Of all the horses recalled in history, there can’t be many that are braver than Sefton the courageous horse who survived the IRA bomb in Hyde Park, London.
Sefton was born during July 1963 in County Waterford, Ireland. He was an Irish Draught cross, out of a Draught mare and by a local Thoroughbred stallion believed to have been Honour’s Choice. He was purchased as a two year old by local man Michael Connors, who took him as a four year old to the nearby Pallas Stud to be inspected by the Army Purchasing Commission on 1 June 1967 as a potential mount for the Household Cavalry. The stunning black horse was accepted immediately and Connors paid the then standard £275.
The new recruit was then shipped via a ferry from Dublin along with twenty five other three and four year old horses destined for the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery and other parts of the Household Cavalry. At the remount depot, he was named Sefton after Lord Sefton, a former Household Cavalry officer. While his official name was Sefton he was nicknamed ‘Sharky’ by those who rode and groomed him, due to his fondness for biting.
In September 1967, Sefton was moved to the Wellington Barracks in London and assigned to the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. Trooper McGregor had the tough job of breaking him in, not an easy task by all accounts – army records show that he took a longer than average time to be broken, as he was not quick to submit to rider commands. He finally ‘passed out’ in June 1968, and had his regimental number 5/816 marked on to his hind hooves.
Things did not go well for the new recruit after just two years of service Sefton had gained a reputation for being difficult, breaking ranks, fidgeting and napping. In an attempt to settle him Sefton was sent on deployment to Germany with the Blues and Royals. The life in Germany suited Sefton better; he was taken out with the Weser Vale Hunt, a bloodhound pack set up by Captain Bill Stringer. His bold jump and fast turn of pace made him the perfect whipper-in’s mount. This made him very popular, but due to his nature, he was not given to recruits to learn on but offered as a prize for the best recruits to ride.
Sefton was also competed in show jumping competitions, whilst on deployment between 1969 and 1974 and won 1434 Deutschmarks in prize money. He was a member of the army team competing for the British Army of the Rhine, as well as winning a Point to Point race.
In 1975, there was an outbreak of strangles at Knightsbridge Barracks, with many horses sick there was a shortage of large black horses for ceremonial duties in London. Sefton with a suspect tendon injury was immediately chosen to return to England as he was not fit for hunting. Here, he worked for the Household Cavalry for the next four years, performing his guard duties, as well as appearing in Quadrilles, and tent pegging competitions. He also continued to show jump, appearing at the Royal Tournament and other smaller shows. In 1980 at the age of 18, he was gradually retired from showjumping.
On 20 July 1982 at 10:40 am as Sefton and 15 other horses from the Blues and Royals were being ridden to the Changing of the Guard, a car bomb planted by the IRA detonated on South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park.
The nail bomb in the car hit the formation of horses and riders. Two soldiers were killed instantly. Two more died of their wounds later. A second explosion two hours later in Regents Park killed another seven soldiers. The blast from the Hyde Park bomb injured all of the horses. Seven were so badly injured that they were shot at the scene to relieve their suffering.
Sefton and eight of his stablemates also sustained horrific injuries. Sefton’s were the most serious of the surviving horses, his jugular vein had been severed, had a wounded left eye, and 34 other wounds over his body. His rider Trooper Michael Pedersen later said that Sefton responded so competently that when the bomb exploded there was no chance of his being thrown. After dismounting, Pedersen, who was still in full state kit and in severe shock, could do little to help his horse.
The sound of the explosion alerted a number of soldiers who were still in the barracks, and many of them ran to the scene, including regimental commander Andrew Parker Bowles and veterinary officer, Major Noel Carding. Another soldier, on orders from the officers, took off his shirt and used it to apply pressure to Sefton’s severe neck wound. Major Carding, one of the first on the scene said: “Sefton was the worst injured and I knew that we had to get him back to the barracks if there was to be any chance of saving him.”
Due to the severity of his wounds, Sefton was led into the first horsebox to arrive on the scene, where he was driven to the barracks along with Major Carding, Farrier-Major Brian Smith and three other troopers who were holding Sefton. Carding ordered the horsebox to the forge, rather than the stables, as it was closer. At the forge, Carding began an emergency operation and was actually the first of the British Army’s veterinary officers to operate on war-like wounds to a cavalry horse in more than half a century. Carding also directed the care of the other wounded horses before civilian vets arrived to assist. Between them, Carding, the civilian vets, farriers and troopers managed to save all of the horses who were brought back to barracks from the explosion scene.
Sefton went through 8 hours of surgery which was a record length for horse surgery in 1982. Each of his 34 wounds were potentially life-threatening. In total, some 28 pieces of shrapnel were removed from his body. That evening, after surgery he was only given a 50/50 chance of surviving due to shock and extreme blood loss.
Such was Sefton’s strong will to survive that he not only survived the night but got better and better as each day went by. He went on to make a full recovery and returned to duty within three months, serving with the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment for another two years where he was often ridden by Sergeant Michael Pedersen, his rider on the day of the IRA attack often passing the exact spot where he had received such horrific injuries. Unfortunately, while he survived the bomb, Sefton’s rider, Pederson, suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder and in 2012 committed suicide after killing his two children.
While Sefton was a patient the public embraced his incredible story sending huge quantities of cards and mints. Money poured in as donations from the public this was used to construct a new surgical wing at Royal Veterinary College which was named the Sefton Surgical Wing in his honour.
In 1982 he was given the Horse of the Year award and with Pederson back in the saddle took centre stage at the Horse of the Year Show, to a much deserved standing ovation.
Two years later on 29 August 1984, Sefton retired from the Household Cavalry. He spent the rest of his life at the Horse Trust sanctuary Buckinghamshire. He lived to the ripe old age of 30 before having to be put down on 9 July 1993 due to an incurable lameness, a complication of the injuries he suffered in the Hyde Park bombing.
In 2013, a statue of Sefton was unveiled at the Royal Veterinary College the life-size bronze statue of Sefton, depicting him in a brisk walk, was completed by the RVC’s artist in residence Camilla Le May, who spent two years working on the project and six months creating the sculpture, which weighs three quarters of a ton.
Sefton was one of the first horses to be placed in the British Horse Society’s equestrian Hall of Fame and had an annual award named after him. Brigadier Paul Jepson, the former chief executive of the Horse Trust and honorary veterinary surgeon to the Queen, said: “Sefton had bags of character. Other horses who survived the Hyde Park bombing were left traumatised and unable to return to their duties. Sefton was different. His bravery was remarkable.”
by Jacqui Broderick
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons