Throughout Field Artillery Training, the words “care,” “carefully,” “depend” and “fitted” appear frequently in relation to the horse and his equipment. Before you can drive a team to pull a gun, you need to fit its harness: one size does not fit all, and if the harness is improperly fitted, a horse may be overworked, or injured or galled (rubbed raw).
The wrong size bit, for instance, will either pinch or bruise the horse’s mouth. (1) The breast collar, into which the horse leans to pull, cannot hang below the point of the shoulder, and the pole bar must hang from its supporting straps at least a hand’s width above the breast bone, or galling will be inevitable. The length of the traces depends on the size of the horse, but must also be the same for each pair of horses – reason to pair your horses carefully! The length of the traces should allow no less than a yard (slightly less than a metre) between one horse’s tail and the nose of the one behind it. And the breeching should pass horizontally about 16 inches (41 cm) below the tail, but not so low as to interfere with the movement of the hind legs.There needs to be clearance of at least a foot (30.5 cm) from the footboard of the vehicle behind. (2)
Kipling observed that, although artillerymen are not very talkative, there was real affection between them and their horses, shown in “little quiet caresses between man and beast — affectionate nuzzlings and nose-slappings” while the animals were harnessed and unharnessed.
“Surely the Gunner’s relation to his horse,” he adds, “is more intimate even than the cavalryman’s; for a lost horse only turns cavalry into infantry, but trouble in a gun team may mean death all round.” (3)
(1) Field Artillery Training. HMSO. 1914. 63
(2) FAT, 103.
(3) Kipling, Rudyard. The New Army in Training. London: 1915. 22
The photograph of wheelers is found on a site about military horses, but is only identified as RHA, Royal Horse Artillery.