Sefton, Battle of a War Horse
By Cheryl R. Lutring (Horse history article copyrighted by Saddle & Bridle Magazine.)
A peaceful sunny summer s day in London. The troop of Queen Elizabeth II s Household Cavalry Guard make their routine way along the South Carriageway at Hyde Park to the Changing of the Guard at Whitehall. Sixteen black glossy horses step proudly, burnished regalia glinting in the sunlight, spurs and bits jingling. Awed tourists look on in delight.
Then a ball of flame, an earth trembling blast. Torn and bleeding pieces of human and horse splatter the pavement. The sickening smell of scorched flesh taints the warm air. Fallen horses lay gasping in the street. The victims of a car bomb claimed as a success by the IRA.
With an incomprehensible deliberation, 25 pounds of gelignite had been packed around with six inch and four inch nails and placed in an ordinary car. As the middle of the proud ceremonial column leveled with the vehicle, the explosion was detonated by cowardly remote control.
It was 20th July 1982. 10:40 a.m. Seven horses were killed. Eight seriously injured. Sefton suffered multiple deep wounds to his neck from pieces of car metal, one 2 x 1 shred severed his jugular vein. Five four inch nails were implanted to half their length into his face, one spiked his back. His stifle and flanks were gored by searing shrapnel from the car. His right eye was burned and the cornea damaged. His rider, Trooper Pederson, injured too by the flying nails, when ordered to dismount, stood dazed, holding the valiant horse.
With a shirt stuffed into his blood-pumping jugular, Sefton was slowly led away to the rescue horsebox that took him to veterinary help. It took hours of surgery to remove shrapnel and nails and mend the 38 different wounds, and Sefton was given only a 50-50 chance of surviving the shock and loss of blood. His nurse throughout recuperation said he had much common sense and knew exactly what was wanted of him in the stable and out. He took everything in his stride Ooh, he was cheeky though! You should have seen the nips he took at me. All in fun, of course!
Born in Ireland, Sefton joined the Army in 1967. He was 16hh and spent the early years of his army career as a school horse, teaching new recruits to ride. Barracked in London and Germany, he often went hunting and show jumping. Though a schoolmaster with a wicked sense of humor, he was a good reliable ride and the favored mount of many a trooper. But he must have been marked out as exceptional from the beginning because, in 1975, despite having socks and a blaze, he found his way into the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, which normally recruited only totally black horses. Then, that tragic day, his story became the focus of the nation s pride and concern: messages, tributes, and tidbits (especially mints) arrived by the wagon load at Knightsbridge Barracks; donations to the value of 100,000 were received. A fund was established which raised 300,000 towards the construction of the Sefton Surgical Wing at the Royal Veterinary College, which was later opened by Princess Anne.
Sefton returned to his duties and with the courage befitting a cavalry horse, making no fuss about passing the spot where he had been so badly injured and traumatized. The Household Cavalry recorded that he was a horse of great courage and character. Trooper Pederson reported that Sefton responded so bravely when the bomb exploded that there was no chance of being thrown from him. Sefton was made Horse of the Year and, with Trooper Pederson, paraded on each day at England s prestigious Horse of the Year Show. Later commentator and tv presenter, Dorian Williams said: I cannot recall any horse stimulating the spontaneous reaction that Sefton did when he suddenly appeared in the spotlights at the entrance to the arena. The audience literally rose to him and the cheering increased in a mighty crescendo through all his progress to the arena. Pride, relief, admiration were all mingled to provide one of the most moving experiences in the whole 34 years of the Horse of the Year Show, which has probably seen many dramatic and exciting moments. That entry of Sefton s will certainly be recalled forever as one of the highlights of this great Show. The duo also appeared on many BBC television programs.
On 29th August 1984, Sefton was pensioned off from the Household Cavalry and sent to live out his life in peace at the Home of Rest for Horses where for ten years he was the favorite of the staff and visiting public, but typically he would not hesitate to make it clear when he needed peace. He retained a dislike of abrupt girthing, chastising with a quick nip, but was generally an affectionate softy who loved to muddy his fine black coat and, in bad weather, would call from the gate to be brought in.
A monument to the tragedy that killed 11 people and seven horses, injured Sefton and eight of his stablemates, was erected on the spot and daily the troop honors it with an eyes left and salute with drawn swords.
At the magnificent old age of 30, on 9th July 1993, Sefton eventually passed on. His marble headstone overlooks the fields at the Defence Animal Centre, in the aptly named Remount Road at Melton Mowbray.
How mind numbing it is to think that so long after the use of horses in warfare, these magnificent animals could be so massacred in their ceremonial daily routine. I have written several times for this column of the noble horses of ancient war, but who would believe that such a story would be possible in modern times.
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