July 20, 1982 started out as just another day in London, unless you want to add in the pomp and pageantry of the Royal Household Cavalry, Blues and Royals walking past the hordes of tourists as part of the Changing of the Guard procession. However at 10:40 a.m., the lives of countless people and horses were either changed or taken forever. The Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings were and are still considered the worst IRA atrocities on the British mainland. At the end of the day four soldiers and seven horses lay dead. But, eight other horses survived; one, who was hardly expected to live became a symbol of winning over adversity. His name was Sefton and this is his story.
Sefton, like many of the horses in the Royal Household Cavalry came from Ireland, having being born in County Wexford to a draught mare and a thoroughbred sire; these combinations giving the horses the stamina of the thoroughbred along with the calmer temperament of the heavier horse.
Along with 25 other horses of three and four, Sefton was scrutinized by the Army Purchasing Commission and was bought, from his owner Michael Connors for £ 275, (about $500 today) the regular standard fee. His name Sefton was after Lord Sefton, himself a former officer in the Household Cavalry.
Sefton’s beginnings were not noteworthy except that he enjoyed biting and in September 1967 he went to the Wellington Barracks and was assigned to the Household Cavalry
Mounted Regiment. Sefton had other ideas about a career in the army though and made life tough for his rider, Trooper McGregor by ignoring commands. In June of the next year, he “passed out,” an army term for graduating and his had the numbers 5/816 marked on his hind hooves.
However, Sefton, once again proved a trial and he was fidgety, broke ranks and was obstinate. The decision was made to send him to Germany with the Blues and Royals, and it was here that he blossomed, in a most unusual way. A Captain Bill Stringer formed the Weser Vale Hunt, and they enjoyed chasing volunteer runners. Sefton was so bold at jumping and able to keep up a fast pace that he became the whipper-in’s horse. So good was he that the best recruits were allowed to ride him as a prize as opposed to having him serve as just a learner’s horse.
However, Sefton wasn’t finished with his bag of tricks. His next venture was into the world of show jumping and he won prize money along with being named to the team competing for the British Army of the Rhine. Throw in success as a point to point racehorse, and Sefton certainly had an all round list of accomplishments.
In 1975, Sefton was shipped back to England and for the next two years he performed his guard duties for the Household Cavalry while also performing in quadrilles, tent pegging along with appearances and show jumping at the Royal Tournament, the world’s largest military tattoo and pageant, held by the British Armed Forces annually between 1880 and 1999. In 1980, at the age of 18 he was retired from all but his guard duties.
The IRA Bombing
On July 20, 1982 Sefton and 15 other horses were on their way to the traditional Changing of the Guard ceremony when a nail bomb exploded on South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park. Twenty-five pounds of gelignite had been packed around four and six inch nails and set off by a remote control device just as the mounted group went by. Two of the soldiers died immediately, and two others died later. Seven of the horses were terribly injured and it was decided to shoot them right on the spots where they lay to relieve any suffering. The remaining horses, including Sefton were also horribly hurt, but it was Sefton who was the most seriously injured with a severed jugular vein, wounded left eye and 34 other wounds over his body. Michael Pederson said later that Sefton had coped so well when the bomb went off that there was no way he could have been thrown from the horse. Pederson, in bulky full state kit and, in severe shock after dismounting was not able to aid his beloved horse but help was on the way. A number of soldiers were at the barracks and they ran to the site when they heard the blast. One of them was regimental commander Andrew Parker Bowles, and a veterinary officer, Major Noel Carding. On their orders, another soldier took off his shirt and applied it to Sefton’s neck wound.
Because of his injuries, Sefton was the first horse taken from the scene in a horse trailer and Major Carding operated initially on him for 90 minutes while also giving order for the care of the other wounded horses until civilian vets arrived. Later Sefton underwent eight hours of surgery, a record amount of time for horse surgery in 1982 but it was also the first time the British Veterinary officers had had to deal with war like wounds in more than half a century. During the eight hours the vets cleaned his 34 shrapnel wounds including some that were in his bone, and even after the surgery he was only given a 50/50 chance of living.
Major Noel Carding said, “Sefton was the worst injured and I knew that we had to get him back if there was to be any chance of saving him.”
Happily, all the other horses survived but it was Sefton who seemed to have made the greatest impact on the world despite the odds, and perhaps his feisty personality helped him rise above adversity. He received cards, flowers and the financial donations made totaled almost $1,000,000 and were later used to construct a new surgical wing at the Royal Veterinary Hospital which was very named the Sefton Surgical Wing.
Sefton was able to return to his duties unlike some of the other horses who were too traumatized. He went back to his work and, with Trooper Pederson in the saddle, walked by the bombing site without a flinch. He was named to the British Horse Society’s equestrian Hall of Fame, and was also named Horse of The Year at the Horse of The Year Show to standing ovations. 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 will certainly be recalled forever as one of the highlights of this great Show.”
Sefton retired on August 29, 1984 and he went to live out his days at the Home of Rest for Horses in Buckinghamshire along with two other old pals who had survived the blast. He lived to the age of 30 when he was put down due to lameness due to the injuries he had sustained in the bombing. He has a marble headstone that overlooks the fields at the Defence Animal Centre in Remount Road, certainly a fitting name.
Still today, the horses and men who died and were injured on that day in 1982 are remembered and given a tribute: A monument was erected at the bomb site and as the troops pass by, they honour it with an eyes left and salute with drawn swords.
In October 2013, a statue to commemorate Sefton, the horse who battled the odds and won, was unveiled at the Royal Veterinary College’s Hawkshead Campus. It was commissioned to honour one of the college’s longest-serving senior academics, Prof Peter Lees, who retired in 2010 and was funded by honorary fellow Lord Ballyedmond.
Sefton immortalized forever!