The British Household Cavalry is classed as a corps in its own right, and consists of two regiments: the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons). They are the senior regular regiments in the British Army, with traditions dating from 1660, and act as the Queen's personal bodyguard. They are guards regiments and, with the five foot guard regiments, help constitute the seven guards regiments of the Household Division.
The Household Cavalry as a whole is split into two different units that fulfil very distinct roles. These are both joint units, consisting of personnel from both regiments. Like other Cavalry formations, the Household Cavalry is divided into regiments (battalion-sized units) and squadrons (company-sized sub-units). The whole corps is under the command of the Commander Household Cavalry (formerly Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding Household Cavalry), who also holds the Royal Household appointment of Silver Stick in Waiting. He is a Colonel, and is assisted by a retired lieutenant colonel as Regimental Adjutant. The current Commander is Colonel S H Cowen RHG/D.
The first unit is the Household Cavalry Regiment (HCR). It has an active operational role as a Formation Reconnaissance Regiment, serving in armoured fighting vehicles, which has seen them at the forefront of the nation's conflicts. The regiment serves as part of the Royal Armoured Corps, and forms one of five formation reconnaissance regiments in the British Army's order of battle. The HCR has four operational squadrons, three of which are traditional medium reconnaissance squadrons equipped with the combat vehicle reconnaissance (tracked) or CVR(T) range of vehicles (Scimitar, Spartan, Sultan, Samson and Samaritan) and the fourth is referred to as Command and Support Squadron and includes specialists, such as Forward Air Controllers. One of HCR's squadrons is assigned to the airborne role with 16 Air Assault Brigade as of 2003. The Regiment is based at Combermere Barracks, Windsor, one mile from Windsor Castle. The men of the Household Division have sometimes been required to undertake special tasks as the Sovereign’s personal troops. The Household Cavalry were called to Windsor Castle on 20 November 1992 to assist with salvage operations following the 'Great Fire'.
The second unit is the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR), which is horsed and carries out mounted (and some dismounted) ceremonial duties on State and Royal occasions. These include the provision of a Sovereign's Escort, most commonly seen on The Queen's Birthday Parade (Trooping the Colour) in June each year. Other occasions include state visits by visiting heads of state, or whenever required by the British monarch. The regiment also mounts the guard at Horse Guards. HCMR consists of one squadron from The Life Guards, one from The Blues and Royals and a squadron called Headquarters Squadron, which is responsible for all administrative matters and includes the regimental headquarters (RHQ), the Riding Staff, Farriers, Tailors and Saddlers. The Regiment has been based (in various forms) at Hyde Park Barracks, Knightsbridge, since 1795. This is three-quarters of a mile from Buckingham Palace.
New troopers and officers are generally first assigned to London upon completion of horsemanship training and remain there for up to three years. Like the five Foot Guards regiments they rotate between the operational unit and ceremonial duties.
The rank names and insignia of non-commissioned officers in the Household Cavalry are unique in the British Army:
Formerly, sergeant was exclusively an infantry rank: no cavalry regiment had sergeants. Only the Household Cavalry now maintains this tradition, possibly because sergeant derives from the Latin serviens (meaning servant) and members of the Household Cavalry, once drawn exclusively from the gentry and aristocracy, could not abide such a title. However, this origin may be apocryphal, since serjeant was a title used by some offices of comparative seniority, such as Serjeants at Arms, and Serjeants at Law.
Uniquely, non-commissioned officers and warrant officers of the Household Cavalry do not wear rank insignia on their full dress uniforms (although officers do). Rank is indicated by a system of aiguillettes.
Second Lieutenants in The Blues and Royals are known as Cornets.
Recruits were required to have a very high moral character. Before the Second World War, recruits were required to be at least 5 feet 10 inches tall, but could not exceed 6 feet 1 inch. They initially enlisted for eight years with the colours and a further four years with the reserve.
There is a farrier on call "round the clock, twenty-four hours a day, at Hyde Park Barracks".
Farriers traditionally combined veterinary knowledge with blacksmiths' skills. They were responsible for hoof trimming and fitting horseshoes to horses. They also dealt with the "humane dispatch of wounded and sick horses", accomplished with the large spike on the end of their axes. Then they used the sharp blade of the axe to chop off the deceased animal's hoof, which was marked with its regimental number. This assisted in keeping track of animals killed in action.
Although the axes are not used any more, army farriers still carry these axes, with their characteristic blade and spike, at ceremonial events such as Trooping the Colour.
In the Blues and Royals, the farriers dress like their comrades in regimental uniform. The distinctive uniform and equipment of the farriers of the Life Guards—blue tunic, black plume and axe—is a historic reminder of the old British Army of the days of James Wolfe. Every cavalry regiment in the Army, other than the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues), originally wore scarlet for all ranks, except the farriers. Farriers were garbed invariably in sombre blue and bore axes, worn at the side, like the swords of their comrades. When on parade, the troopers drew swords, the Farriers drew axes and carried them at the "Advance".
When participating in parades, the Farriers bring up the rear of the Household Cavalry, carrying their glinting ceremonial axes.
Following every parade is a duty horse-box, known as the Veterinary Aid Post, with a specialist emergency team in attendance.
Many of the recruits have not even been on a horse before joining the Household Cavalry. Some of them only train for 18 weeks before performing their historic display, the Musical Ride, whose discipline and teamwork prepares them for operational duties.
The Musical Ride of the Mounted Regiments of the Household Cavalry was first performed at the Royal Tournament in 1882. The two trumpeters sitting on grey horses were historically intended to form a contrast with the darker horses, so that they could be seen on battlefields when relaying officers' commands to the troops. The troops weave around the trumpeters and the celebrated drumhorse, Spartacus.
The Ride is now performed annually at the Windsor Castle Royal Tattoo as part of the Windsor Royal Horse Show each May, and during the yearly Beating Retreat on Horse Guards Parade, with the Band of the Household Cavalry playing the background music.
In the British Army Order of Precedence, the Household Cavalry is always listed first and always parades at the extreme right of the line, save in cases that the guns of the Royal Horse Artillery are to be first in line during parades.
The two regiments of the Household Cavalry are regarded as the most prestigious in the British Army, due to their role as the monarch's official bodyguard. Historically, this meant regularly being in close proximity to the reigning sovereign. As such, the soldiers, and especially officers, of the Household Cavalry were once drawn exclusively from the British aristocracy. While this is no longer the case, the Household Cavalry still draws many of its officers from the upper classes and gentry, and maintains a close personal connection to the Royal Family; both Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry were commissioned into the Blues and Royals. On occasions, this has led the Household Cavalry to be accused of elitism.James Blount 1997–2002, stage name James Blunt (Life Guards) singer / songwriter
Tommy Cooper (Royal Horse Guards)
Michael Flynn (Blues and Royals)
Craig Harrison (Blues and Royals)
James Hewitt (Life Guards)
Jack Higgins (Blues and Royals) author
Victor McLaglen (Life Guards) 1901 film actor
Ray Milland (Royal Horse Guards The Blues) 1927
Andrew Parker Bowles (Blues and Royals)
Prince Harry (Blues and Royals)
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (Blues and Royals)
A (Ayrshire (Earl of Carrick's Own) Yeomanry) Squadron, The Queen's Own Yeomanry
The term 'Household Cavalry' is used across the Commonwealth to describe the cavalry of the Household Divisions, a country’s most elite or historically senior military groupings or those military groupings that provide functions associated directly with the Head of state.
Canada's Governor General's Horse Guards, India's President's Bodyguard and Pakistan's President's Bodyguard are typical Household Cavalry regiments, employing armoured vehicles for combat duties and equestrian units for ceremonial functions. The Mounted Ceremonial Squadron of the Malaysian Royal Armoured Corps is a mounted unit that performs only public duties, and does not employ armoured vehicles. When used without national qualification, however, the term generally refers to the Household Cavalry of the British Army.