I first saw the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery
when I was about 12. My father said smiling, softly “the right of the line, the terror of the world and the pride of the British Army.” It’s not a military family and I had never seen horses like that. The combination of the uniform, apparently one of the most attractive and practical, and the horse flesh remains on the back of my eye. I’ve tried to trace that remark but the great god Google doesn’t help (nice to know these things are finite). I do know that several units were in India in WWI, where my father was stationed. It may have been something the rest of the troops said. Who knows?
The Troop was the unit to which I was closest when I went to Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph and I watched the horses stand, unmoved by the guns going off. Except for the one immediately in front of me, waiting for his female officer who was in charge of a gun. Something rippled under that coat,
an indication of tension mastered, which was stilled as soon as his rider returned. You could almost hear the exhalation.
I was not a little girl who had riding lessons. Ponies don’t do it for me. I first sat on an enormous hunter when I was 13 (he let me) and I sat probably with a little more connection on my hostess’s regular mount in Sussex years later. I bluffed that I could ride to gain the approval of a boyfriend and you can imagine how that ended, he and horse.
In the recent past, I read a book about the history of man’s relationship to the horse
because of course human history would be completely different without them. The distances travelled not once but again and again, the weights carried, the accidents averted – all depended on the horse. Not for nothing is the engine defined by horse power and in the pictures I have of them ( by Yann Arthus Bertrand) you can see why they were worshipped.
One misty November morning, I was unexpectedly up the street when the Troop came round the corner, on morning exercise, shining muscular caramel out of the grey. I stood at the kerb at attention, my upbringing, to the memory of my pa. The leading rider toucher his crop to his helmet – “Good morning, madam !” Hooray for a voice, I replied clearly “God bless you all.” Now that is generational. We used to say “God bless” quite routinely, and now we are afraid it may label us, class or belief, or it means nothing which is even sadder. We all smiled at each other and they clattered past.
Last week was a terrible week. I have a friend whose entire family is in the medical profession and they are all in India.
I didn’t hear from her for ages, she has been most unwell with her first pregnancy and she and her husband have lived on the telephone and through the laptop to try and help their beleaguered families. All I can do is be kind and encouraging and gentle.
I met a neighbour I’d been thinking about but hadn’t seen for months, whose daughter is anorexic. She is in hospital again, everybody strained to breaking point, eating disorders are labour intensive ordinarily but these are not ordinary times. The facilities for adolescent health were always critically thin and they are now struggling cruelly. I stood in the street with her for 20 minutes or more, it is all I can do for her.
And I really do take my own medicine. There are only small things to get us through this in human terms. If the big successes and big kindnesses don’t affect you directly, you’re back to the small ones, the personal ones, the best you can do – and you do it, again and again. Buns found something called Livingstone daisies which he remembered from his mother’s garden and there was a picture in the paper of a horse reaching his head to his rider and she smiling, kissing him on the softest bit, just above the lip. King’s Troop.