San Toy, the first war horse taken in by The Home of Rest for Horses after the Great War

San Toy, the first war horse taken in by The Home of Rest for Horses after the Great War

Documentary to tell the stories of real war horses in the First World War

By Katy Islip

General news

01 February 2012 16:30

The stories of real war horses are set to be told in a documentary, filmed in part at a charity which took in equine veterans who survived the First World War.

War Horse - The True Story will examine the war work of The Horse Trust, then called The Home of Rest for Horses, as well as looking at the role of horses in the military today.

Parts of the hour-long programme were filmed at The Horse Trust's sanctuary in Speen, Buckinghamshire, and the show will tell the story of horses like San Toy, who was the first war horse to be taken in by the charity in 1919 after serving in both the Great War and the Boer War.

George Pagliero, director of Testimony Films which produced the programme, said: “The hard work and sacrifice of horses in the Great War is all too easily forgotten, overshadowed by the tragic deaths of nearly a million men of Britain and her Empire on the Western Front.

"And yet the war could not have been fought without those brave and dependable animals who suffered daily hardships every bit as much as the soldiers they served.

“In all that inhumanity there were those who never forgot; those who campaigned tirelessly to raise funds for equine welfare even while the guns were still blazing; terrific work that gave wounded horses a chance of survival in the hell that was the Great War. This work is continued by The Horse Trust to the present day and is something they can rightly be proud of.”

Another former service animal taken in by the charity was Roger, a German cavalry horse thought to have been an officer’s charger who was found riderless on the battlefield during the Battle of the Somme.

A British officer caught him and took him to safety, and at the end of the war brought him to England where he spent his retirement at the Home of Rest.

During the conflict The Horse Trust was the first to provide a motorized horse ambulance to transport wounded horses from the front, and in two years it travelled around 13,000 miles and carried more than 1,000 horses.

It was so successful that the War Office commissioned further equine ambulances and by the end of the war 14 were in operation in France.

Almost one million horses fought on the Western Front during the war but only 60,000 returned to Britain, with most either killed in action, dying as a result of the poor conditions or were sold off as work horses or for meat afterwards.

As part of War Horse - The True Story, the crew filmed two Friesian horses pulling a First World War wagon at the sanctuary to show the strain such work put on Army horses.

The horses, which are normally used to pull funeral carriages, were chosen as they most closely resembled the draught horses used by the Armed Forces.

Jeanette Allen, chief executive of The Horse Trust, said: “We're really excited to be featured in this documentary on the welfare of horses in the First World War. As the oldest horse charity in the world, we have been focusing on the welfare of horses for 125 years.

“We hope this documentary will raise awareness of the vital role that working horses play - both in the past and present day - and the importance of safeguarding their welfare.”

The trust depends on public support to offer retirement to working horses, and it costs around £12 a day to care for each equine in its care. To donate to its work, visit, or contact the charity on 01494 488 464 or email

• War Horse - The True Story is set to be broadcast at 9pm on Sunday, March 4 on Channel 4. Check schedules beforehand as time and date are subject to change.