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Farewell to King’s Troop horse known for his ‘famous great escape’

Tributes have been paid to a much-loved former King’s Troop horse who made national news for his “famous great escape” in Hyde Park, who has died aged 20.

Falstaff retired to the Horse Trust in November 2015 after eight years as an officer’s charger.

The gelding’s career began in 2007 when he arrived at the defence animal training regiment at Melton Mowbray from Holland, and soon put some of the most experienced riding instructors through their paces.

His education was progressed under Captain Mark Avison of the Life Guards, now equine care director of the Horse Trust.

King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery

“Due to his sheer size and presence Falstaff was selected to serve in the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery,” said a spokesman for the Horse Trust. “It was here he received his name ‘Mr Screwemtight’ as all the chargers were named after characters from Robert Surtees’ Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour.”

During his career Falstaff took part in occasions including The Queen’s birthday parades, state visits, and gun salutes and in 2012 carried the rider bearing the Olympic torch through Woolwich.

“Falstaff was always a favourite with the crowd due to his wonderful giant ears which could not be missed,” said the spokesman.

“It was said that generally he was pretty well behaved, apart from his famous great escape in Hyde Park when he decided it was much more fun to do his own lap of honour freestyle. He made national news that day,” said the spokesman.

“Officer’s lessons on Falstaff were always a mix of excitement and terror – he was a talented all-rounder if you could sit his enormous and unpredictable bucks and he would always win any in-house jumping competition, if you were lucky enough to stay on through the excitement.”

Falstaff’s character did not fade with age, and he enjoyed a special reunion in 2019 with the arrival of the charity’s veterinary director and former King’s Troop major Nicola Housby Skeggs, who rode the gelding during her military career.

“Nicky and Falstaff had been partnered for years and made the most fabulous team. She absolutely adored him, and him her, so seeing them reunited was an incredibly special moment,” he said.

Falstaff had been suffering with navicular syndrome, a condition which the charity managed, and he “thoroughly enjoyed” his retirement, but a tendon injury this year failed to heal and he was put down on 12 August.

“Despite the best efforts of the team including our excellent farriers, we were no longer able to keep him comfortable and the kindest thing to do was to say goodnight,” he said. “Falstaff loved nothing more than galloping across the Chiltern Hills with his unruly gang, flapping his enormous ears. It was heartbreaking to think he can never do that again.”

Nicky added: “It’s horrible to know there isn’t anything else you can do to help them and that they are going to continue to deteriorate. Giving horses a good life is essential and recognising when that will no longer be possible is our duty as their guardians, while it is a very hard decision to come to it is a responsibility that we must honour.”

The spokesman paid tribute to the gelding.

“Mr Screwemtight, it has been our honour to give you your retirement. You are a legend in everyone’s eyes, your cheeky personality will never be forgotten,” he said.

“Thank you for giving us so many laughs and smiles over the years that we have been lucky enough to care for you. It is not the same without you, and we would do anything to see you canter and buck your way across the field one last time.”

Nicky added: “It’s horrible to know there isn’t anything else you can do to help them and that they are going to continue to deteriorate. Giving horses a good life is essential and recognising when that will no longer be possible is our duty as their guardians, while it is a very hard decision to come to it is a responsibility that we must honour.”

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The spokesman paid tribute to the gelding.

“Mr Screwemtight, it has been our honour to give you your retirement. You are a legend in everyone’s eyes, your cheeky personality will never be forgotten,” he said.

“Thank you for giving us so many laughs and smiles over the years that we have been lucky enough to care for you. It is not the same without you, and we would do anything to see you canter and buck your way across the field one last time.”

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