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NZ's First World War horses

Page 2 – Acquiring horses for war

Between 1914 and 1916 the New Zealand government acquired more than 10,000 horses to equip the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. It had no great difficulty securing this number of horses of suitable quality. In 1914 there were estimated to be around 400,000 horses in New Zealand, of which about 50,000 were fit for riding or draught work.

Stock inspectors from the Department of Agriculture purchased the vast majority of the 10,000 horses. They tested any offered for sale, rejecting those they deemed unfit. On average they paid £17 ($2500 in today’s money) for riding horses and £24 ($3500) for artillery and transport horses. Inspectors also tested horses men brought with them to take to war. If they considered the horse was suitable they would purchase it, and often it was issued to the man who had brought it. Of the approximately 1400 horses that were donated, the inspectors accepted more than 1300.

Before the horses went into training camps or overseas they were sent to a remount depot. Here they were further examined, classified – for troop work (riding), artillery (draught and heavy draught) or transport (pack) – and branded with government and individual identifiers.

Initially the horses were sent to temporary remount depots in Palmerston North, Christchurch and Dunedin. But the majority passed through a depot that was established in Upper Hutt in October 1914. This was close to both the railway station – where the horses disembarked – and the Hutt River – where they were taken three times a day to drink fresh water. The Evening Post reported that this depot caused some restless nights for the local residents:

There are many times when the clatter of many horses hooves breaks the sleep of numbers of Upper Hutt residents either before midnight or soon after dawn.

Serious injuries and illnesses, such as strangles (a respiratory tract infection), were treated at a ‘horse hospital’ in the nearby Wallaceville Animal Research Laboratory. The laboratory had been built in 1904 for the Department of Agriculture as a diagnostic and research centre for animal health in New Zealand.

In late 1916, due to pressure on shipping, the Defence Department stopped sending horses overseas. For the rest of the war the NZEF drew on imperial supplies. The remount depot’s sole concern became the training camps’ requirements. Because of the reduction in work the Department eventually downsized the remount depot and moved its operations to the Wallaceville laboratory’s farm. In April 1918 the Department further reduced the size of the remount depot and moved it across the Remutaka Range to Tauherenīkau.

How to cite this page

Acquiring horses for war, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated