Animals have played a vital role with the Armed Forces for centuries and, just like humans, they receive the highest level of training.
From the horses of the Household Cavalry to the military working dogs of the 1st Military Working Dog Regiment, the animals' military careers all begin at the Defence Animal Training Regiment (DATR) based in Melton Mowbray.
The DATR's Remount Barracks is a join service establishment and is made up of the Canine Training Squadron, the Veterinary Training Squadron and the Equine Training Squadron.
It is the role of the Royal Veterinary Corps (RAVC) to handle and care for the health and welfare of all the Military Working Animals.
Looking after all the animals is a team of 236 – around 112 Army personnel, 25 members of the RAF and another 100 civilians. That’s plenty of hands for all the cleaning, grooming, feeding, exercising and training needed, 365 days a year.
“We care passionately about our people and the animals we train,” said Lieutenant Colonel Mike Robinson, Commanding Officer DATR “We want our animals to be driven, well trained and safe and we do that by providing them with the best healthcare.”
The Equine Squadron (ETS) is responsible for the procurement of the horses seen on public duties with both the Household Cavalry and the Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery. Within ETS there are two schools, the Army school of Equitation and the Army School of Farriery.
The Army School of Farriery trains all the military farriers and is responsible for the footcare of all the horses based at the training regiment.
There are approximately 10 equine related soldiers tending the DATRs horses. This includes five instructors at the DATR, three farriers at the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and two farriers at the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery.
The Army School of Equitation is responsible for the training and development of all military riding instructors and horse trainers across the Army.
The horses at the DATR are exercised every day for a minimum of an hour and undertake a variety of disciplines including dressage, show jumping and cross country. This ensures the horses develop the skills required by the mounted troops.
Around 140 horses can be stabled within the ETS and a total of 50 horses can be put out to grass.
The DATR’s Canine Squadron is responsible for delivering highly trained and motivated military working dogs (MWD) to 1st Military Working Dog Regiment, the wider Ministry of Defence and other Government departments.
Dog handlers are also trained at the Centre. They are taught how to handle, train and care for their MWD including kennel management and veterinary first aid.
Around 35 dog handlers are trained every year and the dogs and their handlers are carefully matched to ensure they work well together.
Once trained, the dogs and their handlers provide a vital detect and protect capability for troops on the ground. Equipped with heightened senses, the dogs are unrivalled by the most advanced modern technology. They can work on boats, aircraft and vehicles, as well as in difficult rocky terrain and extremely austere environments.
“We fit the dog to the job,” said Major Sean Jones, Officer Commanding Canine Squadron. “We assess each dog to determine what it is capable of. For example, if it enjoys doing the same thing several times, it would be useful for vehicle searches. Spaniels are great for that role as they love the search. However, it’s all down to the individual dog.”
In April of this year, a new state-of-the-art training facility was opened at the Barracks. It included three classrooms, indoor and outdoor training areas and a new Squadron HQ.
The smallest but essential part of the Regiment is the Veterinary Training Squadron. It is responsible for delivering primary and specialist healthcare to the animals based at DATR. It also acts as a referral service for all military working animals within the MOD.
At the end of their Army careers, just like their human counterparts, retirement beckons for the military working animals.
Where possible horses are retired to experienced horse owners or to equine charities and likewise if possible military working dogs are re-focused before being re-homed with their handler or a civilian. Civilians can adopt the dogs following an extensive assessment of both the animal and the potential new home to ensure that the dog will have the best life.
Every dog and its situation is looked at on an individual case by case basis by the DATR staff who are all dedicated to the health and wellbeing of the military animals.