11/08/2017 Achilles

Joy and sorrow go hand in hand at The Horse Trust

There had been no signs of ill health and only weeks ago, he was fit for duty for all the State Ceremonies that are part of the Great British summer, although in recognition of his senior statesman status and impending retirement, Drum Horse Achilles was kept ‘on the bench’ as first reserve to Adamus and Mercury.

Being passed fit is no easy task and understandably the horses involved undergo rigorous regular checks by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment’s Veterinary Officer, Major Harriet Church, and even after 10 years’ active service Achilles passed with flying colours. Although not called into action there was absolutely no reason to suspect he wasn’t ready and able.

He was in magnificent condition at his formal retirement on 17th June before an enthralled audience of over 2,000 at The Horse Trust’s annual open day and stood proudly whilst his rider, Lance Corporal Diggle, gave a final drum performance and then during the solemn and moving ceremony of the removal, for the very last time, of the ceremonial drums and finally his saddle. He walked tall out of the arena with his new groom and then passed the crowds on his way to start his retirement in the open fields of The Horse Trust.

Achilles - Final Salute - Horse Trust

No symptoms and nothing out of the ordinary showed up in his routine and frequent veterinary checks; before he could travel, before being passed for duty as a reserve and before he could be introduced to and enjoy time with our herd, everything was done to ensure he would have a long and happy retirement ahead. On his arrival The Horse Trust carried out a full veterinary examination as is part of the routine for every new member of their herd, and again, nothing unexpected for a mature horse came to light. The Horse Trust creates an individual care plan for each new horse at this stage and Achilles’s looked exactly as we would expect for a retiree.

Initially it appeared that Achilles was going to enjoy his time with us, he seemed in tip top condition and we fully expected this national favourite to enjoy a well-earned retirement as had former Drum horses Janus, Constantine and Leonidas before him.

Achilles at The Horse Trust-1 Courtesy of The Daily Mail

After only three short weeks however, the picture had changed dramatically. Achilles was suddenly finding it very hard to keep his balance and to the Trust’s vet, this indicated some unusual underlying and potentially very serious problems in his spine. On veterinary advice The Horse Trust sent Achilles immediately to the Royal Veterinary College Equine Hospital for urgent tests, sadly leading specialists quickly identified an aggressive, rare and fatal cancer.  It was immediately clear that this brave boy was not going to enjoy the retirement he richly deserved. In consultation vets at The Horse Trust, HCMR and RVC took the joint decision to end his suffering without delay.

Achilles at The Horse Trust-3 courtesy of The Daily MailA spokesman for the RVC explained, ‘Achilles was suffering from a rare form of cancer called leukaemic lymphoma which affected his blood and caused multiple cancers to develop in organs around his body. This type of cancer frequently remains undetected up to the very late stages of disease by which time treatment is impossible and the only option is euthanasia.’

Major Harriet Church, Veterinary Officer to The Household Cavalry, said, “A kind and gentle soul, Achilles was a model patient. We were deeply saddened at the news of his sudden onset illness, however thankful to The Horse Trust for their swift identification and action. It is a great shame that he won’t get to enjoy the long retirement he deserved. He will be sorely missed.”

Jeanette Allen, CEO of The Horse Trust said, “In the past few weeks we have experienced great happiness with the arrivals of Viscount, the longest serving military horse, and Daniel from the Royal Mews. Seeing Achilles enter our arena, give his last performance and then be ceremonially retired was extremely moving, he then lead our retirement parade and the reaction of the crowd to this magnificent boy’s proud walk was electric. We were so looking forward to him becoming part of our family here at The Horse Trust.  Very sadly it simply wasn’t to be; Cancer, that silent killer, has so unexpectedly robbed him of the chance to live out his time peacefully with us.  The saving grace for Achilles is that the problem was identified so quickly and the correct action taken immediately so that he didn’t suffer. After 10 years dedicated service in the public eye he didn’t deserve to go so soon, but cancer knows no boundaries and plays to no-one’s tune, everyone here and at the Household Cavalry, is deeply saddened by his loss, he was immensely loved throughout his life, a life to be justly proud of.“

Lt.Col. James Gaselee, Commanding Officer of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, said, “Achilles was a wonderful servant of the Household Cavalry and we were delighted that he was headed to The Horse Trust for his retirement, we were immensely proud of him, and his magnificent moustache! The Regiment is deeply saddened by his sudden loss so soon after finishing his outstanding service.”