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Trooping the Colour: All The King’s Guards Horses

Today is The King’s Birthday Parade (Trooping the Colour), a significant annual event in the British ceremonial calendar, marking the official birthday of the British Sovereign. Horses play a crucial role in this day, many of whom will go on to retire at our Home of Rest based in the Chilterns.

Trooping the Colour is a visual feast, with soldiers in brightly coloured uniforms. The red coats of the Foot Guards, the blue and gold of the Royal Horse Artillery, and the ceremonial dress of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR) are all striking. Troops and their horses move in perfect synchronicity, performing intricate drills and formations. The royal family often travels in the ornate carriages of the Royal Mews, accompanied by an escort of cavalry.

Several military bands play throughout the event, performing traditional marches and anthems. The music is accompanied by the rhythmic clatter of horses’ hooves and the loud booms of gun salutes that punctuate the day.

It takes a great deal of meticulous training to ensure each horse is well-equipped and content throughout.

Here are some of the horses to look out for on the day:

Cavalry Blacks (HCMR)

Cavalry Blacks are impressive, tall, black horses used by the HCMR, which comprises of the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. These horses are known for their striking appearance and calm temperament. In Trooping the Colour, they carry mounted soldiers who perform intricate drills and parade in their ceremonial uniforms. Their presence symbolises the elegance and discipline of the British cavalry.

Drum Horses (HCMR Band)

Drum Horses are used for musical accompaniment. They are larger and trained to carry the heavy kettledrums used in the musical accompaniment of the parade. These horses must be steady and reliable, as they carry not only the drums but also the drummer who plays them. In Trooping the Colour, they lead the HCMR band, playing a crucial role in setting the ceremonial tone with their rhythmic beats.

Fun fact: They have the equivalent rank of a Major, and only the sovereign can dictate when their moustaches are cut!

Trumpeters (HCMR and King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery (KTRHA))

Trumpeters are signalers, and the calls they play signify commands given by the officers. The HCMR trumpeters are grey, and the KTRHA trumpeters ride beside the officers on horses similar in colour to those pulling the gun carriage.

Household Division

The Household Division horses carry the Colours and soldiers. They are versatile, well-trained horses that come in various breeds and colours. They are chosen for their ability to handle the noise and activity of the parade environment. In Trooping the Colour, they carry the Colours (regimental flags) and the soldiers who perform the ceremonial duties, including the precision marching and formations that are a hallmark of the event.

Gun Carriage Horses (King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery)

These horses perform the artillery display. They are strong and robust horses used to pull the gun carriages, and they are usually large in stature, varying in colour and height, chosen for their strength and ability to handle heavy loads. They pull the artillery pieces that are part of the ceremonial display, demonstrating the historical role of horse-drawn artillery in military history.

Our vet Nicky, who previously worked with KTRHA horses, explains that there are six horses pulling each carriage: two leaders at the front that are slightly taller (around 16hh) and more agile, responsible for turning the team; centres, generally slightly younger horses learning the job; and wheelers, smaller and strong horses that act as the brakes for the gun carriage, normally about 15.1hh. There are normally three horses that ride at the back of the gun carriage (the detachment) and one that rides at the front (the no.1). There are six guns (A sub to F sub). A sub are bright bay and F sub are black, with the horses getting darker in colour between A and F sub. The officers ride the chargers, which are the larger horses (17hh) and are generally of any colour except grey.

Officer’s Chargers (HCMR)

Officer’s Chargers are personal mounts for senior officers. They are high-spirited, well-trained horses used by senior officers. The officers’ chargers are chosen because they are steady on parade and will lead the other horses. They are usually black with no or minimal white markings. In Trooping the Colour, senior officers command and oversee the parade, ensuring that the event proceeds with military precision.

Royal Mews

The Royal Mews horses pull carriages used in ceremonial parades. These carriages transport members of the Royal Family, senior officials, and other dignitaries. The Royal Mews horses consist of ‘Windsor Greys’ and ‘Cleveland Bays’.

Police Horses

The Metropolitan Mounted Branch’s police horses typically assist the Metropolitan Police with public order and reassurance, crowd control, and general policing duties across London. In Trooping the Colour, they secure the footprint, escort the HCMR, and ensure a safe and steady gathering towards Buckingham Palace for the parade finale.

These horses represent the tradition of the British Army and add to the visual grandeur of the event. We’re honoured to welcome many of the horses that have been a part of the Sovereign’s Birthday Parade into a comfortable, well-deserved retirement.

Head to our residents’ page to learn more about the day in the life of our retired military horses and their former careers.

Your kind support enables us to provide the veterinary treatment our beloved residents need, ensuring their healthy and happy retirement, respite and recovery. To find out how you can support us, head to the link below.


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