What we do
Working horses are part of our heritage. Did you know that Henry VIII first started breeding Shire horses? He wanted a Great War Horse, capable of carrying a knight in full armour. He passed a law making it illegal to export the biggest horses so his breeding programme gave us the Shires as we now know them – the biggest horses in the world, and rarer than the Giant Panda! Now you can come and meet the descendants of Henry’s Great Horse at Hampton Court Palace. We are in the East Front Gardens, and our Coachmen will tell you all about this history while you take a leisurely tram ride. Find out more under Hampton Court tram rides.
We also keep this heritage alive by offering seasonal carriage rides in Richmond Park. More information can be found under Carriage rides. Below, we highlight the importance of keeping our heritage alive.
Protecting our essential heritage skills
The Prince was pleading for the greater use of working horses, pointing out that in America, some 250,000 farms use horses – why are we not using them in Britain? Using horses as working animals has very much died out in Britain over the past 100 years or so, but in many parts of the world there has been a great resurgence because there are so many benefits – in many ways the UK has fallen behind other countries. (Paddock, 2012)
The comments by HRH The Prince of Wales and by Paddock (2012) encapsulate the essence of what we do – to protect and train the core heritage skills involved in working with heavy horses.
The natural and obvious places to start returning the working horse are on the traditional estates where they have always worked, prior to being replaced by machinery. People working with horses in this country are dying out, with no-one to replace them. It is high time to pass on their knowledge to new and diverse generations before these essential heritage skills are lost forever.
The loss of the working horse would be our loss, too.
The heritage we focus on is both natural and cultural. We work to preserve and promote a particular traditional relationship with the land around us. The relationship of working the land with animal power, in particular native heavy horses, has virtually disappeared in Britain. As the industrial revolution advanced, traditional ways were found wanting and limiting. Yet the very limitations that once stood in the way of ‘progress’ may now offer a renewed relevance. In mainland Europe and the US, the use of horses in these contexts is on the rise, as traditional methods meet contemporary demands.
In June 2015 Operation Centaur was designated an ‘Approved Visitor Centre’ by the Shire Horse Society. The accolade provides recognition that Operation Centaur promotes the breed, protects the heritage and provides opportunities for learning about these magnificent working horses.