Experience Richmond Park as never before in traditional carriages
drawn by our majestic Shire horses.
This Christmas, experience Richmond Park like never before with a ride around in a six-person Park Brake drawn by our majestic Shire Horses. Enjoy the sounds of hoofs and bells, revel in the crisp air and watch the wildlife up close while you snuggle under a blanket… and have some sloe gin and a mince pie to truly get into the festive spirit!
From Easter through to September, you can meet the Shire horses at Hampton Court Palace. Come and join us for a tour of the wonderful East Front Gardens and watch our gentle giants in action. Book here
Want to hire a unique carriage ride in Richmond Park for a special occasion? Simply fill in the contact form below and we’ll revert asap.
CARRIAGE & TRAM RIDES
Operation Centaur Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides
Our carriage rides are our main fundraising activity for our equine assisted therapy and conservation projects. All proceeds go directly to these projects so that the therapy is delivered free to those in need. Please have a look at our website for more about our projects.
Winter Ride tickets now available:
Dates from 29th November 2019 - 5th January 2020
£140 (+ booking fee) per pair of tickets
Seasonal rides are offered for limited periods throughout the year.
Join our mailing list to find out more
Please note: The carriage show above is not currently in use.
"A remarkable and memorable experience which managed to be both intimate as well as grand. The carriage, horses and all the staff were totally fantastic. And we loved returning to the yard after and being able to help a little with the horses and the carriage. It was my mothers 88th birthday and she tells me that her carriage ride was her best present ever. What you are doing is wonderful; the stuff of dreams."
"We had a most wonderful time on the carriage ride, it was a beautiful, bright chilly day to see the Park in all its glory. The blankets kept us all very warm and we enjoyed the leisurely pace of the horses to be able to experience the ancient park in a yester-year fashion. The hot tea and sloe gin where a very welcome, as we drank and observed an amazing sunset."
"Magical! The team were very welcoming and made the whole experience wonderful. Please pass on my thanks to all involved. Looking forward to doing it again next year! Many thanks."
"We had a fantastic time on the carriage ride. My son is totally mad about horses. He is now 3 and half. We came last year for his Christmas present and my sister took him this year, as he’d talked about it all year! The ride itself was simply wonderful – a magical experience never to be forgotten."
Tram rides: Meet Henry's Great Horses at Hampton Court
Since Henry VIII started breeding his Great War Horse, the Shire and Hampton Court have been closely connected. And our Shires – part of the last herd of working shires in London – are keeping the tradition alive.
Throughout Easter and the Summer months our Shires can be found at Hampton Court, taking visitors on Tram Rides around the grounds.
Come and meet the descendants of Henry’s Great Horses, and take a Tram Ride through 500 years of history.
Hampton Court Tram Rides take place on the following days:
April – Easter School Holidays
May, June – Saturdays, Sundays and and Bank Holidays
July, August and September – every day
October – half term
Find us in the magnificent East Front Gardens.
HENRY VIII &
THE SHIRE HORSES
Nearly 500 years ago, Henry VIII started the process to acquire the ultimate War Horse. In 1535 and 1540, he instigated two acts that governed the breeding of horses in England.
The Breed of Horses Act 1535 mentions a marked decay in the quality of the breed,
the cause it is claimed that:
"In most places of this Realme little horsis and naggis of small stature and valeu be suffered to depasture and also to covour marys and felys of very small stature."
The statute thus required each owner of enclosed deer parks to possess a minimum of two mares whose height was to be above thirteen hands high in order for them to be bred with horses of no shorter than fourteen hands high.
King Henry VIII followed by Sir Anthony Browne and
Sir Charles Brandon 1st Duke of Suffolk (Cowdray Engraving)
Henry VIII’s Horses Act 1540 ordered that no stallion under 15 hands (60 inches, 152 cm) and no mare under 13 hands (52 inches, 132 cm) was permitted to run out on common land, or to run wild, and no two-year-old colt under 11.2 hands (46 inches, 117 cm) was allowed to run out in any area with mares. Annual round-ups of the commons were enforced, and any stallion under the height limit was ordered to be destroyed, along with “all unlikely tits whether mares or foals.”
The purpose of this was to breed a war horse that was suitable to carry the heavy armour into battle – and especially to prevent large horses being acquired by the enemy.
This breeding programme persisted until the 19th Century, when the acts were repealed The Statute Law Revision Act 1863. Henry’s breeding programme resulted in the great agricultural work horse, that saw a renewed purpose in the Industrial Revolution. During this time, heavy horses were in demand on docks, for haulage, and transport – they were the lorries of their days. The advent of the internal combustion engine signalled their demise, and post WWII, they were all but redundant and virtually died out.
And so it was that the Shire Horse became (and still is) the largest horse in the world. Shire horses are currently designated at risk by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Watchlist – rarer than the Giant Panda. Now the breweries have stopped deliveries with horses, the Shire horses at Hampton Court Palace are part of a small herd that are the last working Shires in London. A suitable tribute to Henry VIII’s plans 500 years ago.
SHIRE HORSE CENTRE
Shire Horse Society 'Approved Visitor Centre'
Operation Centaur has been 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.
Shire horses are a breed under threat. For centuries this loyal horse has served; fearlessly taking troops into war, tirelessly working the land, and transporting goods the length and breadth of this country. Whilst there are still some traditional roles available for Shires, they have had to adapt to stay relevant.
Operation Centaur works with Shire horses in four different areas: Conservation & heritage, Wellbeing and Community. Conservation work includes grass mowing and bracken control. Heritage is preserved through carriage rides where people learn about the history of the Shire and experience them hands-on.
A more contemporary use of the Shire is as a therapy horse. Because of their gentle nature they are excellent horses to work in a therapeutic or learning setting. The Shires have worked with young people diagnosed with autism in Richmond Park and have also helped delivered a anti-bullying intervention programme in Hyde Park.
"The Shire Horse Society is very excited about the future working with Operation Centaur and the Royal Parks... The Society looks forward to a long and productive relationship with the team at Operation Centaur."
- David Ralley-Davies, Shire Horse Society
"Working Shire horses in the Royal Parks and Historic Royal Palaces give Londoners an opportunity to meet these gentle giants and see real horse power in action. We’re proud to be recognized by the Society."
- Edward MacDowell - Head Coachman, Operation Centaur
"The Royal Parks have staunchly championed the Shire horse since they were re-introduced in the early 90s, following a hiatus after WWII. Using Shire horses is a sustainable way to manage parkland, it makes total sense environmentally and economically."
-Adam Curtis, Assistant Park Manager, The Royal Parks
About the Shire Horse Society
The Shire Horse Society (Patron: HM The Queen) has been working to protect the breed since 1878. Over the years the Society has worked hard to ensure that the breed continues to grow and to maintain interest in these magnificent horses.
About Richmond Park
Richmond Park was created by Charles I in the 17th century as a deer park. The largest of London’s Royal Parks, the park is a National Nature Reserve, London’s largest Site of Special Scientific Interest and a European Special Area of Conservation.