Richmond Park’s much-loved Shire horses weigh over a tonne and are rarer than the giant panda. They are Britain’s largest native breed of horse, yet fewer than 2000 Shire horses remain globally. Ten of them are to be found in Richmond Park.
The horses carry out crucial conservation work across The Royal Parks and London’s green spaces, as well as providing carriage rides, giving guests an up-close experience. Take a peek behind the scenes.
Operation Centaur's Dr Andreas Liefooghe introduces us to the characters that make up the 10-strong herd stabled at Holly Lodge.
Heath and Nobby
Heath is the senior of our 10-strong herd. He teaches all the youngsters the ropes.
Nobby, a grey, forms a pair with Heath but he’s a horse that keeps himself to himself. He’s now 9, but he stayed a grumpy teenager for a long time before he decided to grow up. Now he's Mr Perfect. Seeing him in the carriage for the winter rides is a spectacular sight. Nobby and Heath are the tallest and biggest horses, and being grey they are very eye-catching. Despite their appearance, the term 'white' is only used to describe albino horses. Grey horses may look white, but they are born a dark colour and gradually grow lighter hair each year.
George and Bess
George, our foal born this summer, was born jet black and has now turned a wonderful rose-grey. In four months, his coat has changed colour at least four times! His mother Bess, our only mare, is also grey and gets lighter every year.
Murdoch and Joey
Murdoch "The Flying Scotsman" is the most popular horse in the herd - all the horses love and respect him. We nearly lost him a few years back when someone fed him bread when he was in the field, and he developed colic. He had to be operated on and had 22 meters of gut removed, and luckily he survived.
Joey (official name Nicodemus) is the smallest and the bravest of the herd. His coat is the colour of polished conkers, and there is nothing he can't turn his hoof to. Any job requiring a solid influence, Joey is first in the queue. With Murdoch, he is also one of the team’s favourite therapy horses.
Monty and Tom
We have Monty and Tom who look like a pair of twins. They are both tall, slender and dark bay.
Tom is the senior at 12, whereas Monty is just 5. They're inseparable in the field.
William and Sir Henry
This year, we acquired two young Shire horses from a sanctuary: William, 5 and Sir Henry, 6. They were a bit unruly at first – but thanks to the guidance of Heath these are now turning out to be completely transformed horses.
As working horses, they need a purpose, so they don't do so well as a pet. One of the silver linings of lockdown was that our team had a lot of time to spend in training these youngsters.
First they build a relationship, and learn to trust. Then they get used to the equipment. Finally, we teach them how to pull - and then they're ready to join an experienced horse with some equipment.
Usually we start the horses with a harrow, as this is light and doesn't require a vehicle behind them. Once they trust and settle into that work, we move to grass cutting and carriage driving, before the bracken rolling in the summer.
Support the Parks
We believe access to open green space is more important than ever, especially in cities like ours. It costs tens of millions of pounds every year to care for these beautiful and historic parks, and the impact of Covid has hit the charity hard as we face a significant drop in income.
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