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The sporting horse on the Lines Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 01 March 2009
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The sporting horse on the Lines
The spirit of the lines

When Baron Marbot (Marshal Massena's adjutant), arrived at the Lines and camped near Sobral de Monte Agraço, he observed to his great surprise, that the English used magnificent hunting horses (thoroughbreds) for their reconnaissance work. Military doctrine always had taught that sporting horses were useless for war, because of their scarcity, temperament and high price.

a specialsits rider... 

The British however, did not use them in the cavalry regiments, but with a number of trusted, well trained elite riders, normally light cavalary officers (dragoons), with the objective of collecting important information about the invader: they would approach the French troops, alone and just out of musket shot range, and in the event that the French tried to chase them, would put spurs to their mounts and quickly lose their pursuers, later returning to continue their observations.
The importance attributed to these valuable horses was such, that their riders had instructions to shoot them whenever there was a risk of their falling into in enemy hands.

The French for their part, eager to capture one of these beautiful creatures, resorted to employing the most curious stratagems. Baron Marbot records in his memoires, that one day after a skirmish, a voltigeur feigned death, with the intention of attracting the attention of one of these spies, and in the event surprised and captured the rider, without, however, avoiding the death of his magnificent mount.

More success attended a character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, father of Sherlock Holmes, in the delightful adventures of Brigadier General Gerard on the Lines, in the story of a daring French cavalry officer, who, with the intention of observing the alies, managed to cross the first line near the Mosteiro de Santo António do Varatojo, mounted on a splendid Arab horse, and headed, half disoriented in the darknesses of the night, in the direction of the allies main encampment. When skirting the main signals and communications post, his horse was shot from under him by an anglo-lusso piquet and he was obliged to take refuge in a Quinta which served as lodging for English officers who had also stabled their valuable hunting horses there.

The intruder thus managed to steal one of these agile thoroughbreds and, thanks to his blue uniform, similar to that of many British officers, succeeded in returning uninjured to the advanced French picquets by joining in a fox hunt, one of many organised by the English behind the first Line.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 31 March 2009 )
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