Kate Middleton’s Fairy Tale Life Equalled by a Horse in the Royal Stables: Digger the Apprentice Drum Horse Came from a Rescue Farm


While the Royal Wedding has already passed this story of a humble trainee drummer horse and his journey from a rescue group to the royal military unit is truly heart warming. - One horse training for the Royal Wedding this week had humble beginnings. Digger, a trainee drum horse for the Household Cavalry, was rescued by World Horse Welfare, rehabilitated, and adopted by the royal military unit. If you’re planning to watch the Royal Wedding on television on Friday, you might be like me and care more about seeing the horses than the design of Kate Middleton’s dress.

While the pomp of the famed Household Cavalry trooping through London is a spectacle on its own, you can be sure that they are pulling out all the stops for this event, as are the staff at the Royal Mews, where the carriage horses are being prepared.

I thought you might like to meet one of the Household Cavalry’s famed “drum horses” because his route to royal service is such an inspiration.

Meet Digger. He’s a Clydesdale. Nothing unusual about that. The drum horses are known to be huge, feather-legged and placid fellows who can happily march along while the drummer in the saddle beats away, quite close to his sensitive ears.

What’s different about Digger? Not so long ago, he was homeless, motherless, and lame.

An orphaned foal, he was rescued by World Horse Welfare in 2008. When he arrived at the charity’s farm in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, he suffered from stringhalt and osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) lameness issues in his hind legs and required extensive veterinary care. Lameness didn’t slow down his growth,though; he was soon measuring up to 19 hands!

Digger needed surgery at the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) Veterinary School to resolve his hind-limb problems; more than a year of rehabilitation followed. Then one day, his life completely changed.

Digger was offered the chance of a lifetime a year ago when he was adopted by the Household Cavalry as a trainee drum horse. He left his home in Scotland with World Horse Welfare on March 31, 2010 and traveled down to the Knightsbridge (London) barracks in an extra large horse van. Once settled into his new home, Digger began a two-year training programme to see if he has what it takes to be a drum horse. If successful Digger will lead the Household Cavalry band on all ceremonial and state occasions.

Eileen Gillen, Manager at World Horse Welfare’s Belwade Farm in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire had been caring for Digger since he arrived in early 2008. When she learned of his new opportunity, she said: “When Digger first arrived I was shocked as I had never seen a horse so big! His enormous size and the fact that he was only young and still growing were causing problems with the joints in his hind legs. It took surgery at the Royal Dick Veterinary Hospital in Edinburgh and many months of rehabilitation before he was well enough to start work. I always had high hopes for him but never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d have a Royal calling!”

Now eight, Digger is settling into his role in the big city. The Household Cavalry now measures him at 20 hands and he has an official military inventory number: he’s Army horse number 8463. That number will be burned into his hooves by the farrier.

Digger’s bridle will eventually have side-reins, and I’d love to see how they attach. They appear to lead to the stirrups of the drummer, apparently so he can steer the giant through the streets. Did you know those drums are made of solid silver?

I’m sure there are similar side-reins on the horses of other musicians who need both hands to play their instruments. I’ve always been in awe of musicians who can play in unison from the backs of moving horses, and now I have to add that I’m in awe of the horses who can be trained to march in formation without a hand on their mouths!

I’m equally in awe of a royal military unit that would adopt a horse from a charity home and put it into royal service. So Kate Middleton won’t be the only one in London this week with a fairy tale story.

The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment will escort the royal newlyweds from Westminster Palace to Buckingham Palace on Friday.




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