HomeGeneralThe King’s Troop. A Modern but Traditional Regiment.
October 25, 2019
The King’s Troop. A Modern but Traditional Regiment.
In 1947, on an official visit to The Riding Troop by King George VI, when signing the visitor’s book, The King scratched out “Riding” and put “King’s” instead. Since then the regiment has always been known as ‘The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery’. This article is about the history of The King’s Troop and talks about the horses, guns and life as a Gunners.
The Royal Horse Artillery was originally formed in 1793 and was based at Goodwood in West Sussex. In 1946, as the ‘Riding Troop’, the regiment carried out its first Royal salute. The King’s Troop role is essentially ceremonial. They were formed by Royal decree as a mounted battery to fire salutes on state occasions. Today, as a result, they are seen mainly in London firing salutes for Royal birthdays, The State Opening of Parliament, Royal births, deaths and marriages among other state events. The guns used are from the First World War era, of which there are still ten in existence. Each gun weighs a massive 1.5 tons and measures 54 feet in length. They are 13 pounder field guns which were artillery guns used in both world wars. Each gun is pulled by six horses. In 1952, following the death of King George VI, a gun carriage was used to carry the King’s coffin from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey. This is one particular gun is now only ever used for the state funeral of a monarch. However, other guns have been utilised for for most state funerals since 1952, including that of The Princess of Wales in 1997. Each gun has a team of six horses. Two larger horses nearest the gun itself which are called ‘wheelers’ and two at the front who are usually smaller in size and two others in the middle.
The present Queen, decided on Her accession to the throne to keep the name of ‘The King’s Troop’ in respect and deference to Her Father. The Troop are probably best known for firing a 41 gun salute in Green Park in London every year to celebrate The Monarch’s official birthday every June.
The regiment are always on the look out for new recruits and they attend a few equestrian events each year on a recruitment drive. New recruits do not have to be able to ride as they are taught when they join. To apply to become a King’s Trooper, they have to join the army first and complete various training programmes in the normal as their initial training as a recruit, then, if they wish, they can join the Troop. The Troop is well known for the number of female personnel, and about 50% are female as females are often more equestrian minded than their male counterparts. One thing that is common to both is the importance they attach to being part of an old famous regiment with traditions which go back along time, the comradery and identity of which they are all fiercely proud.
The Troop have up to 130 horses in their London Barracks at any one time. The majority come from Ireland, usually as 5 year olds. They go to Melton Mowbray for about 10 weeks for training before going to London. Most of the horses are geldings but one of the most important things which they need is to be trainable and accept all manner of noise and crowds, something that make most horses spook! Each horses’ role is decided on depending on its aptitude for the specific roles required. They usually retire at about 16 years old and are found/sold to good homes, quite often to those who have looked after them in the regiment.
Each horse is allotted a Gunner who rides them out each day. The ceremonial work they do requires them to be fit and strong, and they can often be seen around the parks and other areas in London on exercise. Behind the scenes there are many others in charge of the feeding and welfare of each horse, also members of the King’s Troop. The horses’ feet need constant attention and they usually need to be re-shod every 2 to 3 weeks as the road work the horses do during exercise wear the shoes down very quickly. The hind shoes wear out far quicker than the fronts, which normally can last 4 to 5 weeks.
August is the quietest month for The Troop as there are usually no ceremonial duties undertaken. This gives the horses time to have time off from London when they are taken to Norfolk and ridden on the beaches or countryside, quite often bear-back! This gives the horses and their riders some mental let down and time away from the gruelling pressures of being stabled for most of the time in London. The King’s Troop moved from St Johns Wood Barracks in 2012 to their new home near Greenwich, The Woolwich Barracks. Their new barracks were designed to be particularly environmentally friendly. For example the power and hot water is supplied by pellets made of the manure from the horses.
Each horse’s welfare is very important. Behind the scenes, there are other personnel in the regiment whose duty it is, to ensure the comfort and well-being of each horse. The King’s Troop has a veterinary centre in Melton Mowbray together with any other facilities needed. When the horses arrive from Ireland, they go to Melton Mowbray for their initial breaking and training where they can also be properly assessed. There are also facilities in Woolwich, the London base for normal everyday care and welfare.
The ceremonial uniform worn is very elaborate and is made for each individual Gunner by tailors who work only for the regiment. The gold on the uniform is the heavy bit. It also makes them very expensive.
The King’s Troop has featured in many feature films in the past, most recently in the Downton Abbey film. In this film, they were filming for about a week. The Troop used to feature in quite a lot of films, but more recently not so many. However, the Gunners love doing filming and privately we suspect, they hope to be able to do more in the future.
Apart from London, Gunners can be seen on duty at several shows each year adding some Je ne say quoi at prize giving’s and other special presentations. At some shows, they also do displays or demonstrations. Each year, the biggest show for the Troop is the Windsor
Horse Show where they do quite a lot. As it is The Queen’s ‘local show’ as it were and She attends most days it runs, the King’s Troop are very involved in the pageantry and most years every evening the show runs, they do what is called The Musical Drive, a fast a furious exhibition of men and horses working in perfect harmony. .
This is an article which could go on and on. We hope that this short piece gives you the reader a small insight about one of Britain’s most illustrious and famous ceremonial units for which Great Britain is so well known and admired through the whole world.
The editor Bernard Simpson has been involved with horses and the industry for over 40 years. Together with his wife, he bred many flat racehorses including some which were Royal Ascot winners. He is also experienced in equine media using video, photography and journalism. Bernard currently lives in Wiltshire. He and guest authors now present this blog and hope you like our articles.
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