A mare who played a leading role as a member of the Household Cavalry during the royal weddings of both Prince William and Prince Harry has retired to The Horse Trust.

Empress, a 22-year-old Cavalry Black charger, was also present at nearly all of the state visits to the UK, all of the Queen’s birthday parades and ceremonial displays that mark every Major General’s Inspection of the Regiment since 2004.

Empress leaves Hyde Park barracks for the last time

After reducing Empress’ workload in 2018, the 17.2hh mare has spent her last three years as a mount for the Foot Guards Officers of the Household Division, leading at some of the country’s most high-profile events.

“Guards Officers aren’t always the most able riders, so many rely on the Army’s brightest, calmest and most capable horses to help them look their best on parade. Empress was soon a firm favourite,” said a statement.

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

Empress was officially retired at the end of her final parade with the entire regiment in full ceremonial uniform.

“There were moist eyes in the ranks when Empress was ridden forward,” said the statement.

The mare was walked forward to stand alone in front of Major General Chris Ghika CBE, major general commanding the household division. Her kit was removed, including saddle, bridle and reins.

‘These horses deserve it’

Captain Edward Keith, adjutant at Knightsbridge Barracks, read out Empress’ citation and said:  “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.

“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.”

Empress is settling into life at The Horse Trust with old Cavalry friends

Empress’ shoes were removed by a farrier and after final farewells from officers, troopers and her groom she was led away and handed to the Horse Trust.

“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,” said Captain Nicholls.

The Horse Trust’s chief executive, Jeanette Allen, witnessed Empress’s military retirement ceremony and said: “I’ve seen the military do this special farewell ceremony at the Horse of the year Show, and at Olympia, but to see them take so much care even in private, like today in Knightsbridge Barracks, is really special.

“These horses have earned it, they deserve it. They deserve that moment in the sun when everyone says thank you.”

She added that Empress has a happy retirement ahead of her.

“[Horses] 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 anymore and that nothing is expected of them.”

‘All the qualities required’

Empress was born in Ireland in June 1999 and started her service with the Household Cavalry in Windsor in June 2003 as Remount 8100.

The black Irish Sport Horse quickly became a favourite of officers and novice riders alike, and she spent a long stint at the Household Cavalry’s Training Wing in Windsor teaching new riders. Empress passed out of training in June 2004 and has since had a distinguished career as a Trooper within the divisions, as a Standard horse (carrying the elaborately embroidered regimental flag) and as an Officer’s Charger.

“She has a fantastic blend of attitude, willingness to please and a quiet competence: all the qualities required of a charger,” said the statement.

Captain Nicholls added: “Most military working horses will serve an 18-year career. It’s not heavy work, but they do have to carry a lot of weight with all the ceremonial uniforms, and we will never work a horse to the point they can’t continue at peak performance.

“We want them to retire with some quality life left in them so they can enjoy a happy 5-10 years retirement in a nice home.

The Horse Trust takes about 25 horses a year from the police and the army,” continued Captain Nicholls. “They take our oldest, our boldest and those dearest to our hearts. The Horse Trust is fantastic – we’d love them to buy more fields so they could take more animals, but sadly it just comes down to acreage. They won’t compromise on standards.”

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