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August 3, 2015

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Equine safety innovation at Horse Guards

© MOD Crown Copyright

Paul King © MOD Crown Copyright

HQ London District (Army) is based in the historic Horse Guards building on Whitehall, which is the official gateway to the Palace of St. James and where the Queen’s Life Guard provides protection for the Monarch and government.

Paul King, who is head of safety for London District, works from an office overlooking Horse Guards Parade, the home of Trooping the Colour, Beating the Retreat and many other ceremonial occasions.

Mr King reports to the GOC London District and manages a team of five military unit safety advisors and two civilian staff to deliver safety assurance to units based in barracks for Windsor to Woolwich, including the ceremonial events.

Horses play an important part in the ceremonial work of the army throughout London. It takes a significant amount of time and expense to train both the horses and the soldiers who ride and care for them. Therefore, it is important that both these valuable assets are protected.

In collaboration with the military chain of command, Mr King has been working with the subject matter experts, including medical, veterinary and riding instructors to find innovative solutions to prevent injuries, which may occur to soldiers and horses during their training and subsequent mounted career.

London is a challenging environment for horses, he says, with new experiences, equipment, sights, sounds and environment. It is inevitable that there are incidents. Many things can spook a horse and even the most experienced horse and rider can still have an incident, whether they are performing ceremonial duties, riding out in the park or practicing in the indoor school.

As national accident statistics demonstrate, falling from a horse is a common occurrence in the equine world but the majority happen without or only minor injury. However, Mr King explains that problems do arise when a rider experiences a more serious injury such as broken ribs. This level of injury may result in a long period of recovery and rehabilitation or even removal of experienced staff into non-equine duties.

© MOD Crown Copyright

© MOD Crown Copyright

Therefore, in response to this and in line with the army’s duty of care to these individuals, Mr King explains that he has regular meetings with his unit safety advisors, the surgeon major and the equine assurance manager who is a senior riding instructor. Together, they explore alternative practices, which may offer a reduction in accidents and potentially reduce the severity of injuries sustained.

“We are quite open minded,” he continues. “We’ve looked at the training side and how we can improve different areas; one of the options we have been making initial investigations into is the use of equine safety air jackets.”

This is quite a low-key project at the moment, he adds, because it is a fairly new technology, which has not been used in the army equine environment before.

Mr King explains that the air jacket could be considered as specialist PPE and at present the chain of command is gathering users’ views with the intention of reporting back at a later date.

He feels that from a safety perspective the jackets could prove beneficial but it is the users’ feedback, which will be important in indicating the practical benefits. The key is in providing a safe training environment, which can be replicated, as far as is practicable, into the delivery of State Ceremonial events.

“We are not saying to riders that they’ve got to have it,” he says. “We are visiting the summer camp locations and offering riders the opportunity to try a number of different options. The jacket offers possible benefits as a tool in rehabilitation too by helping a rider to regain confidence as they return to the saddle after a serious fall.”

In addition, the mounted personnel who take part in ceremonial events are highly trained specialists and therefore difficult to replace if they injury themselves in a fall during training.

Mr King explains that his role also presents a duty to protect the public during ceremonial events. This includes ensuring that the stands are safe and that appropriate risk assessments are provided for these occasions.

Vigilance is necessary to ensure that the private contractors working on site also uphold the appropriate health and safety standards because any accident on Horse Guards Parade (which is the property of the Royal Parks) at a public event reflects on Horse Guards itself.

The London District head of safety role is incredibly varied with responsibility for ensuring buildings are used safely and appropriately for ad hoc, one-off operations such as support to the ambulance strike, ensuring appropriate fire and risk assessments for temporary accommodation, as well as assessing the risk for visitors, such as camera crews, who use the building as a vantage point for occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament.

This complex and diverse brief runs alongside the normal audit programme, which takes Mr King throughout London’s barracks and reserve centres ensuring that health and safety legislation is being implemented as directed on behalf of the chain of command.

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A K Crow
A K Crow
8 years ago

Having worked with horses in the past and having still a very strong interest in these wonderful animals and their uses, especially eventing. My immediate thought was that the air jackets are brilliant, but almost impossible to incorporate into the ceremonial side of the work, after all would you wear it under the breastplate (household cavalry/blues and royals) and how would that injure a rider that came off. I shall continue to watch this with great interest.

Paul King
Paul King
4 years ago
Reply to  A K Crow

The Jackets were aimed at Non Ceremonial riding only where most of our accidents happened and were never intended for State Ceremonial. Sadly despite much work between myself and the Surgeon Major we failed to recieve funding as the old guard did not want any changes in this area. Later my role came under threat of downgrading and I ended up exiled with the MOD to a remote part of England!