Behind the scenes in Knightsbridge the Cavalry have been keeping a big secret. For many months they’ve been training a new Drum horse for the Household Cavalry Band and next week Her Majesty The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales will meet him for the first time.
Currently known by his stable name Big Red, the first thing that will happen when he’s presented to the Queen is that she will give him a new noble name* befitting his role and rank. Big Red was born on 3rd May 2008. He’s a bay coloured Shire horse that stands an impressive 17.1 hands high, and he joined the Army in February 2013. Since then he has been specifically trained by the senior Riding Staff of the Household Cavalry.
Training as a Drum Horse is a specialist art and takes patience, care and time. He is conditioned to walk only, while on parade, and taught to react off foot reins using a long reining method to start with. Then the riding staff systematically introduce the regalia (his magnificent and elaborate head collar, bridle and accoutrements) to a point where he is quiet and confident in all of it. At each stage the staff also introduce every change and addition in as many different conditions and environments as they can, so that eventually Big Red finds everything, even the tumult of central London, second nature.
This gentle giant is beginning to spend a lot of time with the mounted bands which is where he will work full time when fully trained. The staff play music in his stable from time to time so that it becomes familiar. Finally he is introduced to the drums. This takes the longest time, firstly the weight and size are enough to make the best of horses apprehensive, so a lot of time and monitoring is spent just riding in them to develop his mind and strength. Playing in them is the biggest hurdle as unlike just being beside the band when they perform, when the drums are struck he can feel the vibrations through the saddle. The riding staff desensitise him by playing softly to start and slowly increasing the tempo and volume as his confidence grows.
Eventually the instructors will handover to a drummer and Big Red will begin his work with the mounted band, at first as an ‘understudy’ there for the experience, and then onto smaller parades. All being well he will ‘Pass Out’ on the Queen’s Birthday Parade and become a fully working member of the Household Cavalry Band. Household Cavalry Drum horses carry the rank of Major and as such are senior to all other animals of rank in the Army.
24/10/2017 – Update
* The Society’s Patron, Her Majesty The Queen officially named the new drum horse Perseus today at the Hyde Park Barracks. A Shire bred by Mr Marvin Messer.