TV historian Dan Snow opened a major exhibition about the years of the First World War when horses on the battlefield gave way to tanks.

The presenter, who is a trustee of The Tank Museum in Bovington, welcomed guests to what he said was “the best museum in the UK”.

From Warhorse to Horsepower takes visitors through replicas of the First World War trenches as it tells of the suffering endured by horses in battle.

It shows how tanks were on the battlefield within months of being conceived.

Dan Snow told the Echo: “I love this museum because I can’t break anything. Because I was a big clumsy lad, my mum was always telling me not to break things and so here, luckily, I can never break anything.”

He said the exhibition might help change people’s view of the First World War.

“Most of the time people think about the First World War, they think about total pointless suffering and loss and tragedy and of course there are elements of that in the First World War – but there’s also an extraordinary story of innovation, of British engineering genius.

“What happens in the First World War is that war is completely reinvented in the space of about three or four years.”

He added said the arrival of the tank “rewrote the rule book in war”.

Among the VIP guests at the launch were journalist Kate Adie, actor Chris Barrie and Top Gear presenter James May.

Mr May said the exhibition was “quite harrowing”.

“You do see pictures of horses suffering, stories of horses obviously suffering quite badly and people becoming very traumatised by what they see happening to their animals. Those cavalarymen and so on were very attached to their own beasts,” he said.

“If you’re a 13-year-old horsey enthusiast you’re going to find this distressing at the least but that’s the way it should be. That’s what it was like, so fair enough.”

He said he had been coming to the museum for 45 years.