The History of the Working Drum Horse
Drums have been used for thousands of years to excite people, either through music or simple pounding to bring a warrior to battle readiness. Drums have also been used as a communication device over vast distances or on the battle field. It wasn’t until the 13th century (1200’s) that continental Europe saw the first use of a wearable military drum. These drums were a type of Arabic kettle drum called a “naker” that were brought back by the Crusaders and Saracens from the Middle East. The naker is a very small drum with a diameter of 20cm-22cm or 8”-8.5” and was mounted to the players’ belt for use in military ceremonies. As time went by the drum grew in size until it reached its modern size of 55.88cm or 22”. As the size of the drum grew the weight also increased until reaching the current 68 pounds each, that the silver drums used by the household calvery weigh.
In 1457 King Ladislaus V of Hungary was to travel to France to ask for the hand of Princess Magdalena, the daughter of King Charles VII. Since Ladislaus was a vain 17 year old boy, he did not wish to travel the muddy roads and arrive with his retinue appearing in less than a regal state. King Charles VII obliged and to prove that he was a rich King, sent enough horses that every member of the retinue could ride. When Ladislaus V arrived with even his Timpani style kettle drums mounted on horseback Charles VII was so impressed that he commissioned hs own retinue to duplicate the concept.
These drums along with a section of trumpeters, evolved to be the primary instruments of cavalry units as well as remaining in the retinues of Royalty. This practice continues today in the United Kingdom as well as several other countries.Go to Top
King Henry VIII was the first British king to commission Drum Horses. The first set of silver kettle drums that were to be used, were lost, when the ship Mary Rose sank in 1545. They were recovered in 1982. He was also the King responsible for giving all British Drum Horses the military rank of Major, so that they would be treated with all due respect by the troops.
Traditionally Cavalry members had to supply their own mount, the exception was the Drum Horse. Honoured units were bestowed a Drum Horse by the reigning monarch, until by 1715 all “Regiments of Horse” contained one. The sole exception is the Royal Dragoons who are allowed two. During the War of the Austrian Succession, the Royal Dragoons fought in the Battle of Dettingen in France. On 27 June 1743 they managed to capture two silver drums and presented them to King George II after the battle on a “pye ball” horse. The king then awarded The Royal Dragoons with the distinction of having two Drum Horses. This is still a pride of point to the Dragoons to this day. Through various amalgamations the Royal Dragoons are now known as The Queens Own Hussars.Go to Top
King George (likely II?) also declared that all Drum Horses would not be put down to age as were other Cavalry horses of the time. He said that all Royal Drum Horses were to be retired to live out their lives as they may. This also means that a working Drum Horse will not be sold on to another career after its service as a Drum Horse is completed. They are currently retired to The Horse Trust’s Home of Rest for Horses.
Drum Horses had, and still do have, a favored place in their regiments; many were the regimental mascot and were also featured on individual cigarette trading cards like modern hockey and baseball cards. Rudyard Kipling even wrote a short story about the treatment of a Drum Horse called “The Rout of the White Hussars”. In this story he went into great detail about how important the Drum Horse is to the soldiers and how much pride they have in its appearence. Mr Kipling noted that “the soul of the Regiment lives in the Drum-Horse, who carries the silver kettle-drums”.
Traditionally Drum Horses are distinctly coloured with many being referred to as “pye ball” in historical documents. Regimental documents of the Queens Household Cavalry list colours as piebald, skewbald, grey, roan, cream and even one that looks like a silver dapple. They were required to be heavy boned, with an exceptional temperament and amazing calmness to be able to handle the work required of them.
Prior to the modern preference for feathered Drum Horses the descriptions and early paintings and photographs of the Drum Horses leads to the likelihood that the Drum Horses were mainly of a type referred to as a Waler. A Waler can be considered the historical precursor to modern Warmbloods and as such were a type not a breed. They were bred from crosses of hot blooded horses with draft horses, the most common being ¾ Irish Draught and ¼ Thoroughbred. These horses were non-feathered and lighter than the present day feathered Clydesdale types in current service. It should be noted that there is a form of the Waler that is now classed as a breed in Australia. The modern working Drum Horse has a minimum height requirement of 16.3HH, with the current horses standing between 17.3HH and 19.3HHGo to Top
At this time there are four Regiments in the United Kingdom who have working Drum Horses: The Queens Royal Hussars, The Royal Scots Dragoons, and the two Regiments that make up the Queens Household Cavalry, The Blues and Royals, and The Lifeguards.
The Queens Royal Hussars are the senior light armoured regiment in the United Kingdom and are entitled to two Drum Horses, but currently only have one as they are no longer a mounted troop. Their Drum Horse is fully trained but has no requirement to play the drums as there is a bagpipe band on parade for ceremonies. The Drum Horse is the official Regimental Mascot and is ridden by the Sergeant Kettle Drummer. The Sergeant Kettle Drummer who was appointed 20 September 2009 was the first woman (Sgt. Karen Tolladay) to ride a military drum horse in Great Britain. The drums used are the ones captured at Dettingen in 1743 and are engraved with the Regimental Battle Honors. The current Drum Horse is a 2003 Grey Irish Sport Horse (of Waler type) that stands 17.3HH, who was known as Banna Lad prior to becoming a Drum Horse. He was presented to the Regiment in March 2008 and was named Alamien after one of the Regimental Battle Honors. Alamien’s barn name is Charlie but the Troopers also call him Dudley. Alamien’s predecessor was Winston who died in 2006. Before Winston, the Drum Horse was a Grey Clydesdale named Peninsula who was presented in 1988. The Queens Royal Hussars Drum Horse is Mascot for life.
(Photo courtesy of The Queen's Royal Hussars website.)Go to Top
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards are the senior Scottish armoured regiment in the United Kingdom. Dating back to 1678 they also claim the distinction of being the oldest surviving Cavalry of the Line regiment in the British Army. Prior to mechanization they were known for riding gray horses into battle. Their Drum Horses are always a solid coloured Black of Waler type. The Drum Horse is the official Regimental Mascot and is used for ceremonial purposes. The current Drum Horse is named Talavera after a Regimental Battle Honour. She is a 17.3HH mare that was presented to the Regiment in 2002. Talavera’s predecessor was Ramillies, a black Irish sport horse who was presented by the Queen in 1987, began his duties in 1989, was retired August 2002, and died November 2002. Ramillies was over 18HH. Talavera will remain as Regimental Mascot for life.
(Photo courtesy of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards website.)Go to Top
The Household Cavalry is a military armoured unit in the British Army that provides functions directly associated with the head of state (The Queen). The Drum Horses of The Blues and Royals, and the Lifeguards perform at all prominent events and diplomatic parades. These are the horses that the world associates with the working Drum Horse. They are selected by the Regimental Riding Master for suitability. Training takes on average 18 months to 2 years before a horse graduates and becomes an official Drum Horse. Final approval for Duty and the “official” name are the sole providence of the reigning monarch. They are named after Greek Gods and Heroes. There are several web sites with extensive information on horse furniture (harness) of the Drum Horses such as www.householdcavalry.info/horses.html and www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk.
The Lifeguards are the senior Regiment (1658/1660) in the British Army and were originally formed to protect King Charles II. They recently had two trained Drum Horses but only one will ever be seen on Parade at a time. When you see two Drum Horses on Parade they are actually present because the Lifeguards and Blues and Royals bands are performing as a combined unit.
Current Drum Horse:
- Adamas, 2012- present, a 2003 Bay Clydesdale with draft Sabino markings and roaning. His barn name is Digger, he is 19.3+HH, and he started Drum Horse training March 2010.
Recent Drum Horses:
- Achilles, 2005-2017, a Black Clydesdale with draft Sabino markings (He was retired in 2017, and passed away shortly after at The Horse Trust’s Home of Rest for Horses.)
- Horatius, 1998-2008, a Bay Tobiano (Skewbald) Clydesdale cross who died on active service
- Constantine, 1992-2008, a Black with Draft Sabino markings (Blue Roan) Clydesdale
- Leonidas, 1986-2002, a Black Tobiano (Piebald) Clydesdale cross
- Coriolanus, 1977-1886, a Black with Draft Sabino markings going Grey
(Photos courtesy of The Household Cavalry website)Go to Top
The Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons), (1661) are the only regiment known officially by their nickname and not their proper name. They have just finished the training of a second Drum Horse who will share Regimental Duties with the senior Drum Horse Mercury. The two Drum Horses will not appear on parade carrying drums at the same time.
Current Drum Horses:
- Mercury, 2010- present, a Black Clydesdale with draft Sabino markings turning Grey, his barn name is Merlin.
- Perseus, October 2017- present, a Bay Shire with Draft Sabino markings, he stands 17.1HH high, and his barn name is Big Red. He started Drum Horse training Feburary 2013.
Recent Drum Horses:
- Spartacus, 1997- 2010, a Black Tobiano (Piebald) likely Clydesdale cross
- Janus, 1989- 2005, a Chestnut Tobiano (Skewbald) likely Clydesdale cross
- Caractacus, 1987-?, a Bay Tobiano (Skewbald) likely Clydesdale cross
(Photos courtesy of The Household Cavalry website)Go to Top