Household Cavalry troopers compete to be named best turned out soldier

Troopers in the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment assembled in the Parade Square at Hyde Park Barracks to take part in an annual event to find the best turned out soldier and horse.

The Princess Elizabeth Cup dates back to 1949 when the then-Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, proposed the idea for the Richmond Horse Show. It crowns the best turned out trooper from the two most senior regiments in the British Army.

The Life Guards and the Blues and Royals, locked in a rivalry stretching back to the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, each put forward six challengers to compete for eight places at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in May.

The top eight finishers were selected on Friday. The Life Guards will be represented by Troopers Joe Jessop, Kieran Jones, Vittorio Vettraino and Watts-Fleming, while The Blues and Royals will be represented by Troopers Seth Adams, Dandie, Ethan Jeffrey and Siobhan Mottram.

Princess Elizabeth Cup judging
Two members of the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals pose together (Victoria Jones/PA)

The eight troopers will meet the King and form His Majesty’s Retinue on the King’s Birthday Parade in June, and the regiment of the winning trooper will receive all-important bragging rights for a year.

In the six weeks of preparation for Friday’s event, every part of the horse and harness and the trooper’s uniform must be meticulously scrubbed clean and polished.

More than 200 hours is spent shining the ceremonial jackboots alone, using a minimum of 2kg of beeswax melted by blowtorch.

Trooper Vittorio Vettraino, 23, from Glasgow, trained as a third officer in the Merchant Navy before making the jump to land.

After dismounting from the Life Guards One Troop’s primary charger, MWH Lancelot, he said: “The most challenging part was putting it all together. It’s all fun making it shiny, laying it all out, but until you put it together, you have to rely on other experienced people and it can be heartbreaking if you get a crack.”

Princess Elizabeth Cup judging
Members of the Life Guards prepare their horse (Victoria Jones/PA)

The troopers’ work was assessed by 12 judges, including three generals, German defence attache Brigadier Torsten Gersdorf, the Chief Officer of the Army Benevolent Fund, Tim Hyams, and experts from across defence.

Judges gave a score of one to five points for 37 specifications, from the cheek pieces to the saddle flaps, while a further 15 points were available for overall impression.

Last year, Trooper Amy Brooke of the Life Guards broke the Blues and Royals’ winning streak.

“It was daunting to begin with,” she said of her campaign, but “it teaches discipline and attention to detail. You strive to be the best”.

In a briefing before the inspection, Trooper Brooke reminded judges of key battlegrounds in turnout: “The jackboots and the nose band – those will be the two places where people will put in the most effort. Jackboots are an iconic symbol of the Household Cavalry.”

Princess Elizabeth Cup judging
Members of the Blues and Royals and the Life Guards are judged (Victoria Jones/PA)

Reflecting on the drizzle during Friday’s inspection, Trooper Vettraino said: “You get scared because a lot of people will ‘juice’ their boots. It’s like a floor cleaner that makes the boots very shiny and it reacts to the rain. It makes them blue.

“Naturally, everyone today juices at the last minute and you think, ‘Oh my lord, I’m going to have blue boots, I’m going to look like a Smurf when I come on.’”

Warrant Officer Class One Regimental Corporal Major Dan Snoxell said the competition is integral to a trooper’s development and stoking healthy rivalry between the two regiments.

“This is where they will learn about themselves, about time management and pushing themselves,” he said, adding: “It keeps the rivalry going, Life Guards versus Blues.

“You have got to work as a team. You have to trust your team members, the people that you’re working with, to put your kit together properly.”

It takes a whole troop to prepare a competitor, especially on the morning of the event when the horse is rubbed down with warm water, its white parts chalked and hooves manicured and varnished, while the harness and trooper’s uniform are made spotless before being shrouded by a white cloak for protection.

Princess Elizabeth Cup judging
Troopers pose for a group photograph after the judging (Victoria Jones/PA)

Tipped as a favourite to win by observers on the day was Trooper Ethan Jeffery, 25, from Ashford, Kent, who rode MWH Montgomery – named after the famous field marshal.

Montgomery was the first horse Trooper Jeffery rode in the Blues and Royals, and together they earned the accolade of cleanliest pairing which gave them the prestigious place of No 1 Box at Horse Guards for the coronation of the King.

Trooper Seth Adams, 24, of One Troop, the Blues and Royals, was looking to go a step further than his father who came second in the cup in the 1980s

A third generation cavalryman from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, whose grandfather served in the Second World War, Trooper Adams rode MWH Northumberland, who won the cup in 2022.

The Life Guards, in red tunics with white plumes, and the Blues and Royals, in dark blue tunics with red plumes, take it in turns to perform guard duty at the official entrance to the Royal Palaces in Horse Guards Parade.