably, War Horse is a step in the right direction to put the record straight for their sake and for ours and for us to learn from the past at this time of new beginnings.  It is time to reset our beliefs, attitudes and treatment of horses.

“How could we fail to love an animal who would take up our causes for us whether they were tranquil agricultural efforts or this horrible thing called war?” ~ Monty Roberts[1]

[1] Author of The Man Who Listens to Horses, Shy Boy and Horse Sense for People.