In this article we look at the brilliance of the Household Cavalry and their world famous musical ride. The Household Cavalry were formed in 1660, on the return of King Charles II to the English throne, and since then the regiment, one of the oldest if not the oldest in the British Army, have been at the forefront of security for all British Monarchs. It is the most senior regiment in the British Army. Not only are they famous for their ceremonial duties in London and Windsor, but they also attend horse shows and other events each year to perform their unique Musical Ride.
The Musical Ride was first performed in 1889 at the Royal Tournament. The riders from the regiment produced movements on horseback which were designed to replicate the movements required of the horses in battle, but to music. So successful was this original display, the traditional ride has been included as a major part of the Household Cavalry’s annual calendar. The Royal Household Cavalry has two main regiments, The Lifeguards and The Blues and Royals. Each performance they give is tailored to suit each venue they perform at, but the main essence of the original and now traditional ride has been maintained. Dressed in full state ceremonial uniform, eight riders from the Life Guards and another eight from the Blues and Royals provide the main focus of the display, but with one difference, they carry lances for the displays rather than swords seen when they are on ceremonial duty. The Life Guards wear red tunics and the Blues and Royals wear blue tunics.
Along with these sixteen riders, there are four others who ride Grey horses, and are the ‘state trumpeters’ who job in battle was to sound the orders. They always rode grey horses so they could be easily identified on the battle field. In the musical ride, they get their horses to lay down flat and stand on them. While being a spectacular part pf the display, in battle, the practice was to enable riders to conceal and protect battle units and also to give a more stable platform from which rifles could be fired more accurately. These four riders wear a uniform, not as heavy as the ceremonial uniform, in order to allow them more necessary agility. The uniform they wear does date back to the 1820’s. Every musical ride has two other major players, one of course is the commanding officer overseeing the whole display, and the second, possibly the most memorable part of any ride, ‘The Drum Horse’. The drum horse is always a big imposing coloured Shire horse. He needs to be to carry two heavy kettle drums, (one each side of the saddle) and which weigh 52kilograms each. (In old money that is about one hundred weight!).
The uniqueness of The Household Cavalry is that, not only do they carry out all the ceremonial duties in London, but they are also a fighting unit. The troops are sent out on active service in the field. Prince Harry, a former member of the Household Cavalry was sent on active service to Afghanistan on two occasions. They serve using armoured vehicles mainly for reconnaissance.
The Household Cavalry are based in the Hyde Park Barracks in London where they have stabling for 300 horses. All the horses’ welfare for veterinary and farrier work is carried out by troopers in the regiment. The full complement of horses is 235 black Irish Draught cross Thoroughbred horses, 14 greys and 4 drum horses.
All troopers, when joining the Cavalry undertake a commission when they are expected to learn the art of being a soldier. At the end of 12 weeks military training, troopers have the choice whether they want to join the mounted regiment. Those who do are then sent on a 16 week course, where they will have their own horse, learn to look after it, feed it, groom it and build up a partnership with it. A final 4 weeks are then spent riding n ceremonial uniform before the trooper passes out and then chooses whether to be in the Life Guards or Blues and Royals.
The musical ride is designed to give audiences top class entertainment for the ten minute displays the Household Cavalry do. It is fast, looks very daring at the least, if not positively dangerous, as the troopers with their horses conduct the most intricate movements as a whole unit at very close quarters to each other. Each performance is carefully choreographed to give the most dramatic effect and is rehearsed for many months before each delivery. Words do not do these displays any sort of justice, and neither do still images, but if anyone has the opportunity to see one of these brilliant Musical Rides by The Household Cavalry, they certainly should not pass it up.