The Army Veterinary Corps’ ‘Self-Constituted Ally’: Mange Mites, Horses, and Veterinary Authority in the First World War.

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPresentation


This paper explores how mange mites’ parasitic relationships with equines both bolstered and threatened the British Army Veterinary Corps’ authority in the First World War.
Mites of the sarcoptic and psoroptic genera produced painful skin lesions which weakened a horse’s general health, causing debility and death if left untreated. This presented a serious threat to the horsed strength of the British Army, with the role of treatment and prevention falling to the Army Veterinary Corps (AVC).
Mange cases were isolated in specialised hospitals, with traditional ‘oily dressing’ treatments replaced by the pioneering use of dipping baths. However, where mange treatment represented an AVC success, the decision to clip army horses in the winter of 1916-17 as a preventative measure represented the AVC’s most public failure. Following a 50% increase in equine mortality in the Spring of 1917 being blamed on the decision to clip, the AVC’s competency was questioned in the House of Commons, and their authority challenged by the appointment of non-AVC personnel to care for horses in the field. This authority was already fragile, with questions to veterinary authority in the 2nd Boer War prompting reforms which were untested at the First World War’s onset. The AVC’s response to mange-equine interactions provided such a test.
Histories of the AVC have focused on the Corps’ First World War successes. Studying the interactions between mange mites, equines and AVC officers provides new insight into the complex position the AVC occupied during the conflict, altering our understanding of its wartime operations.
Period23 Apr 2022
Event titleEquine History Collective 2022 Conference: All Creatures Great and Small
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational