Meet the Cavalry
Today we’re learning more about two of the oldest regiments who together make up the Household Cavalry.
The first regiment is the Life Guards. The Life Guards are the senior regiment of the British Army. They can date their history back to 1651 when a Royal Mounted Bodyguard was formed from eighty Royalists who had gone into exile with King Charles II, and so have a really long history of protecting the Monarch – that’s the King or the Queen.
The second regiment are the Blues and Royals – formed in 1969 from an amalgamation of the Royal Horse Guards (Blues) and The Royal Dragoons.
You can see the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals in their smart ceremonial dress everyday on guard at Horse Guard and during big occasions like Trooping the Colour and State Visits. So how do you tell them apart… well, the plumes on their helmet for one – they are white for the Life Guards and red for the Blues and Royals. Then their tunics, Life Guards wear red ones, Blues and Royals – well there’s a clue – they wear blue ones. Both wear metal breastplates, carry swords and have shiny black boots – in fact soldiers compete to have the most polished boots of all.
The Household Cavalry are experts in reconnaissance – this means they’re the eyes and ears of the Army, getting around in fast armoured vehicles. As such they are at the forefront of Britain’s military operations, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Every Cavalry soldier is first and foremost a fighting soldier. Their military training starts with a 14 week basic training course where they learn foot drill, how to handle a weapon and how to tackle an assault course. Having mastered basic military skills, they’ll take their place in a Passing out Parade.
It’s then onto the Mounted Regiment – all soldiers attend a 12 week riding course at Windsor, where as well as learning to ride, they’re taught know to care for their horse. After that, well it’s a 4 week kit ride at Knightsbridge where they learn about the ceremonial equipment –and how to ride in it.
Where are they based?
The Household Cavalry have two main bases, in Windsor and in London at their Knightsbridge barracks. Now as well as their bedrooms and the mess, there’s some other very special members of these regiments who need somewhere to sleep.
When you see the smart soldiers on their beautifully turned out horses, it might look like a fun job to have but the soldiers in the Mounted Regiment have to work hard – twice as hard – to do their own work and then to look after their horses.
Everyday they’ll get up at 5.30 in the morning to get ready to exercise their horses between 7 and 10am. After this, the soldiers have to check, fix and polish their equipment because they and their horses must be presented to the highest possible standards on ceremonial occasions.
Other jobs in the regiment
Some of the regiment have very horsey jobs too! There are soldiers who are in charge of shoeing the horses and looking after their health. Other soldiers are Riding Instructors who train new recruits – and new horses as well! It takes a year to train a new horse – they must be steady and calm because no one is allowed to put a hoof out of line on parade.
Then there’s soldiers are in charge of fitting and fixing all the horse furniture – which sounds like it could be tables and chairs but is actually just the tack – saddles and bridles and things like that. The smart tack for ceremonial duties takes three hours to fit and check and so it’s important that everything is in great shape.
The horses themselves
The horses themselves are special, known as ‘Cavalry Blacks’ – a cross breed of Irish Draught and Thoroughbred horses. They’ll normally stand well over 16.2 hands tall. They are mostly black with some white markings.
These aren’t the only horses in the regiment – Officers’ horses are all black and horses in the regimental band are even more varied. Soldiers who are trumpeters get grey horses whilst those who play the large kettle drums ride large Shires and Clydesdales, which can reach 19 hands tall.
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