Today is the Queen’s 90th birthday. Naturally this means extensive coverage in the media. This morning I was listening to Radio 4 in the car on the way to work and part of this coverage included a reporter going to the barracks at Hyde Park to have a look at the preparations the Household Cavalry is having to do for various birthday parades.
And it made for depressing listening, for me at least. The reporter, Roya Nikkah, was happily describing some of the things the soldiers were doing to get their equine charges ready to go out in public. One soldier was whitening his charge’s socks with chalk so they’d look “immaculate”. Not such a problem, maybe, unless the chalk ends up irritating the skin, probably not so likely. But then she went on to explain that he was also shaving off the horse’s whiskers on its muzzle, to make it “look smart”. The Queen, we were then told, being such a lover of horses, has a keen eye and always scrutinises the horses on parade to ensure that they are turned out looking their best. But should looks be more important than well-being?
Those of you who are regular readers will no doubt know that a horse’s whiskers are as important to him as a cat’s. Would we trim off a cat’s whiskers to make him look smart too? Horses need their whiskers to feel for things under their noses where due to the position of their eyes, they can’t see. But then, as these horses are doubtless shut in their stables for the vast majority of their time, would they ever get the chance to explore the world around them with their delicate whiskers?
The report then went on to talk to one of the Household Cavalry’s 14 farriers. He proudly related how well they look after the horses’ feet, shoeing them regularly as they’re trying to “minimise concussion”. Quite how nailing a piece of iron to the bottom of a horse’s hoof before it goes out on the roads around London would minimise concussion has never been adequately explained to me. Wouldn’t the horses be better off barefoot, which has worked so well for institutions such as the Houston Mounted Police Force in America?
But no, we’re British of course, and therefore bound by rigid tradition. Tradition that also dictates just how much metalwork needs to be on the head (and more accurately, in the mouth) of a Cavalry Black. Have you ever seen them on parade without a large amount of head tossing? I have been told that the amount of kit a soldier must wear and the rigidity of some of it makes for a very uncomfortable parade duty. But at least these men have chosen to be there. Their horses haven’t. But then as so often in the equine world, the horse’s side of the story just isn't taken into consideration…….
So when you watch all those immaculately turned out horses on parade for the Queen over the next few days, spare a thought for them. Kept, like racehorses, in an unnatural way for an equine, using traditional methods, in traditional tack (this regiment dates back to the Restoration, I believe) I wonder just how happy and healthy they are? I don’t know about you, but thinking of things from the horses’ point of view will definitely lessen my enjoyment of those birthday celebrations.