In the lead-up to the London International Horse Show, which takes place from 13-18 December, The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery hosted a behind-the-scenes visit to Napier Lines, Woolwich Barracks for a unique opportunity to observe the training for their performance at the Show.
The day began with a traditional King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery ‘Form Up’ – a formal inspection on the parade square ahead of daily duties and exercises. It was an expert display of rigorous routine, and epitomised the standards of excellence that these horses and soldiers adhere to. A trip to the Official Gun Park – with an inspiring talk by Commanding Officer Major John Baileff – showed off the Troop’s First World War-era QF 13-pounder guns. Central to the Troop’s prominent role in historical and ceremonial events, the guns have seen action not just on the battlefield but at funeral parades such as those for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sir Winston Churchill, George VI, and of course Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery preparations for their display at the London International Horse Show start months in advance, allowing the time required to master the complex manoeuvres seen in the Musical Drive. To finesse the performance, Troops are required to follow a regimental training schedule that ensures the lead horses, centre horses and wheelers work efficiently together. Amidst their busy military schedules, the Troops practice twice a week at Woolwich Barracks. The London International Horse Show witnessed first-hand just how complex a routine the Musical Drive is and how many hours are required to perfect it.
During the morning practice, the whole performance team ran through the display, a 13-minute performance which includes complex drills and manoeuvres such as the Big Drive and the Wagon Wheel. Comprising four guns, 26 horses, 14 mounted soldiers and 16 dismounted soldiers, it is a spectacular display which demonstrates all the talent and skill of these soldiers. Their unique ability lies in controlling the teams of six horses who pull the wheeled guns at high speed. Each soldier rides one horse, while simultaneously directing another in-hand. The power of the horses, alongside the requirement for pristine choreography, unwavering teamwork and discipline was emphasised.
While training for delivery of this thrilling performance was the highlight of the day, the Show also had the opportunity to witness another key aspect of training the Regimental horses. Young horses are trained to harness, by the King’s Troop soldiers themselves – who consider their roles as master horsemen a key part of the skills they develop during their service. Once they have completed their basic training, young horses – also known as Remounts – are paired with experienced horses to become acclimatised to the sensation of pulling a 13-pounder gun. The horses’ proficiency is attested in a similar manner to soldiers. Just as soldiers move up the ranks with experience, the horses’ competency and maturity is assessed and those horses that have passed training and performed in two public displays (in a ceremonial duty or a performance, such as the Musical Drive at The London International Horse Show) are deemed Military Working Horses. However, those who are yet to qualify will remain in the ‘Remount’ category, until they have been deemed to have reached the correct level of training.
To conclude the day, the Show gained an exclusive look into the inner workings of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery Tailor’s Shop and met with Sergeant Major Colton, the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery Master Tailor. Sergeant Major Colton has been in this position for nearly 10 years – she was the first female Master Tailor ever appointed in the British Army and is ultimately responsible for overseeing the correct dressing and turn-out of the whole regiment in key duties and performances. The detail and quality of her work will be on proud display during the performance of the Musical Drive at the Show.
WO2 Gostling, The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery Equitation Instructor, remarked: “It is a real privilege to be performing at London International Horse Show this year and a fantastic opportunity for the public to see the skill of the Troops and Horses up close in this format. It takes a lot of time to get the Troops up to the standard required to perform in such a fast paced, regimental sequence – so we will continue to train over the coming months, alongside our everyday roles, to make sure we are foot perfect for the Show”.