So a little known fact: horse guards (life guards) guard the official entrance to Buckingham Palace. Every hour from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., the horse guards are switched out from a team of horses and guards standing by. And every day at 11 a.m., that group of horse guards is traded out for a new group. A new fleet marches in, the old fleet is inspected and released, and it's all very much amazing.
We visited the changing of the horse guard four times. You see, we have this little Lou. And she's legitimately obsessed with horses. Annabelle also loves them, but I think she doesn't want to admit that she likes something her sister does, so she just loves them silently. And really, this is just an amazing little event, so we made sure to get our fill.
The change of the horse guard is much less well known than the change of the guards at the palace. Fewer tourists and almost open access to the horses. However, they proceed about their business with structure and regimented exactness - if you happen to be in the way, watch out. These horses DO NOT care. And they bite. And you will get yelled at.
I love loved watching the change of the horse guard. Such beautiful animals and such tradition. We went to the Horse Cavalry Museum as well, which was absolutely worth the price of admission. It's housed in the original eighteenth century stables of the royal horses - originally 70 (now 220). The very coolest part is that you can see into the active (and original) stables (through a huge window) in a portion of the museum. The horses that just got traded out are lined up in their stalls, getting groomed and fed. It's fun to see the guards as well - hats gone, faces drawn in smiles instead of stone cold glares, suspenders hanging at their waists. The museum also houses an impressive arsenal of artifacts and fascinating tidbits of information.
A few fun facts I retained:
- The Queen has a force of 220 horses. They are used for various guards and events. All of them are immaculately groomed and kept.
- The horses are militant. They aren't your normal pet riding horses. They bite and kick when they aren't pleased with the rider. The guards aren't exactly friendly either.
- One rider (on a video) said that during in his first week of training, he was thrown off six times, five times breaking a rib.
- When guards begin their training, they spend three weeks riding without stirrups.
- Life guards have stood guard at Horse Guards (the official entrance to Buckingham Palace) since 1660. 1660 people!
- The guard horses are black or very dark brown. Some spots on the face and feet are acceptable. The grey horses are for the trumpeteers.
- The horses retire after an average of 18 years of service.
- There is also a dismounting ceremony in the evening. The guards and horses are inspected and then the horses are taken in for the evening. This ceremony began in 1894 when Queen Victoria found the troops drunk as skunks and gambling away. She instituted a check to take place at 4 o'clock every day for 100 years. When those hundred years were up, the Queen decided to keep doing it. Because tradition people! And a mighty fine one at that!
Our little Lou loved this so much, and I'm so glad we got to do it so many times. Whenever anyone asks what her favorite thing in London is, she says, "the horses." A funny answer when you think about it, but it truly was a highlight for all of us.