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Cavalry horses back to work after holiday

30 January 2017

The prestigious, normally immaculate horses from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment in Knightsbridge have reported for duty long haired and caked in mud after a two-month holiday in the fields and fresh air of Leicestershire.

Now the troopers at Hyde Park Barracks have a gargantuan challenge on their hands to transform the shocking beasts back into proud, sleek steeds fit for The Queen. They have just six weeks to get around a hundred horses in sparkling order.

“The boys have a real challenge on their hands this year, but they’re more than up for it,” explained Major James Harbord, Squadron Leader of The Life Guards.

“They’ll be in the stables from 5.30am to 4pm working with the horses every day to get them ready for their first parade in six weeks’ time.

“The transformation will be remarkable but will involve serious, long, hard, patient graft”.

The officer added: “The Queen knows her horses and she’s got a real eye for detail.

“She’ll be checking that we’ve met those critically high equine standards for State ceremonial and we’re determined as a regiment to put on a good show for Her on the big events to come.”

The reason for sending the horses away was to give them a well-deserved break from the taxing military routine. Released into wide open fields, their lungs filled with fresh clean air, the magnificent animals frolic, gambol, eat grass and roll in the mud for weeks on end.

On their return to work they are unrecognisable – fat, flabby and tatty.

Corporal of Horse Liam Telfer, 32, from Sunderland explained that identifying the beloved horses can seem nearly impossible.

"Although we know every horse like family, they’re in such a state we have to rely on microchips and hoof stamps to identify them and get them back into their correct stalls,” he said.

First the worst of the dirt has to be painstakingly brushed out, tangles freed, knots eliminated, then the horses will have their over grown hooves clipped, and shod.

With the blacksmith fires blazing and hammers repeatedly striking down on anvils the Household Cavalry’s farriers work flat out to get the horses back in training with new shoes.

“The horses had been back for just over one day and we had put on 60 new shoes,” said Farrier Lance Corporal of Horse Richard Harris.

“It’s important to get the shoes on first because out in the field the hooves grow out and can become misshapen and we need to make sure they have a level footfall to prevent injury.”

Once re-shod a warm soapy bath in the solarium, dried under heat lamps, follows in an effort to wash away the ingrained dirt.

Then their shaggy coats are clipped, beards shaved, and the close grooming begins in earnest. It will be several days before the coats recover their mirror shine.

A healthy balanced diet and gentle build up exercise will start to tone muscles and streamline the flanks on the powerful mares and geldings, which weigh between 500-800kg.

The process is painstaking and exacting with attention paid to every minute detail, right down to the length of the last hair on the final horse’s body.

“Once they are ready we can start riding them to build up their muscle and capabilities,” said Corporal of Horse Telfer.

“There will be lots of section work to ensure the men and horses are ready for presentation.”

Despite their expertise with the horses though it it is clear that the primary focus of The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment’s Servicemen is on soldiering.

When based in London their daily duties include providing the Queen's Life Guard and they protect the official entrance to the Royal Palaces at Horse Guards 24/7, 365 days of the year.

“The guys join the Army because they want to serve as a soldiers not because they want to work with horses,” emphasised Major Harbord.

“They will spend two years with horses and they will from a great affinity with them but they are soldiers first.”

When it comes to making the horses presentable for world-famous ceremonies the Army personnel are looking for perfect uniformity, without a single horse appearing even slightly out of place.

The mane has to be one hand-span wide and tails must be clipped to fall in exactly the same place on every horse.

Once deemed to be good enough to be ridden at a State Ceremony a horse will be given a name but until that time they are known by a number.

Standing by Number 14 Corporal of Horse Teller said: “Working with the horses is a very, very labour intensive process and soldiers will have 36 hours off every two weeks, if they’re lucky.

“But it’s an important job.”

Despite the tough task at hand there is no doubt that the magnificent animals will be ready.

As always the Army’s equine members will adorn the parade square in the Queen’s Life Guard with gleaming coats to make Britain proud.

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