In 1457, a petulant Ladislas V, King of Hungary, demanded horses for his entire retinue, including his drummers, before he would come to ask for the hand of Magdalena, daughter of Charles VII. He simply refused to present himself amidst a retinue muddied by French roads.
Charles VII complied and such was the innocuous beginnings of a breed destined to become a symbol of royalty and the mascot of the British army.
Once Charles VII saw the impact of the ‘horse drummers’, he commissioned his own retinue to contain a pair, where a young and impressionable King Henry VIII would later come to see them.
Unfortunately, the first pair of silver drums King Henry commissioned in 1545 were sunk with the Mary Rose, only being recovered when the ship was raised in 1982. Fortunately, he was not easily dissuaded! He was the first king to routinely use the ‘Kettle Drummers’ in parade and battle, and it was also he who first gave the Drum horses a military rank of ‘Major’ to ensure they were treated with due respect by the troops.
Throughout the intervening centuries, the appearance of the Drum Horse has changed little, and their job, even less. With the establishment of the modern British military under Charles II, honored units were given Drum Horses but, over time, more regiments used Drum horses until, by 1715, all ‘Regiments of Horse’ contained one.
The only exception to this rule is the Royal Dragoon’s, whom King George II allowed a second Drum Horse when they presented him with two captured silver drums on the back of a ‘pyeball’ after the battle of Dettingen in 1743. This remains a point of pride to the Dragoon’s to this day.
During the course of history, Drum Horses have captured the imagination of many a military man; perhaps the most notable being Churchill who served with the Queen’s Own Hussars, Napoleon and Rudyard Kipling. Before Kipling wrote ‘The Jungle Book’, he dedicated a story to his regiment’s Drum Horse in India and wrote "The very soul of the regiment lives in the Drum Horse, who carried the silver kettle-drums". Indeed, they were a mascot for many a regiment and even featured individually on trading cards, much like baseball players in our modern era.
It is no wonder that a horse who can capture the hearts of the royal family so completely can entrance the common folk as well.
King George showed remarkable foresight when he overturned a decision to put down a Drum Horse due to his advanced age and declared that all royal Drum Horses be retired after duty to live out their days as they may. This decision allowed an American couple to adopt a horse from the ‘royal mews’ called Galway Warrior.
He had been preceded into the United States by his son, Chewmill Guinness, by only a matter of months and it was these two stallions that began the transition of the Drum Horse from a job description to a recognised breed in the making.
The Australasian Gypsy Horse Society has created a registry for the breed, establishing registration rules to ensure future offspring have the best chance to match and exceed their breed standard.
With the dream of breeding Drum Horse to Drum Horse exclusively being generations away, the AGHS’s guidelines define what animals can be bred to achieve the desired type of horse and to ensure, as much as is possible, that the resulting animal breeds true.
Australasian Gypsy Horse Society
Pepperwood Georgie Girl
Featherdale Whistling Dixie
Today, the Drum Horses of the Blue and Royals and Lifeguards are used for all diplomatic parades, as well as prominent events, such as the recent Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Parade.
The horses used, while selected by the regiment’s riding master, are required to be approved for duty and ‘officially’ named by the reigning monarch. Although the horses still maintain stable or pet names, they are officially named after Greek gods or heroes, with the current horses being named Mercury, Spartacus and Achilles.
Royal involvement does not stop at naming, however; the reigning monarch must be consulted about minor aspects of the Drum Horse’s routine, such as royal permission being required before the mane or tail of the horse can be trimmed. They are truly beloved by the monarchs they serve.