The Lady in charge...
Regimental Vet, mounted soldier, rugby fan and the woman who keeps all the Queen’s horses in perfect shoes. Major Ann O’Flynn gets ready for the Royal Procession
There are approximately 500 horses in the British Army. Major Ann O’Flynn looks after 305 of these, which means that she has the largest number of animals under her care in the whole of the military. ‘I love all the horses dearly,’ she tells me, ‘but I sometimes wish there were more hours in the day.’
Major Ann O’Flynn is the Regimental Veterinary Officer. A member of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RA VC), she is currently attached to the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. These men and their horses have provided the mounted guard at the entrance to St James’s and Buckingham Palace since 1946, and they are key participants in any state or Royal occasion. A big event last year was the Royal Wedding and this year it is, of course, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
‘The Diamond Jubilee procession is a completely novel event,’ says Major O’Flynn. ‘To some extent it will be an enhanced version of summer parades, but we’ve been doing an awful lot of planning to get it right.’ Some of the preparation has involved getting up at 2am to practise on empty streets – a rarity in busy London. ‘We need to follow the exact route we’ll do on the day, and employ exact timings.’ After hours of rehearsal, the horses and the men return to the barracks in Knightsbridge just as the first wave of rush-hour traffic arrives. ‘Some people do look at us a bit blearyeyed, as if they can’t quite believe what they’re seeing,’ she laughs.
As well as ensuring the officers and their men know what they’re doing, it is equally important to make sure the horses are fully prepared. Major O’Flynn, along with her Veterinary Technician, Lance Sergeant Dawn Handley, another RAVC soldier, are a crucial part of the team.
Major O’Flynn has been in her current role for two years, and in the army for a decade. She always knew that she wanted to be a vet, and decided to join the army after graduating as it would enable her to pursue another of her passions – rugby. ‘I played rugby for England for 12 years,’ she says, ‘four of which were during my army service.’ Her sporting experience came in very useful during her military training. ‘I wasn’t afraid of being covered in mud and throwing myself on the ground. ‘Playing sport teaches you about being in a team, about relying on other people as well as cultivating self-discipline, all of which prepared me for army life.’
And the army life is a demanding one. Major O’Flynn’s day starts at 7am, when the troops and horses ride out on exercise for an hour. Around 80 per cent of the regiment’s recruits have no experience with horses, so a huge part of the job is teaching the men about how best to handle and care for them. The morning is spent doing rounds, checking up on existing medical issues and any new injuries that may have arisen during morning exercise.
The Major is also in charge of the group of Regimental Farriers who work to keep the horses hooves shod and in top condition. ‘They are an ebullient, opinionated, dedicated and amiable group of guys,’ she laughs. She is delighted to have them on her team: ‘Most vets in general practice have to wait a long time to find a good farrier to work with, and I have 15.’
After lunch in the officers’ mess, where she does a bit of ‘business supping’ with the officers to give them updates on their horses, the afternoon is dedicated to more lengthy procedures (‘at the moment we have one horse undergoing chemotherapy for skin tumours’), as well as the requisite administration. ‘All the horses’ medical notes are handwritten. I have to write them up to a veterinary standard, but also in soldier speak so when the troops are mucking out, grooming and exercising the horses each day, they know what treatment needs to be administered.’
On top of this, horses have to be prepared for the Queen’s Life Guard, which is the Regiment’s daily operational duty. ‘It’s a big job to get 12 men and their horses turned out for a set time, to parade standard. And horses are very good at causing emergencies. They will shy or bite at a number of things, and will often kick another horse.’
Despite the long working hours (her day does not finish until well after 9pm) Major O’Flynn relishes her role, and her working environment. Women make up less than 10 per cent of the British Army, but it is fortunately an atmosphere that Major O’Flynn is accustomed to. ‘I have five younger brothers, so I am very used to being around men. I enjoy the straightforwardness of conversation. I do sometimes yearn for female company, but I’m quite a tomboy at heart.’
Another huge perk of the job is, of course, the animals. All of the horses technically belong to Her Majesty, but the men – and Major O’Flynn – all have their favourites. ‘You can’t help but get attached to horses you work with for an extended period of time. Wykeham is one of our older horses – he’s always delightful to treat, and such a noble beast. He is due to retire this year. Wexford is my charger who I ride on parade, so she’s one of my favourites too.’
Major O’Flynn says nothing beats the feeling of seeing the regiment at their ceremonial best. ‘Watching 200 horses walk out of the ceremony gate into Hyde Park, and knowing that I’ve played a key role in presenting them to the nation, I’m always immensely proud.’ She also enjoys being part of the parade and has had some wonderful experiences. ‘For the Royal Wedding last year I was posted outside Westminster Abbey, so was directly opposite the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as they came out. It was immensely exciting.’
This opportunity to have ‘the best seat in the house’ to Royal and state events is a great advantage of the Veterinary Officer’s role. ‘I love caring for the horses, and it is a privilege to lead men. But the chance to be a small part of history,’ she beams, ‘well… that’s the best part of the job.’
WIN A GLORIOUS JUBILEE MEMENTO
Dodson & Horrell, the UK’s leading horse feed specialist and Royal Warrant Holder as Horse Feed Manufacturers to HM Queen Elizabeth II, is offering readers of The Lady an exclusive opportunity to win Diamond Jubilee memorabilia.
Readers can win one of 10 authenticated horseshoes worn by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Regiment as they changed the guard at Buckingham Palace for the first time in history on 23 May 2012 – a rare honour for a foreign Regiment.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also took part in the Diamond Jubilee Pageant at the Royal Windsor Horse Show from 10 to 13 May, which marked the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, in the presence of the Queen.
With Dodson & Horrell already manufacturing feed for the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, the company was asked to feed the Mounties during their stay in the UK.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police will give the horseshoes worn by the Regiment’s horses to Dodson & Horrell who will authenticate them and preserve them in a beautiful presentation box, resulting in a rare and unique keepsake to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
To enter the competition, simply send your name and full contact details, including telephone number and postal address to: The Lady Horseshoe Competition, The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER. The first 10 entries pulled from a hat by Major O’Flynn will win one of the collectable horseshoes. The Editor’s decision is final.
About Dodson & Horrell
Dodson & Horrell Ltd has led the way in equine nutrition for over 70 years, pioneering manufacturing methods and promoting nutritional research. The Dodson & Horrell range of high-quality, guaranteed horse feeds includes over 45 products for leisure and competition horses as well as feeds suitable for the breeding and racing industry.
Dodson & Horrell also produces more than 25 types of equine supplements and herbs. All products are supplied through a network of feed merchants in the UK and Europe, and exported worldwide. In addition to the successful horse feed range, D&H also manufactures Chudleys Pet Foods and the Countryside Range.
For more details: 01832-737300, www.dodsonandhorrell.com
Daily tip from the lady archive
“HEAVEN forbid that we should go back to the days when beauty was under suspicion and plain girls were assumed to have angelic natures.”The Lady. With Prejudice. 28th April 1938