Today, we made Lydia very happy, and went to see the Changing of the Horse Guard, or as they are officially called, the Queen’s Life Guard. Since it is not until 11am, it made for a more leisurely departure, which we all appreciated. I’m not sure why it is so much less known – or at least less of a tourist/spectator attraction – but it makes for great viewing!
The Changing of the Horse Guard itself was made up of several minutes of ooohhhhhh…. aaaaaahhhhh….. as the current guards rode out into the yard, and lined up, and then waiting. And waiting. Wait! There are the replacement Guards coming… OOoohhhh… I wonder why these guards have different uniforms? Every single horse is large, glossy black, and gorgeous! (I looked it up, this guard consists of a Squadron of The Life Guards, who wear red tunics and white plumed helmets, and a Squadron of The Blues and Royals with blue tunics and red plumed helmets.) Then the new set of guards go through a few maneurvers, and splits into two groups. One of the groups of replacement guards then rides through the archway from the open yard we are in, to a smaller enclosed yard on the other side. We stayed where we were and waited… and waited. And waited. 20 minutes we waited.
While we wait, a few interesting facts: Life guards have stood at the official entrance to St. James and Buckingham Palace since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. It amazes me the ceremonies and traditions still being carried out that started out when we still were struggling to be a surviving colony in America. The Queen’s Life Guard are part of the Household Cavalry Regiment who perform both ceremonial duties, as well as being part of active combat, including as recently as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ok, back to us in the yard… Turns out, there was more ceremony going on in the enclosed yard, that we could have walked over and seen, but we didn’t know that. Oops. However, there were police on horseback around, one on a gorgeous solid white (technically grey, I was corrected by Lydia) horse that was a striking contrast to all the black horses in the guard. So our girls went to see him and sat on the ground, and we just hung out and chatted.
Finally, horse mounted guards came out of the enclosed yard, back into the open yard. More calling out of commands and maneuvers later, the original mounted guards – who have been standing still in one place all this time, exit the field and ride down the street toward their barracks. The new guards then circled around and headed back into the smaller yard, did a fancy dismount, and led the horses away.
The big excitement in this was when one guard had a horse who didn’t feel like being stared at led around today. He tossed his head a bit, refused to follow in the direction he was supposed to go, and when forced even started to do the little hops and tosses we’ve seen before a horse starts to buck to get the rider off. He never did buck, but a few faint of heart observers did quickly flee to a safer watching distance. Like I said, we were up close, we could have reached out and touched the horses several times. That rider did quickly get the horse under control, but the same horse started acting up in the enclosed yard during the dismount, too. His Guard had to abort his dismount in the middle and stay on to fight him under control again while all the other Guards were already on the ground. Then dismount himself.
It did make it interesting, and got me thinking about how trained, yet not completely docile these horses need to be. And they stand at guard for an hour at a time, in one place. These guards are apparently allowed to move their heads, but we saw very little movement, and the horses just shift their weight from time to time, and that’s it.
There is also a short dismounting inspection called the ‘4 o’clock parade’ at (obviously) 4:00pm. It’s apparently short and not very exciting so we haven’t made the effort. However, the history is funny. This inspection has taken place since 1894 when Queen Victoria showed up here and found all the guards on duty drinking and playing cards. SO, she said they had to be inspected by an officer at 4 o’clock for the next 100 years! Of course, you’ll notice we are now more than 100 years later. In 1994 the inspection ceremony was officially made a permanent part of the traditions.