‘A beautiful mare with a heart of gold’: farewell to long-serving police horse

The Horse Trust has paid tribute to one of its most beloved residents who “passed away peacefully” in her field last week.

Ex-Metropolitan police horse Annabelle, who spent 18 years serving in the force, was known for being a quirky character who preferred people to horses.

Described as a “small but mighty” 16hh, the grey arrived at the Met’s Imber Court as a four-year-old and had a long and illustrious career participating in ceremonies including state visits, Trooping the Colour and the state opening of parliament.

One of the highlights of her career was forming part of the grey escort, made up of nine grey horses, that lead the royal wedding in 2011. Annabelle escorted the royal carriage procession for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their return from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace.

Ex-Met officer Alison Osborne (pictured above), who was assigned Annabelle for four years, remembered her as a “sensitive soul” and the “biggest character”.

“Annabelle was a people horse and didn’t care much for other horses. She was a favourite with the regular supporters at football matches and was renowned for ‘strip searching’ them for treats,” she said.

“She loved a cuddle and would lean her head on your shoulder to the extent that the weight of her head would become too much. I remember one time when we attended a special needs school, there was a young disabled child in a chair with a tray on the front. Annabelle put her head on the tray so that the child could stroke her.”

Ms Osborne added that the relationship she had with Annabelle was particularly close.

“It was one which perhaps the other officers didn’t approve of, but I loved her to bits and I’m sure she recognised me when I visited her three years ago at The Horse Trust,” she said.

Alison recalled some of the mare’s quirks included rearing rather than standing still when policing a large crowd in her younger days but that she was a brave horse.

“At a violent demonstration in central London, Annabelle and another young horse led the older ones to help clear the street. On this occasion, I was dragged from her back when we were surrounded. Annabelle remained calm throughout despite demonstrators trying to drag her away. No way was I letting go of her!” she said.

When Annabelle first retired to the Horse Trust, it took her some time to adapt to her new environment.

“Most of our retirees settle down into their more relaxed life very well but Annabelle struggled. Owing to her career in London she was never exposed to being loose without a rider in very wide open spaces or being in a field with lots of other loose horses,” a spokesman for The Horse Trust said.

“Most horses would see a lovely big field full of grass as a luxury but for Annabelle it caused nothing but distress and panic.”

The charity worked together with vet and equine behaviourist Gemma Pearson, whose PhD is being funded by The Horse Trust, to help Annabelle adapt to her new home.

Staff worked to build her confidence, starting with keeping her in a large barn where she could see other horses in the fields, then moving her to a small paddock and then a larger field, where other mares were added one at a time.

“The first one was ex-Met police colleague Kathleen, who Annabelle was familiar with having patrolled together. Eventually after a few months Annabelle was able to be integrated into a normal sized herd where she finally flourished but still kept her buddy Kathleen close,” the spokesman said.

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“Even though she settled into her new herd environment, Annabelle was always a ‘people’s horse’ generally still preferring two-legged animals as company.

“Annabelle was a quirky little soul who was utterly adored by everyone who met her.

“She was a beautiful mare with a heart of gold who has left a massive hole in our hearts. It’s a comfort to us that after her struggles to adjust to retired life, we were able to give her a wonderful four years of retirement in the end, she truly deserved it.”

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