Royal Horse Artillery at Napier Lines

The King’s Troop: How it happened

The King’s Troop an equine photographers dream location! The most amazing thing about social media is the connections it can build. A group of us who had met on a Facebook Group got a very exclusive invite to come and look around the barracks in Woolwich. Bright and early on a wonderful spring day the 10 of us arrived in gaggle. We met Sgt Leighton, in charge of ‘F’ group outside and she gave us a briefing. All around was the sound of lens caps being popped off and hoods being clicked into place. This sound was drowned out by the sound of approximately 30 horses making their way down the main road!

Bringing up the rear was a London bus and none of these horses were at all phased. Bear in mind they are exercised in threes. So a trio of bays with one rider in the centre. They go out for 90 minutes every day, all around London. I am always astounded at the skills (or guts) these ‘work/services’ riders have. The police force is exactly the same. Blooming amazing and hats off to them. As they all filed into the yard the excitement was building. The horses were gleaming and all of them knew how to pose for a camera.

Kings Trop by Kent Photographer Frog and Field

We followed them into the square, which is the meeting area where everyone mounts and dismounts. Honestly given the fact there are numerous horses also jostling for position there is not a hint of bad behaviour, I know a few ponies who could learn some lessons from this lot! Around the outside of the square is a waxed track for the horses who can’t do road work. Still in a trio they may well be found doing 20 minutes of walking and then a few minutes trotting.

The King’s Troop: The yard

Once untacked we followed them into the stables and Sgt Leighton gave us the tour. They haven’t long been based here. The previous base was in St Johns wood but they moved to new premises in 2012. It’s a really smart yard all undercover. With lots of windows and natural light make for a very pleasant working environment. They still have traditional stalls, mainly due to space, there are over 100 horses at the Napier Lines Facility. Although its super-efficient and smart there’s still a fun feel to the place. One main difference between the old base and here though is the fact the horses have windows. So rather than stare at the wall they have a view. The horses seem quite content and they do lay down and sleep. Due to the living arrangements there are staff on site 24 hours a day doing checks throughout the night.

Kings Trop by Kent Photographer Frog and Field

Kings Trop by Kent Photographer Frog and Field

Here and there you could see horses tied up outside enjoying some sun on their backs. They all have hay constantly and this seems to help with their relaxed demeanour. Turnout isn’t a regular feature sadly, due to the location of the barracks but also because they are always on standby. They pull the funeral gun and are in attendance at Royal Funerals, they can be asked to be ready at very short notice. Although the daily turnout is missing they do get to go on holidays and the horses look fantastic on the regime. During ‘quiet times’- few and far between because members of the troop are fully operational soldiers-the horses will be schooled. Some of them compete, including eventing, show jumping and even racing! They really are multi-talented animals and this is largely due to their training.

Kings Trop by Kent Photographer Frog and Field

Kings Trop by Kent Photographer Frog and Field

The King’s Troop: What makes it special

Something Sgt Leighton was really proud about is the fact they are self-sufficient. So they have a vet and pharmacy on site. As well as a forge complete with farriers and also a saddlery. Run by a master saddler all the repairs and most manufacturing of the leather work is done on site. Bespoke harness hand made from one sheet of leather. The pattern has only just been released to the public as it was a war time secret. The harnesses are designed to fall off a dead horse and allow the others to keep charging. As well as all of this they also have a tailors on site-responsible for the maintenance of all the clothing, ceremonial and every day. All of the personnel are able to work for qualifications and these may include Farriery or NVQs in Equine Instruction.

It is truly a fascinating place, full of history and still doing a job that makes me feel very patriotic.

Kings Trop by Kent Photographer Frog and Field

Facts about The Kings Troop

The barracks, Napier Lines, is fuelled by horse manure

Each of the horses has a number

The only have ‘hogged’ manes when they are deemed suitable for the job. Until then they have natural manes

All of the guns were used in the First World War

They are fed a special mix made by Dobson and Horrel

The guns have no brakes! They stop by the horses sitting back in the harnesses

Thank you to Rose for starting this, Katie for organising it and of course Sgt Leighton for her time.