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19th July 2019

Horses honoured while handlers humbled... The equivalent of an OBE

BY: Demie Haywood

Two Metropolitan Police Horses were honoured today for their outstanding devotion and service to society by leading vet charity, PDSA.

Grace and Keston, who have served the Force for 15 and 12 years respectively, performing a host of public order and specialist operational tasks, received the PDSA Order of Merit* – the animal equivalent of the OBE.

The equine duo** were joined by their former riders; Police Constable Helen Ridge and Police Sergeant Craig Richards, at Hampton Court Palace, to formally receive their prestigious Medals.

Commenting on the awards, PDSA Director General, Jan McLoughlin, said: “It is with great pride that we award Grace and Keston with the PDSA Order of Merit today.

“They both had long, exemplary careers, giving tireless devotion and outstanding service to society.

“Through the PDSA Animal Awards programme we seek to raise the status of animals in society and honour the incredible contribution they make to our lives.  Grace and Keston’s extraordinary work warrants the highest recognition, making them worthy recipients of the PDSA Order of Merit.”

Grace and Keston’s careers

Grace and Keston joined the Metropolitan Police in 2004 and 2007 respectively, and were trained to perform a host of public order and specialist roles.

Horses used for such duties must have a unique set of skills. They must be unwavering when surrounded by other horses, able to cope with the most extreme nuisance and noise, fit and willing to react without question to their riders and, hardest of all, possess the ability to work independently of other horses.

Many horses have been tested and found to be unsuitable for such roles, but Grace and Keston were unique in that they performed impeccably, year in, year out, for over a decade.

After completing her training in 2004, Grace was posted to Lewisham Police Stables. She carried out various duties, including escorting the military, public order policing at football matches and other sporting events, crime patrols and public disorder incidents - including providing support during the London riots in 2011. Grace also carried out reassurance patrols and school visits and was a huge fan with children that she met.

She retired from regular patrols in 2019 but continues to be stabled at Imber Court, where she provides training and support to the younger horses.

Keston was posted to Hammersmith Stables following his training and took part in high profile public order policing, including the London Olympics, Notting Hill Carnival and numerous high profile football matches.

He was involved in the serious disorder at a Millwall versus Birmingham football match, where the Mounted Unit went in to support and protect foot duty officers. His rider received a commendation for his actions.

He was also present at the Million Mask March, where a number of horses and officers were seriously injured. Keston behaved honourably throughout the incident, despite the chaos, and was a rock to the other horses.

The two horses also worked together during the Gaza demonstrations in Kensington High Street in 2009, where barriers and other objects were thrown at the horses.

Keston sadly passed away in January 2019, shortly after being retired from regular patrols.

Award reaction

Craig Richards, who nominated Grace and Keston for their awards, said: “Grace and Keston were the perfect Police Horses, performing impeccably during their lengthy careers. They often worked in challenging and hostile situations, ignoring distractions and dangers, never faltering in their duty. They were a pleasure to ride and are a credit to the Force.

“The Metropolitan Police has a proud tradition of receiving medals from PDSA for the contribution our animals make to society. It is a huge honour for Grace and Keston to be awarded the PDSA Order of Merit. I’m incredibly sad that Keston is no longer with us to receive his honour, but having their actions recognised in this way is truly fantastic and I am immensely proud of everything they both achieved.”

Discussing the honour, Inspector Simon Rooke from the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch, said: ‘The Metropolitan Police Taskforce are extremely proud of both Police Horses Keston and Grace, who have the honour of receiving the PDSA Order of Merit. Sadly Police Horse Keston is no longer with us, but this award is so fitting to recognise their service in this way. Both horses have shown extraordinary bravery and the unique bond of trust between horse and rider, and fully deserve this recognition.”

Grace and Keston take the total number of PDSA Order of Merit recipients to 30, including 18 dogs and 12 horses. For more information on the recipients visit www.pdsa.org.uk/OOMhorses.

The PDSA Order of Merit, which was instituted in 2014, recognises animals who display outstanding devotion to their owner or wider society, above and beyond normal companionship – and represents an exceptional example of the special relationship that exists between animals and humans. It is widely acknowledged as the animal equivalent of the OBE. For more information about previous PDSA Medal recipients, visit www.pdsa.org.uk/Medals.

PDSA’s Animal Awards Programme was instituted in 1943 by the charity’s founder, Maria Dickin. She believed that, if animals were recognised for their heroic actions, it would help to raise their status in society, ensuring they are better treated. The charity continues this legacy today with the world’s leading Animal Awards Programme.

PDSA is the UK’s leading veterinary charity, providing free and reduced-cost veterinary care to the pets of people in financial need. The charity strives to improve the well-being of all pets’ lives through providing preventive care, educating pet owners and treating pets when they become sick or injured. Today, PDSA treats around 470,000 of the UK’s most vulnerable pets a year, through our nationwide network of 48 Pet Hospitals. For more information about the charity visit www.pdsa.org.uk.

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