Horse & Hound

Life after work When service horses end the day job

Service horses work hard for their country, but what happens when it’s time to end the day job? Emily Bevan finds out

- H&H

IT used to be common for service horses to be put down on welfare grounds once it was time for them to retire. The idea being that if they were sold they could end up in the hands of a rag and bone man and be unfairly required to work even harder than they had before.

Nowadays, retirement for service horses is the start of a more relaxed life either in a private home or at The Horse Trust’s Home of Rest for retired horses, which has provided respite and retirement homes for working horses and ponies for 130 years. As well as accepting horses from the police and military, they also receive horses from charities, such as the Riding for the Disabled Associatio­n and Ebony Horse Club.

“Three-quarters of our intake are service horses; the remaining 25% are local welfare cases,” explains Horse Trust chief executive Jeanette Allen. “We can’t take every service horse who comes up for retirement and the institutio­ns will look for a home for them first. Often a groom or officer will want to take their favourite horse, but if they’ve served for four years they’re guaranteed a spot here – although they may have to wait for that spot.”

ONE lucky horse enjoying retirement at The Horse Trust is Daniel (main picture, left), a 16.1hh Windsor Grey. He started his career with the Metropolit­an Police before transferri­ng to the Royal Mews, where he was a harness horse for The Queen’s carriages and is known to be a favourite.

The 25-year-old became a celebrity after appearing in the Royal Mews souvenir guide, on a stamp commemorat­ing working horses and immortalis­ed as a statue in Windsor.

Daniel is one of 140 horses currently residing at the charity, which is split over three sites in Buckingham­shire and boasts a resident vet, plenty of turnout, sand paddocks and large stables – 75% of the horses there are bigger than the average horse.

All service horses are owned by the Government and receive state funding until the point of retirement. At retirement, Metropolit­an police horses are loaned while other institutio­ns gift or sell them. Often

Army horses will be bought for £1 by The Horse Trust to ensure a legal bill of sale.

Viscount, the country’s longest-serving working military horse, is an example of a £1 purchase. He retired in 2017 after 22 years of service with the Household Cavalry. At the age of 28 the 17hh Irish Sport Horse is still going strong.

ALL services aim to retire their horses while they have a few years’ quality of life left, but the age varies depending on their job. “Wheelers”, who pull the guns at ceremonial occasions, retire at 16 due to the tough and potentiall­y dangerous nature of that role.

“Each horse is considered as an individual and their quality of life is paramount,” says Eloise Mayhead, stable manager at the City of London Police’s Bushy Park site. “We start looking for a new home at the first sign of an issue – it’s not difficult, there’s always demand and they mostly go via word of mouth.”

Sawyer joined the City of London Police Mounted Section in 2016, but started to suffer from bilateral lameness earlier this year aged 11. While the cause was unclear it was thought concussive work would accelerate the degenerati­on, so he was retired.

Elaine Freer, who has been a civilian volunteer at the unit since 2011, jumped at the chance to “give a horse who had done and seen so much a more relaxed life”, and the 17.3hh Irish Sport Horse left London in August.

“He goes out in the field with other horses every day, comes in at night and enjoys hacking and light schooling.” says Elaine. “Whether he can be ridden long term or not, he will stay with me until the end of his days.”

Horse Trust vet Nicky Housby Skeggs outlines the typical issues: “As the majority of the horses have done a lot of roadwork and they are older horses, arthritis is the most common ailment here. We keep the horses out as much as possible and if we have to bring them in we prefer to put them in a barn with a companion so they can still move around. The horses are treated individual­ly and decisions are made according to their personal needs.”

EMMA KEMP learnt via word of mouth that she could rehome a police horse – and she now has two.

Rodney, a 16.2hh grey, arrived at Emma’s in 2005 aged 16, while 19-year-old Roxy came in 2017. The two horses briefly shared adjacent stables at their police base and recognised each other when they were reunited.

Rodney is no longer ridden and spends his days out in the field. Roxy, a 17.1hh Irish Draught, loves hacking and enjoys being ridden around the lanes as well as on nearby Perranport­h beach.

“Roxy’s a bit of a city diva and doesn’t like getting her feet wet so we don’t go near the sea, but she loves the sand,” says Emma. “I’ve had so much enjoyment from both of them and it’s nice to give something back.”

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