The immaculate military horses which accompany the Queen at pageants and state ceremonials are in a very different condition after spending their traditional two-month holiday in Melton. The magnificent animals of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment have just returned to barracks in London after their winter break at the Defence Animal Centre.
They were caked in mud after long leisurely days frollicking in the fields around the Asfordby Road base.
And it will take the troopers at Hyde Park around six weeks to get around 100 horses ready for parading in events such as The Queen’s Birthday Parade and the State Opening of Parliament.
Major James Harbord, Sqn Ldr of The Life Guards. said: “The boys have a real challenge on their hands this year, but they’re more than up for it.
“The transformation will be remarkable, but will involve serious, long, hard, patient graft.”
He 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 first main job will be to painstakingly brush out the mud, free any tangles and eliminate any knots before the horses have their over-grown hooves clipped and shod.
The cavalry’s farriers work flat out to get the horses back in training with new shoes.
Farrier Lance Corporal of Horse, Richard Harris, said: “The horses had been back for just over one day and we had put on 60 new shoes.
“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 they are re-shod, the horses enter a warm soapy bath in the solarium before being dried under heat lamps in an effort to wash away the ingrained dirt.
Their shaggy coats are clipped and beards are shaved before the important close grooming begins. It takes several days for the coats to recover their mirror shine.
When the horses leave Melton it is interesting to hear that they are virtually unrecognisable to the soldiers on their return to barracks in Knightsbridge because of the mud and the extra weight they have put on.
Corporal of Horse Liam Telfer, said: “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.”
Vitally important is the healthy, balanced diet the horses then have to follow.
These powerful mares and geldings, which weigh between 500 to 800kg, will take gentle exercises to start to tone their muscles and streamline the flanks.
“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.”
The eyes of the world are often on these animals, as they will be when new US President Donald Trump makes his State Visit to London this year.
The aim of the regiment is to parade them in 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.
When a horse is considered good enough to be ridden at a State Ceremony it will be given a name, but until then they are known by a number.
Working with the horses is a very labour intensive process, with soldiers being granted 36 hours off every two weeks.
The animals we see on parade at events such as the Queen’s Birthday Parade or the Lord Mayor’s Show will be transformed from the horses who enjoy their well-deserved winter holidays at the Defence Animal Centre.
But, their stay in Melton is essential to ensuring the horses are properly rested for their busy schedule of events in London and at Windsor, where they are present at The Garter Ceremony.
A spokesperson for the Household Cavalry said: “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, they frolic, gambol, eat grass and roll in the mud for weeks on end.”
They will be back in Melton next winter.