Throwback Tuesday’s post! Today we continue our theme of carriage horses in the service industry and look at the role of the lifeboat horse.


Lifeboat-launching horses were mostly hired from farmers, but this became increasingly difficult as farm horses were phased out by tractors. Another problem was an increasing reluctance by farmers to put their horses at risk of injury and this was impacting on the cost of hire. At some stations, it became impossible to hire local horses as they had to be brought from such a distance that it delayed launching.

One of the most challenging feats ever undertaken in RNLI history involved around 100 people and 18 horses dragging the Lynmouth lifeboat 13 miles overnight in terrible weather to launch to a ship in distress.

The arrival of the motor lifeboat Royal Silver Jubilee at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk on 11 February 1936 marked the end of the iconic sight of horses pulling lifeboats through streets and across sand to launch in all weathers. This then only left one role for the horses: pulling the lifeboats up the beach but this practice was also soon modernised with the installation of an electric winch. An article entitled The Last of the Life-boat Horses in the December 1936 issue of The Life-boat Journal pays tribute to this end of an era:

‘The change has added to the efficiency of the service, but it has taken from it something of its picturesqueness. When the alarm had been sounded the first man to arrive at the boat-house with his horse received an extra five shillings, and those who saw the race for the boat-house, and the team of four, six or eight horses taking the boat into the sea, will not easily forget what a fine sight it was.’

Yet another example of how horses have served humans and their country.

“He serves without servility; he has
fought without enmity. There is
nothing so powerful, nothing less
violent, there is nothing so quick,
nothing more patient.

England’s past has been borne on
his back. All history is his
industry; we are his heirs, he
our inheritance.”