31/01/2012 The Horse Trust Sets The Record Straight On 21st Century War Horses

The recent release of the Steven Spielberg film “War Horse” has prompted some to ask the question, what happens to the horses serving in the British Army in the 21st century when their working days are over? Whilst many are re-homed to private owners a number of these modern day War Horses are given life long sanctuary at The Horse Trust. The charity specialises in providing retirement and respite to horses and ponies that have served their country or community in the armed forces, the Police service or for charities working with disabled and disadvantaged youngsters. It is a sad fact of life that for some animals re-homing or retirement is not an option due to injury, illness or very occasionally because of a behavioural problem that is serious enough to make the animal a danger to itself or its human owners. Horses are only put down by the Army as a final resort when it is certain they have absolutely no prospect of a pain free or happy, safe and secure future; those that can enjoy a peaceful retirement receive it with either with new owners or at The Horse Trust.

 

The Horse Trust was founded in 1886 as the result of its founder, Ann Lindo, reading the novel Black Beauty and being moved by the plight ofLondon’s working cab horses. 125 years on The Horse Trust, which relies on donations from the public, still provides free retirement and respite for London’s serving horses as well as those working around the country, that are the responsibility of the tax payer or other charities. Back in World War I it cared for those horses, ponies and mules serving on the front line both during and after the conflict.

 

The Real War Horses

In 1914 The Home of Rest for Horses, as The Horse Trust was named at that time, designed and produced the first motorised horse ambulance to send to France to transport wounded horses from the front line to the veterinary stations.  In two years the ambulance had travelled some 13,000 miles and had carried in excess of 1,000 injured horses.  So successful was The Home of Rest for Horses’ ambulance that the War Office commissioned it as the official specification for their vehicles for this use. By the end of the war 14 of these vehicles were in operation inFrancesaving the lives of thousands of horses, ponies and mules.

 

The first equine war veteran retired to The Horse Trust’s Home of Rest for Horses in 1919 was San Toy, a horse that had served in both the Boer and First World Wars and was joined by a number of other WWI Veterans including Roger. Roger’s story was truly remarkable. A German Cavalry horse, thought to have been a German Officer’s Charger, Roger was found rider-less on the battlefield during the infamous battle of the Somme by a British Army Officer who caught him, got him to safety and at the end of the war brought him back to England to retire to the Home of Rest.

Retirement today

The Ministry of Defence Animal Centre (DAC), Melton Mowbray, the epicentre for the training and management of animals used in Defence, works in close association with The Horse Trust to ensure the retirement needs of military horses are met in the most suitable way for each individual animal’s needs. 

 

Amongst the former Army horses retired to The Horse Trust are 26 year old Sevastopol, a striking grey ex-trumpeter with the Blues and Royals, Hapsburg a 19yr old bay gelding from the Kings Troop Royal Artillery and Auriol, a ‘Cavalry Black’, recently loaned to the Honourable Artillery Company‘s Light Cavalry having recovered from concussion laminitis. His old work onLondon’s streets was aggravating his condition while his new role will be less demanding and mainly on soft surfaces.   When Auriol is no longer able or happy in this work he will retire permanently back to The Horse Trust.  The Riding Master of the Light Cavalry, Charles Gillow, commented ”It has been a privilege to give Auriol an opportunity to continue his working career in a familiar role, with less street work, and regular exercise in Windsor Great Park. It has been reassuring to the Light Cavalry to know that the Horse Trust is ready to look after our retirees when they can no longer handle the work.  Currently, we have three ex-Light Cavalry horses enjoying their retirement at the Horse Trust”.

One of the ex-army residents of The Horse Trust is former King’s Troop Charger Rocket Ron, a perfect example of how the DAC and The Horse Trust collaborate to secure the most suitable future for horses with very individual needs. Ron started out with the King’s Troop but never settled on parade and so was moved to the DAC centre at Melton Mowbray where he became an invaluable training horse, helping soldiers learn to ride and also training those becoming Army riding instructors. Sadly, he developed chronic girth galls, a condition that strikes when a horse has particularly sensitive skin and being ridden for long periods became too painful for him. Being only 14, The Horse Trust initially tried loaning Rocket Ron to a private home.  However he displayed some highly institutionalised behaviour that made him a potential danger in a very small yard. Back at The Horse Trust, Ron is extremely happy and settled in a larger environment with many more horses surrounding him and his training skills are now being put to great use helping The Horse Trust train young rescue horses and ponies, helping the charity to secure the best possible loan homes for the youngsters.

 

CEO of the Horse Trust,Jeanette Allensaid, “Rocket Ron is a prime example of an ex-army horse that requires a very specific retirement environment. He is now not only happily settled but is able to do light part time work leading young animals venturing onto roads for the first time. He may have never liked parades but out and about he is an absolute dream giving young ponies that have suffered extreme cruelty and neglect, including three from the notorious Spindles Farm case, the confidence to become beloved riding ponies in the future.”