Serving and former members of the UK’s foremost equestrian brigade — the King’s Troop — are concerned about the future of their company, as the lease will run out on their London barracks in 2012.
Around 120 horses and 168 soldiers and officers are stationed at the St John’s Wood barracks of the ceremonial company that celebrated its 60th anniversary last June.
But the Ministry of Defence (MoD) appears unwilling to continue leasing the site, the value of which has risen considerably over the years.
A spokesman for the Eyre Estate, from whom the premises have been leased since 1810, confirmed that the King’s Troop’s lease expires in 2012 and said the MoD has three years to decide what to do.
He added: “I believe they are looking elsewhere to house them [the King’s Troop].”
Speaking on behalf of the troop’s commanding officer (CO), Major Erica Bridge, Army media officer Simon Saunders said: “Obviously on a personal note Major Bridge is happy to go anywhere as long as it does not affect the welfare of her soldiers or the horses.
“There are five options open to the troop, but we are not able to discuss them at present. It is not an option for them to remain at St John’s Wood.”
This is worrying news for past COs who would like the troop to stay in St John’s Wood.
Former King’s Troop CO, and now world class performance director for the British Equestrian Federation, Will Connell, said: “There is concern about the uncertainty over where the troop will be stationed in future, how that might affect it as an entity and how it will continue to carry out its role in London.
“The sadness is that it would appear the troop is losing its spiritual home — the troop has created very close contacts with the local community.
“But, of course, a move does give the opportunity for change for the troop if the new barracks is the right new barracks.”
Another former CO David Holmes, chief executive of British Dressage, said past officers were “gutted” about the news.
“If the troop moves out of central London it will not be so much in the public eye and that will mean its long-term future will be more difficult to justify.”
Under its first female CO, Major Bridge, “morale is excellent” and “standards of orsemanship and soldiering have never been better”, said Mr Holmes.
“The ideal solution would be that the troop stays where it is. There is a group of us former troop officers who are looking at how we may be able to liaise with the Eyre Estate to see if there is any more leverage,” he said.
He said they hoped to find an option that would allow the troop to stay at the barracks but not involve a large hike in rent.
The King’s Troop plays an important public liaison role, says Royal Windsor Horse Show director Simon Brooks-Ward.
“The troop is part of the fixtures at Royal Windsor and is much loved by spectators, because of the soldiers’ great courage and horsemanship,” said Mr Brooks-Ward, who is also a colonel in the Territorial Army.
“In days when the Army is constantly on operations they are serving soldiers who could be posted anywhere. It is very important that they continue to be a bridge between the Army and the public,” he continued, adding he hoped that the troop would still be able to carry out this role following any move.
The troop has seen many top faces in equestrianism pass through its ranks, including Malcolm Wallace, a former Jockey Club director of regulation, chairman of Burghley Horse Trials and the British equestrian team’s chef d’equipe at four Olympics, and crown equerry Major Simon Robinson.
The MoD declined to comment.
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (10 January, ’08)