‘She’s the horse you’d always turn to’: Household Cavalry charger retires to join friends after 18-year career

  • A Cavalry Black charger who has “never faltered” has retired to enjoy her twilight years at the Horse Trust after 18 years of service.

    Irish sport horse Empress joined the Household Cavalry in Windsor in June 2003 as Remount 8100 with a “fantastic blend of attitude, willingness to please and a quiet competence”.

    She quickly became a favourite of the officers and new recruits.

    She passed out in June 2004 and has enjoyed a distinguished and carried career, spending a long stint training new riders in Windsor, serving as a standard horse, carrying the regimental flag, and as an officer’s charger.

    She had a leading role in Prince Harry and Prince William’s weddings and served on most state visits and all The Queen’s birthday parades.

    “She has had an impressive and varied career and never, ever faltered,” said Captain Skip Nicholls, riding master at the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.

    “I will miss everything about her, her nature, her kisses. If you want a horse that can carry an officer and sit at the front of any parade that you’ve not done before then she’s the horse you’d always turn to, to lead that parade. We’ll all miss her.”

    He added: “The Horse Trust takes about 25 horses a year from the police and the army. They take our oldest, our boldest and those dearest to our hearts.

    “We know the Horse Trust has the best horse care and attention possible: 24/7 on-hand veterinary care, a fantastic equine facility, fantastic grazing, and a first-class team to look after our animals till the end of their lives. But best of all we can go and visit them after they’ve retired, which is something we can’t do when they go to private hands.

    “When she sees the fields she’ll instantly relax. There’s quite a few horses there she’ll recognise by smell, they’ll have the odd whinny, and it won’t be too long before she realises she’s home.“

    The Horse Trust chief executive Jeanette Allen added: “Working horses today are the equine equivalent of the civil servant.

    “Seventy-five per cent come from government jobs, working with the police or the military, having been owned by the state. But unlike civil servants they don’t get a pension when they retire so we step forward and offer these remarkable animals the retirement they deserve. It’s like the Royal Hospital Chelsea for army horses.

    “They come to us shiny, well behaved, immaculate, beautiful and glistening, but as a retired veteran she’ll soon be woolly, muddy, and silly, a real natural horse again. It’s so lovely to see them gradually realise that they’re not working any more and that nothing is expected of them.”

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    In 2018 the decision was made to lessen Empress’s workload and she has spent the last three years as a mount for the foot guards officers of the Household Division.

    At the end of her final parade, she was walked forward to stand alone in front of Major General Chris Ghika, commanding the Household Division.

    Her polished kit was removed and Captain Edward Keith, adjutant at Knightsbridge Barracks, read out her citation.

    “Empress has given the last 18 years of her life to the Household Cavalry, so it is fitting that as a 22-year-old horse she retires to the glorious 280 acres in Buckinghamshire that the Horse Trust offers, to be cared for there by former riding master Mark Avison and former regimental veterinary officer Nicola Houseby-Skeggs,” he said.

    “She will also no doubt enjoy the company of her 37 former colleagues who live there, including two of her equine peers Burnaby and Elizabeth. We thank Empress for her service and all she has done for the regiment which has firmly solidified her place in the Household Cavalry Hall of Fame.”

    Her shoes were removed and after final hugs from her groom and pats from the officers and troopers, she started on her journey to the Horse Trust.

    She has already settled in and has formed a “close bond” with fellow military retirees Yeti and Union and is already a firm favourite with the grooms.

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