The Richmond Cup sees members of the Household Cavalry mounted in horseback in their sparkling ceremonial uniforms competing to be the best turned out soldier.
The competition sees 12 Troopers of the Life Guards and The Blues and Royals immaculately presented to be tested by a ruthless inspection party at Hyde Park barracks, London.
The soldiers spend up to a month before the competition ensuring every minute detail of their uniform and kit is to the highest possible standard. Their equine companions receive the same treatment.
Ahead of the prestigious competition, which is now formally known as the Princess Elizabeth Cup but still referred to as The Richmond Cup, every available piece of leather is waxed and shined to a mirror finish, while the horses are washed, groomed and cleaned with the same exacting detail.
Months of preparation, long sleepless nights, and genuine devotion goes into waxing the bridles, head kit, saddle, stirrup leathers and girth to a surreal standard.
Every stitch is analysed and checked with the aim of achieving a glassy smooth finish on every surface. The mirror-like black leather Jack Boots worn by each trooper receive at least 200 hours of polishing for this single event. A minimum of 2kg of bee’s wax is used to achieve the unique shine on the ceremonial footwear.
The horses undergo an equally rigorous preparation process. Hooves are chalked, painted and polished finer than the most elite human pedicure. Tails are "banged" (trimmed) at spirit level accuracy, their coats and beards shaved, then groomed to a high reflective polish.
The attention to detail is so fine that petroleum jelly is applied to the equine’s eyes, docks (backsides) and lips to ensure they gleam under the gaze of the inspecting party. Every part of the horse, harness and the Trooper's uniform is meticulously checked by the judges and given a score.
To prevent any speck of dust or dirt finding its way on the immaculate horse’s body the powerful animal’s are wrapped in protective sheets while the kit is put on. Every possible precaution is taken to preserve those hundreds of hours of meticulous effort. Even the lightest pollen in the air from the trees in Hyde Park could ruin a Trooper's chances.
With just seconds remaining before the inspection begins the white sheets are whipped off to reveal a sparking soldier atop his gleaming horse.
Following the stringent inspection the top eight soldiers and horses will be chosen to be presented to The Queen and they will spend The Queen's Birthday Parade on June 17th, either side of the Royal Dais, guarding Her Majesty, in a position of huge honour, profile and responsibility.
The winner of the Richmond Cup will be presented to Her Majesty The Queen at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in May and the top three placed soldiers will represent the Regiment at the Spruce Meadows International Horse Show in Canada in the autumn.
Speaking ahead of being inspected on the parade square Trooper Alex Grinstead, of 1 Troop The Blues and Royals, said: “In the run up to this event we have been starting at 6am and finishing at 2am cleaning our kit. “We look for a glass finish on anything that is black and the brass on our uniform needs to not just be shiny, it needs to stand out.”
The competition isn’t just about the individual soldiers under inspection though, it is about his whole troop.
Trooper Grinstead added: “I am just representing my troop and every single member has chipped in to assist me. “It’s all about attention to detail to the smallest degree – it helps to be obsessive about everything.”
The inspection party running their expert eyes over proceedings included: Lieutenant Colonel David Hannah, Brigade Major; Lieutenant Colonel James Gaslee, commanding officer of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment; WO1 Andrew Stokes, Garrison Sergeant Major; Captain Tom Mountain, adjutant of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment; WO1 Mark Quickfall, regimental sergeant major of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment; WO1 Martin Ireland, sergeant major of the Royal Armoured Corps.
The winner and the seven runners up will be revealed during a presentation to Her Majesty The Queen at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.