Sergeant Steve Blake is a trained Soldier and professional Army Photographer with the Royal Logistic Corps. Having returned from Afghanistan as part of the three-man Combat Camera Team, Steve continues his role, focusing his lens on the UK.
Sorry for not blogging sooner, but so much has been happening, I don’t know where the time has gone! Over the last few weeks I have had some really good jobs and travelled about a fair bit in the process.
All work and no play
The one I have been looking forward too for some time, was the Defence Animal Centre (DAC) in Melton Mowbray. As a Spaniel owner, and lover of dogs, this trip was right up my street. All I had to do was remember I was there for work and not to play with all the dogs! Easier said than done!With the alarm set nice and early and all my kit waiting to go, I headed up north with Tammy, Media Ninja. Tammy looks after all media coverage for the Army Medical Services; this includes the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC) that look after all of our working animals.
The DAC is the home of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC) and trains hundreds of animals, from Springer Spaniels, through to Shire horses, it is the main military training centre for anything animal related, including farriery, rider training for the Household Cavalry and all things relating to animal husbandry. This centre of excellence trains all variants within the RAVC. This includes dog handlers, veterinary technicians, dog trainers and equine instructors.
The DAC, from the word go, were amazing hosts. We were introduced to the Adjutant of the DAC before heading out to capture imagery. We were given free reign of the centre, something I am not normally used to. No chaperones, no ‘out of bounds’ areas, nothing! So, like excited children in a sweet shop, we were off before anyone could change their minds! We visited every department the DAC had to offer, finding out what they had scheduled for the next two days, so we could plan out our time to maximise our photo opportunities.
It’s a dog’s life
We were welcomed by the Section OC and Training Warrant Officer before heading out around the kennels in the capable hands of one of the Section Corporals. The DAC is now the proud owner of some state of the art, temperature controlled kennels. They are just superb. Each kennel block houses approx. 20 dogs and they have several blocks of these to house the hundreds of dogs they care for.
With so much to see and do, we had to be careful not to miss anything. Puppy agility was a ‘definite’ must see; a photo opportunity not to be missed. One year old Labradors running about the place all excited, who doesn’t love a puppy? Enough said. As well as this, the canine section were running agility for protection dogs, as well as some ‘bite training’ for the Belgian Malinois.
We were fortunate enough to see a pre-arranged demonstration; it was to show the British Transport Police the capabilities of various dogs. This was a prime opportunity for me to move about and capture the demo without disruption. The demo then continued onto other forms of protection dog and what they could do. These dogs are trained to such a high standard, sadly I can’t talk much about what our dogs do, or how they do it, but I’m sure you get the idea. ‘
Wanting to capture the aggression the dog can show when in ‘work mode’ I arranged a few shots with the help of the trainers. As I lay on the floor with a very wide angle lens, one of the lads stood over me, baiting the dog by means of the ‘bite sleeve’. This is normal practice and part of their training. It helps the dog to identify aggressive behaviour, but also identify the ‘bite sleeve’ as a reward at the early stages. Once the pictures were in the bag, the dog was allowed a bite on the sleeve. Something that was clearly enjoyable.
Although I could have spent my whole time with the dogs, it was time to move on, heading off to see Equestrian Section. The team look after everything equestrian from the smallest foal to the largest shire, along with all their saddles and kit.
As with the dogs section the equestrian area can house hundreds of horses at any one time. Out of ceremonial season, all of the horses from London District go to the DAC for some R and R and to just quietly plod about the many fields. Whilst there we met a drum horse from London called ‘Digger’, currently having some time off in a grass field at the DAC. He is the largest horse in the UK.
Sadly, no rider courses were running during my time, but that’s something for another day. Watching that would be quite good. Most people that join the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiments (HCMR) have never even sat on a horse. Yet by the time they finish at the DAC, they are fully accomplished riders of several disciplines, including jumping and dressage. Training to ride in full ceremonial dress is also something that takes some practice!
Turning up the heat
Working hand in hand with the horses are the farriers. These guys do an amazing job, with less than 30 Army farriers currently serving across the whole of the Army. They are responsible for every ceremonial horse in London, as well as those at the DAC in training. Exact numbers I don’t know, but it’s in the hundreds! With more to it than you think, these guys are skilled professionals, once selected, these soldiers do a three or four year apprenticeship before gaining their final award by the Worshipful Company of Farriers.
More than just a blacksmith, that’s for sure. These guys know the intricate details of the horses’ anatomy, below the knee. They deal in all below-knee ailments, including ‘pus’ foot and other fungal infections and are often the first person to be asked for advice, sometimes even prior to a vet. Oh, they also shoe horses!
The Army farrier works in soaring temperatures, being up close for just a minute was enough, yet these guys are in or around the furnace all day, often shoeing or moulding shoes for hours on end. Watching these men work was fascinating, the bright sparks bouncing off the hot metal sparked my camera into action. Action shots taken and with their surroundings being a perfect backdrop I thought I’d grab a few portraits.
All in all, a massively successful trip! Thanks to everyone at the DAC for your hospitality!