Exercising The Horses


As cavalry regiments, the 10th Royal Hussars and 11th Hussars depended on fit, healthy mounts and this month we highlight one aspect of good horse-keeping: swimming is not only healthy exercise for humans, but also for horses. These photographs come from the Journal of the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own), kept in the museum archives.

The first shows horses in South Africa in 1891, at Baines’ Drift, about seven miles from Pietermaritzburg. On the far bank is Lieutenant T T Pitman (later a Major General and Colonel of the Regiment). As the river was quite deep a boat can be seen: in it were Troop Sergeant Major Tomkyns and three men, all of whom were good swimmers – in case of emergency.

Horses crossed from the far bank and were then swiftly dried and the riders (thanks to the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel C V Verelst) given a tot of rum. The soldier rubbing down the horse is Private Tonks of A Troop. It was reported that although Tonks did not cross the river, he did manage to acquire several tots of rum!

It was noted that there was “… no hitch or accident of any kind, both horses and men doing their parts in a most efficient manner.”

In 1907 the regiment was in Ireland and in July of that year we see Number 4 troop of A Squadron (under Lieutenant the Honourable C Mulholland – later to be severely wounded in the head in 1914 at Ypres as Adjutant of the Regiment, and after the war to become the 3rd Baron Dunleath) crossing Rogerstown  Inlet at Lusk, County Dublin. This was a Brigade ‘scheme’ in which every fit man and horse of three regiments (the Eleventh together with the 3rd Dragoon Guards and the 19th Hussars), plus two batteries of Royal Horse Artillery (“M” and “Q” Batteries) and a troop of Royal Engineers  crossed the creek.

No life jackets were worn, and the creek was between 100 and 120 yards wide, with a strong current (no Health & Safety in 1907!) but the entire regiment crossed safely and was saddled and mounted within one hour – quite an achievement. The photograph shows the swimmers about to mount their horses shortly before reaching dry land. From left to right: Lance Corporal Clarke, Shoeing Smith H Avis, Lance Corporal E K Edwards, Lieutenant Mulholland, and Privates C Peel, Hart and J Day (Private Hart was killed in France in 1914).

In the background can be seen a raft (to the right of the picture) conveying weapons, equipment and saddlery. It was constructed from the body of a horse-drawn wagon, covered with a tarpaulin, and was manned by sailors from HMS Powerful, and some strong swimmers from the cavalry. A few days previously a collapsible boat ferrying 40 men across the creek was “crumpled up like an egg shell”, resulting in all forty men being thrown in the water. Two – a Private from the Eleventh and another from the 3rd Dragoon Guards – were drowned.

HorsePower Museum has many interesting artefacts of cavalry life – you can see a stable as it would have been around the time of the river crossings above – and the uniforms and equipment a cavalry soldier would have worn and used, and you can learn about the close relationship between the men of our regiments and the horses they rode.