Here Comes the Cavalry!

Every year the Household Cavalry holidays in Norfolk, my home county. The annual paddle in the sea at Holkham is a press favourite, but not so many people know about the show they hold in Thetford. I went for the first time last Saturday with Mum and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, even if we were too tuckered to stay for the musical ride at the end. Imagine the world’s friendliest gymkhana – not a Pony Club mother in sight – and you will get the spirit of it.

There was showjumping, tentpegging, a lively sidesaddle display from the Flying Foxes (who made one of the soldiers try life aside – cue wolf whistles and a royal wave from the gentleman in question) and a chance to meet the gee-gees. Big bags of carrots were for sale and members of the public were encouraged to wander round the stables, stuffing treats into the horses. It must be hell for the grooms on Monday, but boy was it fun for us and the blacks, the greys and the giant roan drum horses.

We met Merlin (in the video he’s Mercury) and I’ve included photos of his saddle hangings, which list all the battles in which the regiment has been engaged. Note that Merlin is a bona fide drum horse, ie he carries drums for the British Army. Recently some enterprising folk in America have decided to breed and sell “Royal Drum Horses” and I wish the Queen would sue the pants off them. I also wish more shows recruited tentpeggers – the thrill of seeing three horses line up abreast and charge as their riders angled lances or swords for the narrow peg was quite something. I fell in love with a doughty and rangey “cavalry black” called Dreadnought, who won both the showjumping competitions. Bags Dreadnought when he retires.

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The Brummie Lancers


Via Horse and Hound:

A group of Birmingham taxi-drivers swapped their cabs for horseback and lances as they displayed the art of tent pegging at the English Heritage Festival of History last weekend (16-17 July).

Prince Malik’s Lancers was founded by Gulbahar Khan, originally from Kashmir but now a city cab driver living in Erdington, two years and a half years ago.

He started keeping horses here about 30 years ago before a team consisting of three other cabbies — his brother Gulzar Khan, Arshad Moheemd and Massart Abbas — was formed.

Flashwoman*

In my ignorance I thought tent-pegging had gone the way of the Quagga – how glad I was to see a piece in Horse & Hound congratulating British maths teacher Sarah King on winning the British Tent Pegging Association Championships on the 23rd August.

The British Tent Pegging Association have an excellent website (see this World War One recruitment film featuring the sport in this Pathé news clip – “The Army’s ripping fun old chap, do join!” – and another clip from the 1930s). It’s very friendly and you can learn a little about various teams, some military, and others, like Sarah’s “Pink Fairies” team, less than martial.

I had to go to Wikipedia to understand what was actually going on:

The specific game of tent pegging has a mounted horseman riding at a gallop and using a sword or a lance to pierce, pick up, and carry away a small ground target (a symbolic tent peg) or a series of small ground targets.

The broader class of tent pegging games also includes ring jousting (in which a galloping rider tries to pass the point of his weapon through a suspended ring); lemon sticking (in which the rider tries to stab or slice a lemon suspended from a cord or sitting on a platform); quintain tilting (in which the rider charges a mannequin mounted on a swivelling or rocking pedestal); and Parthian (i.e., mounted) archery.[1]

And:

The most widely accepted theory[5] is that the game originated in medieval India as a training tool for cavaliers facing war elephants. A cavalier able to precisely stab the highly sensitive flesh behind an elephant’s toenail would cause the enemy elephant to rear, unseat his mahout, and possibly run amok, breaking ranks and trampling infantry.

The term “tent pegging” is, however, certainly related to the idea that cavaliers mounting a surprise pre-dawn raid on an enemy camp could use the game’s skills to sever or uproot tent pegs, thus collapsing the tents on their sleeping occupants and sowing havoc and terror in the camp. However, there are few reliable accounts of a cavalry squadron ever employing such tactics.

Poor elephant! Imagine!

The best turn-out (in both senses) goes to the Royal Tent Pegging Club of Pakistan, who are really rather magnificent (and have better music, *ahem*):

* Yes, Flashman was a practitioner of the game, although knowing him, only in a peaceful setting with plenty of admiring memsahibs on hand.