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Horses on Holiday: Household Cavalry Horses Were on Vacation When Queen Elizabeth Died

Horses and military get in formation for the funeral procession on Horse Guard Road. The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II was held in London on Monday, September 19, 2022.
Horses and military get in formation for the funeral procession on Horse Guard Road. The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II was held in London on Monday, September 19, 2022.

Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Queen Elizabeth's funeral

The state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, along with the over a mile-long procession that followed from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch, involved over 6,000 U.K. military members. Many were stationed across the country and world and had to be flown back to London for the occasion. The pallbearers, the eight soldiers who carried the Queen's coffin, for example, hailed from the Queen's Company, the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards. They were working in Iraq when the Queen died and had to fly to London immediately.

The same rang true for the animals who are part of the army.

PEOPLE has learned that around 60 horses who are part of the Household Cavalry, the division that historically protects the sovereign and played a prominent role in the procession, were on vacation when Queen Elizabeth died.

The summer is the busy season for the horses in the Household Cavalry. In early June, they participated in Trooping the Colour, the parade of 1,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians who came together to mark the Queen's official birthday. The rest of the summer, they performed ceremonial tasks like changing of the guards for the tourists who flock through the U.K.'s capital.

But the accommodations in Hyde Park Barracks in London are cramped, and they don't get much space to move around.

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Members of the Household cavalry prepare ahead of the Procession of the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, at Horse Guards, on its way to Wellington Arch in London on September 19, 2022, after the State Funeral Service of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.
Members of the Household cavalry prepare ahead of the Procession of the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, at Horse Guards, on its way to Wellington Arch in London on September 19, 2022, after the State Funeral Service of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

Loic Venance - WPA Pool/Getty Queen Elizabeth's funeral

So when the season winds down, the horses are rewarded by being sent to Norfolk for three weeks, during which they get a break from their daily duties and get to frolic in the sea with the soldiers. Others are sent to Melton Mowbray, a town in Leicestershire, England, where they get to spend the day happily grazing and running in vast fields.

The horses in the Household Cavalry primarily come from farms in Ireland, with whom the British army has a special relationship. The drum horses are English bred.

The horses are named after they go from training into the regiment. Each year their names start with a new letter. The army just completed "W."

Members of the Mounted Band of the Household Cavalry march during the coffin Procession at Wellington Arch in London on September 19, 2022, after the State Funeral Service of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.
Members of the Mounted Band of the Household Cavalry march during the coffin Procession at Wellington Arch in London on September 19, 2022, after the State Funeral Service of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Queen Elizabeth's funeral

When Queen Elizabeth died, many of the horses were brought back to participate in the funeral procession before their holiday resumed.

On the Monday of the Queen's state funeral, the horses got to run around Hyde Park for an hour starting at 7 a.m. to get out any jitters they might have before the big day.

"The horses do get excited about this kind of stuff. They are keen to go for a gallop, and they need to be steadied down," said one soldier. "They can sense this is a big day."

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The Household Cavalry are seen in Westminster, London, on September 19, 2022 in London, England during the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II.
The Household Cavalry are seen in Westminster, London, on September 19, 2022 in London, England during the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II.

CHIP SOMODEVILLA/POOL/AFP via Getty Queen Elizabeth's funeral

The procession lasted over an hour and a half, and the horses had to walk 75 beats per minute.

Only one horse stationed at the Queen's Horse Guards acted up on Monday. The procession paused to let the animal calm down before it proceeded through a narrow gate.

"No one was hurt, but it delayed the procession by a minute or so," said one of the soldiers.