We were invited to the barracks for the preparation of The Major General’s Inspection. The whole Regiment is mounted for an annual inspection by the General Officer Commanding London District in Hyde Park prior to the beginning of the main Ceremonial Season.
During the visit we were given unprecedented access to military personnel who, amongst their daily duties, were preparing for: the Diamond Jubilee, Trooping the Colour and the London 2012 Olympics. The day’s outing was a stimulating and captivating spectacle packed full of dedication to hard work, and a first-class display of the skill and professionalism by the Household Cavalry and their horses.
Over 80% of Troopers come to the Regiment never having ridden or met a horse before and the average time they fall off when learning to ride is 7 times. Often as much as half an hour a month is spent with faces in the mud.
The early morning routine starts when the Cavalry horses are woken, mucked out, groomed and prepared for their early morning ride. Routes are changed regularly in order that the horses have to deal with new situations and traffic. The horses get through over 12.000 shoes per year
Horse celebrities have their own place within the Baracks and their work is of immense value, unlike the many ‘mock celebrities’ that intrude, undeservingly, into our daily news.
They are: Llamrei the Sweeping Horse, (6 years old -He is one of the youngest horses and has just finished his training and proud to do his bit to help. He even shakes out his own bedding. Troop Leader Captain Alex Owen decided to call him Llamrei after King Arthur’s charge. This will be his first ceremonial season.
Thomas the Kissing Horse, who kisses on demand will be part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year but this will be his last event before he goes onto a well-earned retirement.
And there is Digger who is 19.3 hands and reported to be one of the biggest horses in Britain. He is being trained up to take on the role of supporting the Ceremonial Drum and rider. He was orphaned at a young age and hand-reared. It took many months of rehabilitation Horse. He has to get used to the noise of the drum and become familiar with his future tasks. His ‘diet’ consists of 2.25kg o nuts, 2.2kg mix, 1.5kg chaff and as much haylage as he can eat (usually 24kg) per day. Drum horses are never ridden faster than at a walk and need to be big enough to carry the combined weight of 50kg of drums and a drummer. They are given names after Greek gods and are named by the Queen.
Most of the HCMR horses are bought in from Ireland although a few come from Wales and some from Germany. They are half thoroughbred and half Irish draught horse and start their training when they are between four and six years old. Once their training has reached the required standard the top 8-10 will move to London where they will get introduced bit by bit to the ceremonial kit.
Horses by their very nature are time intensive and require constant care and attention. The HCMR daily routine is maintained 365 days of the year and horses are exercised between 0700 and 1000hrs. They serve with the regiment until they are about 20 when they are retired. They do have two holidays a year, however, in fields, at the ocean and can also partake in horse jumping exercises.
It takes up to 3 hours just to remove the sweat leather off the kit properly. Soldiers working here and with weaponry generally do so for few years and then move onto the armoured regiment in Windsor. Whilst the work is repetitive there is an immense amount of pride in what they do in an area that is considered one of the harder roles within the Baracks.
The State Trumpeters are musicians from within the wider band of the Blues and Royals but when in the presence of the Royal Family they wear the gold state coats bearing the royal insignia, a form of dress that has remained virtually unchanged for over three centuries. They perform at all great State occasions and ceremonial events.
The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment will have a number of soldiers supporting the Olympics in a ceremonial role. In total 13.500 servicemen and women are involved in this event. The HCMR will carry out the flag raising for the Olympics and Paralympics at the Victory Medal Ceremonies and injured serviceman L Cpl Martin Compton of the Life Guards will be carrying the Olympic Torch in Hastings. 160 mounted troops will escort Her Majesty in procession on Diamond Jubilee Weekend on 5thJune . The youngest man on parade will be 17 and the oldest 43 years old. Every man will have recently served in Afghanistan or be preparing to deploy on operations next year.
Every Household Cavalry Soldier is first and foremost a fighting soldier, and uniquely in the British Army, the Household Cavalry use their qualities by combining their role in armoured fighting vehicles with the mounted State Ceremonial role. With a proud tradition of over three centuries services as a bodyguard to the Sovereign, and made up of the British Army’s two most senior regiments the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment sits at the very heart of the cultural and military heritage of Britain.
An apprenticeship and or work ethic scheme, managed by these professionals, would truly put Britain’s economy back in business.