A very nice review by someone who knows both horses and military history:
WAR HORSE: A History of the Military Horse and Rider, Louis DiMarco, Westholme Publishing, Yardley, PA, 432 pages, $29.95.
Louis DiMarco’s War Horse: A History of the Military Horse and Rider is a fascinating one-of-a-kind book that looks at military history through the evolving science of horse riding, training, and breeding. Its unique approach offers a fresh interpretation of classic military history from the ancients through operations in World War II.
War Horse is a remarkable book on many levels, beginning with the ancient Egyptians’ use of the chariot. DiMarco describes how the desire for increased mobility and economy drove the creation of the warrior on horseback and traces the evolution of horse breeds, horsemanship, tack, the evolution of cavalry warfare, and the contributions of cavalry to warfare: its tactics, operational art, and even grand strategies through the centuries. These developments produced operational and tactical mobility, shock, and firepower. DiMarco illustrates through battle and campaign narratives how the great captains skillfully translated an understanding of mounted forces into battlefield success. He also describes how a lack of appreciation for horses and mounted forces could lead to failure.
The book’s ability to penetrate to a level of significant detail, overturn repeated myths, summarize succinctly, and back up its judgments and conclusions is significant. When I began teaching at SAMS I wanted a book like War Horse to educate the officer corps on the constant and turbulent evolution of operational art. The book demonstrates how ideas about doctrine, weapons, branches of service, and organizational designs evolve in a messy but inexorable way.
DiMarco is uniquely qualified to write about horse cavalry. He is a retired Army officer and has served in positions from cavalry troop through joint staff. He served as a doctrine writer at the Armor School, specialized in reconnaissance doctrine and urban and counterinsurgency warfare at the Combined Arms Command, and is currently teaching military history at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Most importantly, DiMarco is an accomplished horseman who has actively owned and trained horses for more than 20 years.
As a horse book and horse cavalry book War Horse is in a class of its own. The natural sentiment toward the horse and horse cavalry doesn’t get in the way of solid and deeply researched history. The book provides many detailed facts about horse types and breeds not often found in books on horse cavalry and delves deeply into the details of riding “tack” and cavalry weapons. I find the battle reconstructions more credible due to DiMarco’s research and knowledge of horsemanship, tack, and weapons.
This is my kind of history reading: interesting and intellectually stimulating. It’s the kind of book I like to move through slowly, mulling over the content, fitting the pieces into the messy filing system of my mind. In short, the book is a fascinating and detailed account of an important contributor to human history—the war horse.
BG Huba Wass de Czege, USA, Retired, Easton, Kansas
Military Review, May-June 2009