His name was Sefton. He was peppered with shrapnel 31 years ago when a bomb planted in London’s Hyde Park by the Irish Republican Army exploded, killing four soldiers and seven military horses.
The victims of the July 1982 car bomb were all members of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.
Sefton showed great spirit, and fought back from his terrible injuries, becoming a household name as the nation monitored his recovery. He came to symbolize the resilience of the armed forces.
Now, Sefton, who died in 1993, has been immortalised in bronze.
On Wednesday, the life-sized statue of Sefton was unveiled at the Royal Veterinary College in North Mymms, Hertfordshire.
The statue was the work of sculptor Camilla Le May.
The artwork was to have been unveiled by Princess Anne, but poor weather meant her helicopter was unable take off. It was instead unveiled by Lord Ballyedmond, the donor.
Le May, 39, from Wadhurst, East Sussex, specializes in bronzes of horses and wildlife.
Many who knew and rode Sefton provided her with detailed briefings necessary for her to capture the character and spirit of the great horse.
“It was fascinating to talk to those who rode and knew Sefton,” she said.
“This, along with studying old photos, enabled me to find out some of his individual traits, such as the way he often tilted his head, looking back over his shoulder, which I chose to represent in the work.
“He was, by all accounts, a strong character and quite a handful, especially in his youth.
“Perhaps it was partly this strength of character that helped him pull through his appalling injuries.”
One image of Sefton being led in hand, walking freely with head held quite high and looking to one side, particularly inspired Camilla.
The photograph was probably taken in Hyde Park on Sefton’s return to duty on September 22, 1982.
It was significant to Camilla that the photo was taken after his recovery, showing Sefton thriving and winning over adversity, which was what he symbolised to all.
The commission to sculpt Sefton came alongside her role as the inaugural Artist in Resident at the Royal Veterinary College.
Sefton was born in Ireland and purchased by the army in 1967 for the Household Cavalry. The 16-hand black gelding, with a blaze and four socks, was known for his bold and wilful character.
Sefton did not return to regimental duties for some time, but was a horse very much in demand by the public.
One of his first appearances was at the Horse of the Year Show in October 1982, where he was joined by another victim of the attack, Echo. Their appearance immediately brought the audience to a standing and emotional ovation.
Sefton’s last ceremonial outing was at the Queen’s Birthday Parade in June 1984. He was then retired to The Horse Trust at the age of 21.
At the time of the bomb blast, Sefton had suffered 38 penetrating wounds in his body and a piece of metal had severed a main artery in his neck.
It was a miracle of expert and prompt veterinary attention which saved Sefton’s life but he required further surgery and three weeks later was moved to the Veterinary Hospital of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps at the Defence Animal Centre at Melton Mowbray, where more pieces of metal were removed.
Quite head-strong at times, Sefton was at his happiest in retirement grazing in the fields among his horsey friends.
After enjoying his retirement, Sefton died in 1993 and it was only fitting that he was buried at the Defence Animal Centre.
The sculpture was funded by RVC Honorary Fellow and chairman of Norbrook, Lord Ballyedmond OBE. It was commissioned to recognize and honour the life-time achievements of one of the College’s longest-serving senior academics, Professor Peter Lees, who retired in 2010.
The statue is sited outside the college’s Teaching and Research Centre, standing on the footprint of the former Sefton Equine Hospital, a facility which has now been relocated to a new Equine Referral Hospital on campus.
Thanks to the funding from Lord Ballyedmond, the college is now able to retain its link to Sefton, whilst recognizing the college’s role in improving the health and welfare of animals.
Professor Stuart Reid, principal at the college, said: “As a symbol of resilience and recovery Sefton really is an inspiration and will live long in the memory of those who knew him.
“The piece created by Camilla is a true testament to Sefton and I’m sure will be admired by many visitors to the College in years to come.”
More on Sefton here.