A soldier from the King’s Troop who broke her neck as she put her life in danger to halt a gun carriage and team of runaway horses has been given a commendation for bravery .
Lance Bombardier Grace Gostelow “disregarded her own safety and put herself in harm’s way” during the freak incident in Charlton Park, London, last year.
The mounted gunner was riding accompanied by two other soldiers, each controlling a pair, as they undertook routine practice for the musical drive in an isolated area of the park.
One horse bucked, unsettling the others who unseated their riders leaving only LBdr Gostelow in charge of the runaway carriage.
Refusing the take advantage of the opportunity to throw herself clear of the team and the tonne-and-a-half 1904 gun, she put herself at risk as she fought regain control.
A skilled horsewoman who hunts and competes in military races — as well as ride-judging Retraining of Racehorses classes and Irish draughts — LBdr Gostelow tried to steer the team to the edge of the training grounds but they were only brought to a halt when the leaders went either side of a tree.
The horses were uninjured in the collision, but the 30-year-old broke her neck and has had to undergo extensive rehabilitation.
Major James Luck, the commanding officer at the time, said: “On an ordinary day, undertaking routine training, Lance Bombardier Gostelow’s courage was suddenly, and unexpectedly, tested.
“As the horses galloped away, she repeatedly passed opportunities to leap clear of the runaway gun team to save herself.
“It must have crossed her mind that if she was thrown at that speed, she might have fallen under the wheels and been crushed by half a ton of a First World War gun.”
Captain Greg Flynn witnessed the accident.
“From our standpoint it was rather nerve-wracking,” he said. “We had people on the scene straight away and they sent back word that the horses were all right — the harness is designed to break in those situations and the horses were just standing there quietly grazing.
“They’ve all since gone back on duty, though we brought them back slowly to mitigate the risks and make sure it hadn’t affected them in any way.”
The emergency services were called for LBdr Gostelow, who was taken to hospital.
“She was in a bit of shock but she is a proactive individual and was more concerned with when she could get back and start riding again,” said Capt Flynn. “She’s a hardy character through and through. We went to see her as soon as we could and she was more focused on getting back to the gun team than her injuries.
“She told us she could feel her two horses trying to bring [the gun carriage] back under control but she could do nothing about the other four in front. Six horses with one driver is a lot to control — and they are all fit horses.”
Soldiers in the King’s Troop Royal Artillery will undergo four to five years of training before being permitted to ride in the gun team. Accidents are rare.
“It was a series of unfortunate events — we train continuously and the gun team try and do as much or their training as possible in harness,” Captain Flynn added.
Musical drive training takes place twice a week, alongside daily schooling.
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“What we do in musical drive can be very dangerous and within units soldiers can spend their entire careers here and become such good horseman, it’s all as safe as humanly possible,” he added.
LBdr Gostelow, who also has an ex-racehorse and lightweight hunter at home, has returned to duties though has not yet been back on the gun team.
“It’s all about building back up strength before riding a gun team again, so we’re just making sure she’s fully fit and strong,” Captain Flynn added. “She’s back riding and is in work but we haven’t been rushing anything.”
LBdr Gostelow was given her award by Major General Ben Bathurst, general officer commanding London district and Major General commanding the Household Division.
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