The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment is a ceremonial regiment based in central London that conducts state ceremonial occasions and performs the daily duty of providing The Queen’s Life Guard at Horse Guards.
Where Are They Based?
The regiment’s home is in the plush neighbourhood of Knightsbridge, counting neighbours such as Harrods and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
The regiment's base backs on to Hyde Park meaning that they merely have to open the back gates to gain easy access to the park, allowing soldiers to exercise their horses daily and carry out Physical Training frequently in the glare of the watching general public.
Based at Hyde Park Barracks are fully trained soldiers.
These men and women spend their army careers swapping roles between operational duties on armoured vehicles and ceremonial duties which include carrying out high profile state occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Birthday Parade.
The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment is made up of three squadrons: a Headquarters squadron, and a squadron each of Life Guards and Blues and Royals.
Soldiers from the Life Guards and Blues and Royals squadrons traditionally take it in turns every day to carry out public duties on full display of the general public at Horse Guards.
What Is The Queen’s Life Guard?
The daily duty of mounting guard at Horse Guards has been a responsibility of the regiment since the the restoration of the monarchy by Charles II in 1660.
The exchanging of duty between the Life Guards and Blues and Royals (or vise versa) is witnessed every day at 11am on Horse Guards Parade.
This daily event is known as the Changing of the Queen's Life Guard.
Ahead of this, the men and women “riding on” guard that day are closely inspected by the duty officer at Hyde Park Barracks. The officer carrying out this inspection has a masterful eye for detail, and even inspects parts of the Troopers’ uniforms and horse furniture that are not clearly visible to the public.
It is common for the inspecting officer to check the backs of brass buttons and even the inside of the Trooper’s state helmet to ensure it has been polished to the same high standard as the visible parts of the uniform.
Once the inspection is complete and the officer is satisfied that the highest of standards have been secured among the on-going guards, the soldiers and their horses ride through the streets of London, passing Buckingham Palace as they go, to Horse Guards Parade to relieve the “off-coming” guards of their responsibility.
The Queen’s Life Guard takes place at Horse Guards, as opposed to Buckingham Palace itself, because when the regimental duty was established more than 350 years ago, the site was occupied by the old Palace of Whitehall. It later became the official entrance of Buckingham Palace when the iconic landmark was built in the early 1700s.
Today, the office overlooking the archways at the centre of the Palace of Whitehall is occupied by the General Officer Commanding London District. In the 19th century, that same office occupied by the Duke of Wellington.
How Long Do The Soldiers Spend On Their Boots?
“Turning out” - as it is referred to - for a state occasion like the Trooping of the Colour can take a soldier anything from eight to 16 hours to achieve.
Everything must be immaculate. Her Majesty the Queen expects nothing less.
The soldiers not only have to make their own kit as smart as humanly possible, but they also have to clean and polish their horse’s saddlery and leather reins to within an inch of their lives.
Typically, the Troopers will focus on the horse furniture first, layering polish on the black leather reins and straps and the buffing the tackle to a high standard. Then the soldiers can move onto their personal kit, items including their brass state helmets, their stunning silver swords and scabbards, their brilliantly-whitened buffed cross-belts and sword whites.
The biggest challenge, and the source of immense pride for any soldier going on parade, are the knee-high, solidly waxed, black leather jackboots.
Members of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment put so much effort into polishing their jack boots that a finished pair can look like a glass mirror.
Troopers in the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment frequently get on top of their horses before putting on their jackboots, attempting to keep their boots in the highest possible standard ahead of inspection and the parade itself.
Do The Horses Ever Get A Holiday?
YES! Every summer the regiment travels to Norfolk for three weeks where the soldiers have the opportunity to sharpen up their other military skills (they are fully trained Soldiers after all), as well as letting off a bit of steam away from ceremonial duties in typical Household Cavalry style.
And the same is true for the horses.
During the three week break in the Norfolk countryside, the horses are driven in horseboxes to the seaside, where they are ridden along the shore and given the opportunity to get their manes wet in the sea. The horses love it. And so do the Troopers.
Additionally, when the ceremonial calendar allows the excess horses kept in Central London are permitted to take some weeks out from barrack life and are put to grass in Leicestershire.
This typically happens at Christmas and the late summer months of the year.
The Regiment Is Completely Self-Sufficient.
Within the walls of the Hyde Park Barracks, everything a ceremonial soldier, and horse, might need is available to them.
This includes the regimental Tailor Shop, where all the uniforms are kept in stunning order, the Saddler's Shop - the men charged with ensuring the horses' saddles fit properly and do the job of protecting their backs - and the Forge.
The Forge is where the regimental farrier troop spend their working lives making sure the horses have correctly fitting shoes.
The men and women of the regiment also have access to a shop, three bars and a gym. But, being based in the middle of Central London means that the soldiers housed at the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment are spoilt for choice where deciding how to spend their downtime is concerned.
Has Coronavirus Impacted The Duties Of The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment?
The summer months are usually the busiest time of the year for the soldiers based at Hyde Park Barracks. The men and women of the regiment even refer to this time of the year as “silly season”.
But coronavirus has significantly altered the regiment’s calendar for 2020.
Most ceremonial events have been cancelled, notably among them is the Queen’s Birthday Parade, held annually on the second Saturday of June.
Other ceremonial events to have been cancelled included those commemorating VE Day in May.
Sadly, the regiment’s annual summer camp in Norfolk has had to be cancelled too.
In terms of The Queen’s Life Guard, coronavirus has resulted in the single greatest alteration to the way the regiment performs this 360-year-old duty.
Instead of riding on and off guard for 24 hours at a time, the men and women tasked to provide The Queen’s Life Guard have instead been required to go on guard for a staggering three weeks at a time.
During the Second World War, the regiment was still able to swap the men on duty regularly between soldiers from the Life Guards and The Blues (The Blues and Royals did not exist as it does today until 1969), but coronavirus has forced commanders to change the way it does its daily business substantially.
And instead of the on-duty guard being made up wholly of Life Guards, with their red tunics and ivory coloured plumes, or the Blues and Royals with their very smart blue tunics and iconic red plumes, the coronavirus-era guard is instead mixed up of men and women from both squadrons.
The 16-strong Queen’s Life Guard force is headed up by an officer, who is supported by a number of senior NCOs and 11 Troopers.
Between them, they are making use of four horses instead of the usual 12 that make up a standard guard.