A dragoon was originally a foot soldier on horseback, they travelled to the battlefield on their horses, but usually fought on foot, using their muskets, e.g. the Inniskillings at the battles of the Boyne and Aughrim, 1690 and 1691.
Regiments of cavalry were generally given the name Horse, and they fulfilled the role of reconnaissance, message bearing and guarding the flanks of an army.
By the mid-18th Century, this distinction between dragoons and Horse had largely disappeared. The description Horse was abolished, and was replaced with the word Dragoon. However, the regiments of Horse strongly disliked this abolition and in response the regiments of Horse were named regiments of Dragoon Guards. However, when it came to the battlefield, Dragoons and Dragoon Guards, designated heavy cavalry, performed much the same function, which was that of shock charges against enemy artillery or foot soldiers.
For much of the 18th Century, the uniform remained unchanged. The soldiers wore a cocked hat with three folds. Underneath, in combat, they wore a ‘secrete’… a steel skull cap to give protection from a sword blow.
They wore long tailed coats with a long slash pocket in each tail, scarlet for officers, red for other ranks. The uniform facings were yellow. Waistcoats and breeches were yellow. Boots were of polished leather, reaching to the knee. The cloak was of scarlet cloth, lined with yellow and with a yellow collar.
In 1766, trumpeters replaced drummers. In 1767, black linen gaiters were to be worn on dismounted duties. In 1796, a new shorter jacket was issued which cleared the saddle when on horseback. Waistcoats were to be red. The tri-corn cocked hat was becoming a bi-corn with two folds. Boots were to reach to the point of the knee, and to be hollowed out behind to the bend of the leg.
For a while, after 1800, the hat became a tall cap, originally 14” tall, later reduced to 9”. It was not unlike the shako worn by Infantry units. White leather breeches were worn, protected by trousers worn over them.
1812-14, there was a major redesign of the entire uniform. The style of jacket was changed and became practically a shell jacket with tails only 8 inches long. Breeches were replaced with light grey overalls which were worn over boots or half boots, and were strapped under the instep. They were reinforced with leather at the seat and inside leg. A new helmet was issued; this was a black leather skull cap, banded by decorated bands of brass. A 30” horse hair tail was fixed to the rear which fell down the soldier’s back; this was the uniform worn at the battle of Waterloo.
1818, a ‘Roman’ style peaked helmet was issued, with black metal skull and crest with large black bearskin crest.
In 1821, light blue overalls replaced the grey. In 1831, these became dark blue.
In 1834 a new helmet was issued, which was all gilt/metal surmounted by a highly decorated gilt metal comb, with a black fur ‘caterpillar’ crest or gilt metal finial in shape of a lion’s head. On the front was a large rayed plate bearing the Hanoverian Royal Arms.
In 1843 a gilt/metal helmet was issued. It had a rayed plate bearing the Royal Arms (Queen Victoria), with a highly ornamented crest and black horse hair mane with a thistle shaped hair brush at front of the crest.
In 1847 the ‘Albert’ pattern helmet was issued (named after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, he had a major influence on military uniform). At first it was gilt metal for officers, brass for other ranks; this was worn on active service during the Crimean War, 1854-56, at the Battle of Balaclava.
In 1854, the old coatee was discontinued and replaced with a tunic which offered better protection from the weather. The helmet was now white metal, with a white or black plume. Blue cloaks replaced the scarlet.
When in India in 1860, a grey or brown khaki tunic was worn, and the silver helmet replaced with a white cork one.
In 1871 a different pattern helmet was issued. Again silver metal, but plainer, with a diamond cut Silver Star in front with the regimental number or device and the name in a scroll round it.
By 1900, field service uniform was now khaki for all troops overseas.
The care of the Cavalry Horse
“A good horse is one with many good, few indifferent, and no bad points”
By 1900, the army’s manual on care of horses ran to over 300 pages.
A soldier’s stable duties are three times a day, a total of at least two hours, cleaning, feeding and grooming.
Condition: This means sufficient good food and sufficient healthy exercise, properly combined and continued over a long period. A troop horse gets a lot of fast galloping during men’s training and field exercises. His conditioning and exercise are carried out at the walk and the trot, in the proportion of 3:1.
Grooming: for cleanliness, prevention of disease and improvement of the animal’s condition and appearance. Body brushes, curry combs, rubbers and sponges are used for about an hour per day. Clipping is done in the winter.
Foods and Feeding: Animals should be watered before feeding, and feed supplied in small quantities and often: morning, mid-day and evening. Depending on climate and the nature of the work, horses require five to fifteen gallons of water per day. Oats are the best of all grains for horses, but many others can be used. Depending on the amount of work, horses are fed between four and sixteen pounds per day, the oats bruised rather than whole. Hay is also fed. A horse’s bowels move about eight times a day.
On the march: cavalry maintain a rate of five to six miles an hour including halts. These are 5-10 minutes every hour, and every 2-3 hours off-saddle and feeding from nosebag. The iron shoes should be inspected: the average usage for road work is 200 – 300 miles.
On campaign: food and water, proper grooming and shelter can be difficult and animals quickly get out of condition and are more susceptible to illness and disease. An experienced farrier can deal with minor ailments and injuries but the death rate amongst horses can be very high.