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The Revd Kevin Ashby is pictured, along with sculptor George Bingham, meeting Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne.

Tribute to brave horses 

Melton Mowbray Team Parish Rector, the Revd Kevin Ashby, was called upon recently to dedicate a statue of a First World War soldier and horse by sculptor George Bingham, in the presence of the Princess Royal, at the Horse Trust at High Wycombe.
 
Mr Bingham said he felt The Horse Trust’s story of World War One was one of survival. That he would look to create a composition that wasn’t about horror, or focused on Officers on their Chargers, rather one that represented an ordinary moment in extraordinary times, yet one that still held relevance to the charity’s work today.

The Horse Trust is the world’s oldest equine charity and the statue will now serve as its war memorial.

Her Royal Highness is Patron of the charity that began in London back in 1886 after its founder Ann Lindo created The Home of Rest for Horses (now The Horse Trust) to provide urgently needed respite for the horses, ponies and donkeys of London’s working poor, and whilst their horses rested and received veterinary and farriery care, the charity would loan them a healthy horse so they could continue to provide for their families.
 
On the outbreak of the Great War two of the charity’s 12 “loan” horses were purchased by the army to serve on the western front. Just under half a million horses were purchased by the army from within the UK, leaving the older, less able horses to do all of the work for a country still very reliant on horse power.

Despite London’s working equines and their owners needing The Home of Rest’s support more than ever, the charity still pulled on every resource to help equines caught up in war.

The Horse Trust’s most significant contribution to the war effort was its provision of the first ever, motorised horse ambulance to the western front, which revolutionised the care of sick and injured horses. The ambulance operated out of No.2 Veterinary Hospital, Le Havre and was such a huge success in getting thousands of animals back from the front to the 18 veterinary field hospitals, that the War Office requested 13 more such vehicles from various charities.

These ambulances saved the lives of tens of thousands of horses thanks to the Army Veterinary Corps, (now the Royal Army Veterinary Corps) which had an 80% success rate in treating sick and injured horses, if the horses could be brought to them quickly enough.

 After the war, The Horse Trust took in a number of retiring military horses to their Home of Rest, back then based at a farm in Cricklewood, London and has been retiring equine public servants ever since.

Princess Anne said in her address that something that remains as true today as it was then, is how close the bond is between soldier and horse and in The Horse Trust’s modern context, also between police officer and horse or disabled rider or driver and pony. Horses are no longer required to serve on the battlefield yet our Military Working Horses still proudly represent our country around the world on state ceremonial duties, along with the horses of The Royal Mews.

To this day The Horse Trust provides for the retirement of any military working horse that needs a home at the end of their service. They also care for retired police horses, and ponies that are utilised by charities to help disabled or disadvantaged children and adults as well as taking care of local welfare cases.

Three equine civil servants were ceremonially retired at the event, El-Alemain of the Defence Animal Training Regiment, Cloud of the Royal Mews and Boris, a brave police horse who has served the people of London, and latterly Gloucestershire, for 20 years.

Boris was one of 10 horses that received the PDSA’s Order of Merit medal (the animal OBE) for outstanding bravery during the Tottenham Riots of 2011. 

To mark the historical and ongoing very close relationship between the Military and the Horse Trust, the event closed after HRH had presented bronze maquettes of the statue as lasting gifts from The Horse Trust. These were received by Lt. Col. Martyn Thompson, Commanding Officer of the DATR, Maj Harry Wallace, Commanding Officer of The King’s Troop and Maj Harriet Church, Veterinary Officer at the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.
 
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The First World War soldier and horse statue by sculptor George Bingham.

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