Annabel Lamb, 29, is a musician in The Band of The Life Guards. She lives in Surbiton, London
On parade day, the adrenaline kicks in and gets me out of bed at 4.30am. I have a cup of tea to wake up, then throw on some jeans to ride my scooter to Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge. I change into my army combats and boots and am in the stables by 6am to start mucking out, feeding and grooming the horses.
I grew up with horses and could ride before I could walk, competing in events such as Burghley Horse Trials. I also loved music, playing in the National Children’s Orchestra, so I’ve been really lucky to be able to combine my two passions and pursue a career as a musician with the British army’s Band of The Life Guards. I play the tenor horn while riding on my horse, which requires great discipline and strength, both mentally and physically.
I eat cereal and toast with the other band members in the mess hall, then head back to the stables to groom my horse until it’s immaculate. I ride a different one each parade and the rules are really strict – the horse’s tail must be a certain length and it can’t have a single speck of dirt on its coat. I tack up my horse, put on its saddle and head kit then get changed into my uniform. When there is royalty present, we wear our state gold kit which is a gold and burgundy embroidered jacket, white buckskin gloves, navy velvet jockey hat and thigh-high black boots.
I’m excited about this year – it’s the most prestigious of my career. I took part in the Diamond Jubilee Pageant at Windsor Castle this month and am also riding in the Trooping The Colour and the Olympics. Before a parade starts, we mount our horses in the square and wait to be inspected by our master, using the time to practise and get our horses used to the music. At 9.45am, we walk to Buckingham Palace for the start of the parade, which goes along The Mall to Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall and back again.
“If I get nervous during a parade the horse can feel my heartbeat and become erratic”
I still get surprised by the volume of people and how spectacular it all is but I have to try to ignore the crowds and remain calm – if I get nervous, the horse can feel my heartbeat and become erratic. Some horses do get spooked, but as you get more experienced you can tell when that’s about to happen and fortunately I’ve never fallen off. I feel really proud to be part of the band, especially as I’m one of only eight women. I met the Queen once and she was really interested in what we were doing – it was surreal to talk to her, as she’s ultimately our boss.
After the parade, we wait for the dismount to be given then get changed, groom the horses again and debrief about any issues with the parade, such as whether the music was loud enough or whether the horses behaved. We finish at about 3pm, so I’ll grab a sandwich for lunch.
The mounted season runs from April to June and during that time we do a parade every other day and spend the days in between getting prepared – polishing the brass and leather until it shines. It’s a really time-consuming process – a new pair of jackboots takes at least 10 hours to polish. During the rest of the year, we play our instruments and parade on foot, rather than mounted on horseback.
To keep fit in-between the mounted seasons I play hockey and have represented both the army and the Combined Services teams internationally for six years.
At the weekend my family will often come up from Portsmouth to watch the big parades and my dad will treat me to dinner somewhere nice, such as the Mandarin Oriental. I also catch up with friends for drinks – some of whom also work in the army, doing logistics or mechanical engineering. Even though I’m part of the band and have a ceremonial role, I’m still a deployable member of the army and could be sent to serve in countries such as Afghanistan. My job is really demanding so when I have a night in at home I enjoy cooking. If I have a parade I go to bed by 9.30pm so I’m ready for an early start.