Livgardet Swedish Army Horses: Guardians of Tradition and Strength

For centuries, horses have been an integral part of Sweden’s military tradition. Their roles have evolved from warfront heroes to ceremonial icons. The Lifeguard’s Cavalry (Livgardet) in central Stockholm maintains this legacy. They are currently housing around 80 high-guard horses that lead mounted musical guard parades. 

As part of Strathorn’s ongoing “Out and About” series, which explores horse breeds in various countries, we had the privilege of visiting the Swedish army horses. 

Our visit coincided with the celebrations of Sweden’s National Day, offering a perfect opportunity to witness these horses in action. Through this encounter, we gained a deeper appreciation for the rich history and continued significance of these horses in Sweden’s military heritage.

What Is Livgardet?

A Brief Explanation

In the Swedish Army, the Life Guards (Swedish: Livgardet) serve as a combined regiment of cavalry and infantry.

“Beridna Högvakten” could be translated as “the Ridden Highguard” whose members buy, educate and care for the horses to ensure that there can be horses in the parades and other ceremonial celebrations.

What horse breeds are in the Swedish Livgardet? 

Swedish Warmbloods. The Altkladrubel Horse. Brabant Horse. The Shire. Let’s look at the four different horse breeds that are currently in the Swedish Lifeguards Cavalry Livgardet in Stockholm. Or should we say – Swedish Armed Horses! 

The Swedish Armed Horses

Now for the part you’ve been waiting for: Learn about each of the horse breeds in the Swedish Life Guards.

Swedish Warmbloods in Livgardet

Swedish Warmbloods

Among the esteemed breeds at the barracks is the Swedish Warmblood. The Swedish Warmbloods are distinguished by their bay or brown coat. Developed for warfare, these horses are now also popular sport horses. 

Their lineage dates to the Viking Age, with significant refinement occurring during the 17th-century Great Power era. 

A pivotal moment in their development came in 1881. This is when the English thoroughbred stallion, Warren Hastings came to Sweden. His contributions over 30 years profoundly influenced the breed, introducing a lineage that continues to thrive in Sweden’s military equine stock. 

Swedish Warmbloods are known for their versatility, agility, and remarkable adaptability. This makes them ideal for the demands of cavalry life.

Pictured below: Warren Hastings – the English Thoroughbred Stallion that came to Sweden in 1881. 

Altkladrubel in Livgardet

The Altkladrubel stands out with its striking white/grey colour. This breed, one of the oldest in the Czech Republic, has a history intertwined with the Kladruby nad Labem National Stud. 

Since the 14th century, this stud has been a bastion of horse breeding quality. They have always been providing horses for royal courts across Prague and Vienna. Today, there are many Altkladrubel’s at the Swedish Livgardet, a living link to centuries of European equine heritage. 

Their serene disposition and look add a touch of regal charm to the mounted guard parades.

Brabant Horses in Livgardet

Known also as the Belgian Coldblood, the Brabant horse breed is synonymous with strength and resilience. Coming from Belgium, these powerful horses are relatively new to the Swedish Cavalry, with Ross af Breavad being a notable representative. 

Despite only serving for two years, Ross has adapted remarkably well from his origins as a working horse to navigating the streets of Stockholm. His ability to acclimate swiftly to the demands of cavalry service underscores the breed’s robust and versatile nature, ideal for the varied tasks required of military horses.

Shires in Livgardet

Image from Kentaur Magazine.

You probably know that shires are the largest horse breed in the world. This breed’s connection to the Swedish Cavalry is marked by a special gift from Queen Elizabeth II in 1989—a Shire horse called Mary. 

Currently, Tor, a Shire horse, participates in parade season, managed by his dedicated handler. Tor’s impressive stature and calm disposition make him a centrepiece of the high guard, reflecting the breed’s historical role as gentle giants of the equine world. 

We didn’t spot Tor in the parade on the national day celebrations, but he was enjoying a nice day off! Tor goes to stay out in the countryside when he’s not working. He also works a little on the side, usually going to nursing homes nearby! Sounds like a typical gentle giant to us! At Strathorn, our gentle giants will also go out to visit nursing homes. 

Now that you have learned about the four different horse breeds that are used in the Swedish cavalry. Let’s learn some more specifics. Did you know that one of the Swedish warmbloods is named after the late artist Avicii?

Cavalry Horse D’Avicii: A Tribute to Modern Swedish Culture

Among the horses of the Lifeguard’s Cavalry, D’Avicii holds a unique place. Named in honor of the late Swedish artist Tim “Avicii” Bergling, this horse serves as a tribute to the beloved musician. 

In a gesture of respect and remembrance, an Avicii medley was composed and is performed by the Lifeguard’s Dragoon Music Corps on Sweden’s National Day. This modern homage lifts Sweden with its contemporary contributions to global art and music. Sometimes, the cavalry also play Abba songs. You can find images of D’Avicii in the horse archive of the Lifeguard Cavalry Horses website.

Photo cred: Strömsholm

Historical and Modern-Day Training of Army Horses

The demands on military horses have shifted from the battlefield to ceremonial duties, yet rigorous training remains essential. Historically, the Carolingian cavalry required 350 newly ridden horses annually, each accustomed to the chaos of combat, including fire, gunpowder smoke, and explosions. 

The Swedish cavalry in the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631. In the foreground, King Gustav II Adolf. Painting from 1632 by Johann Walter

© Musée historique de Strasbourg

What training do the Swedish army horses get?

Before high guard, the horses get exercised riding in walk and trot the same morning with young horses being exercised more before high guard. During the guard parade itself, the horses are ridden at a walk for about 80 minutes. Total time for the parade is approximately three hours. 

Do the Horse get Holidays?

Despite their demanding duties, these Swedish Army Horses enjoy a well-deserved summer holiday! Each horse is granted 4-5 weeks of summer razing annually, providing a crucial period of rest and relaxation in the tranquil Swedish summer. 

Their summer holiday has just started, and you can spot them in their fields in Kungsängen. This balance of work and leisure ensures that the horses remain fit and healthy, ready to fulfil their ceremonial roles with vigour and grace.

Who takes care of the army horses?

In this specific case, the soldiers in the Life Squadron and the musicians in the Life Guard’s Dragoon Music Corps help with the daily care of the horses. There are also 20 civilian horse groomers who work to ensure that the horses receive the best possible care and nursing.

Conclusion

The horses of the Swedish Lifeguard’s Cavalry are more than mere participants in parades; they are custodians of a rich equine heritage that blends history, tradition, and modernity. 

From the versatile Swedish Warmblood and fast Altkladrubel horses to the Shires and Brabant these horses embody the enduring spirit and evolving legacy of Sweden’s military prowess, standing as symbols of the nation’s respect for its equine partners in both historical and contemporary contexts.

If you want to learn more about Cavalry horses, make sure to read this article on the Household Cavalry.

FAQs

Where are the Swedish army horses kept?

The Cavalry Barracks o’ the Life Guards in central Stockholm.

How many horses are there in the Swedish Lifeguards?

There are between 75 and 80 horses in Livgardet.

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