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Ronald, Heroic War Horse of the Charge of the Light Brigade

Ronald and Light Brigade: History site section Logo of ancient snaffle bit.
By Cheryl R. Lutring (  Horse History article copyrighed by Saddle & Bridle Magazine)

A famous and oft quoted poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson tells a vivid story of an incredible episode in British history the Charge of Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava in the Crimea (apeninsula in the Black Sea attached to the Ukraine). Mistrusting Russian intentions in theBalkans, Britain and France declared war in September 1854.

The date October 25, 1854, and the name of the 7th Earl of Cardigan at the head ofthe 13th Light Dragoons, are well known milestones of history to schoolboy and historianalike but what of the fearless steed that carried James Thomas Brudenell into the mouth of Hell.

Ronald, chestnut with white socks, 15.2hh, had been bred by the Earl at Deene Park inthe county of Northamptonshire. The Earl selected him as his personal cavalry charger and, with other army horses, Ronald would have been shipped to the Crimea. The journey was torturous to say the least as the horses had to cope with 2,300 miles of roughsea waters and horrendous conditions aboard the small ships. Many died of their torment tlong before they reached dry land or battle field.

 Ronald survived and soon was reunited with the Earl.  Astride Ronald, Cardigan rode up to his superior officer to receive his orders. He listened to the instruction to advance down the valley, then he saluted and raised his sword whilst remarking Certainly, sir; but allow me to point out to you that the Russians have a battery in the valley to our front, and batteries and riflemen on each flank. But he was told there was no choice in the matter, orders were orders. Cardigan wheeled Ronald away and, it is alleged, muttered disgustedly, Here goes the last of the Brudenells perhaps Ronald s chestnut ears twitched to hear the chilling words.

Taking up a lone position in advance of the front line, Lord Cardigan led the Brigade, proceeding at the trot to cover the mile to the enemy s battery. Soon, as he predicted, the Light Brigade was bombarded from three sides, shots and shells whizzing and zinging around them, one shell narrowly missing the heroic Ronald. Outraged and angry, Cardigan suddenly spurred to a gallop and charged through the guns and on through the Russian cavalry and infantry. Thus perceiving his orders to have been fulfilled, he wheeled Ronald around and sped back along the valley.

Somehow, maybe due to the valour and reliability of Ronald, the Earl emerged unscathed from the jaws of Death, and even managed to avoid capture by Russian Cossacks seeking the bounty offered by Prince Radzvill for Cardigan s capture.

Although the Charge is considered by some military historians as a futile and costly mistake, there is no denying it achieved its objective to smash through the Russian guns and demoralize their cavalry.

When at last the Light Brigade withdrew over the bodies of their hundreds of fallen, the cost was counted: of the 673 only 195 men and horses were still fit for duty, the rest killed or horribly wounded. No less than 475 horses were killed in that one legendary battle and many more were never to see England again. Fortunately, Ronald was not one of them.

When at last released from military service, the Earl and his devoted Ronald, returned home to Northamptonshire. But their joint service was not quite complete. The indestructible duo had become the icons of the War and the heroes of the people. Many celebrations and parades awaited them and they were always greeted by emotional cheering crowds whenever they appeared. People thronged around Ronald trying to grasp little pieces of hair as remembrances.

Outliving the Earl, who died of an accident with another horse, Ronald s last service to Cardigan was to follow the coffin in his funeral cortege. However, the old horse, having endured ghastly sea journeys, life on the foreign front, the atrocity of battle, near starvation and probably deep terror, found the whole prospect of a funeral procession far too exhilarating and became boisterous. To avoid the solemn pageantry of the day being ruined by the over-excited horse, they administered laudanum. But, in the heat of the moment the dose must have been inadvertently overdone, for then no one could move the dozing charger. Eventually an inspired individual called for the sounding of the cavalry charge. Stirred to duty, Ronald jumped into wakefulness and set off as required.

Four years later, on June 28, 1872, Ronald died. The Brudenell family honored the valiant old horse by preserving his tail and his head at the family country seat in Northamptonshire. To this day, in the White Hall, his preserved head gazes upon the daily sightseers to the historic house of Deene Park. Ronald s splendid contribution to British history has not only been recorded in poetry, but in two films and several magnificent  paintings. No less does he deserve.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley d and thunder d;
Storm d with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made,
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

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