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Monday, 6 August 2012

The Defence Animal Centre

Wow, what a busy few weeks i've had! 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.

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 their 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 got picked up by Tammy, Army Medical Directorate's Media Ninja, then headed up north.

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. Tammy was my liaison to the people at the DAC.

Arriving just after breakfast, we soon got introduced to the Adjutant of the DAC before heading out to capture imagery. The DAC, from the word go, were amazing hosts. 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 map out our time efficiently.

The new Canine Section kennels

First stop was the veterinary surgery. Bizarrely enough, they were extremely quiet. Considering the DAC houses hundreds of dogs and horses, all they had on that day was a hip x-ray. Photo opportunity nevertheless. Then it was onto Canine Section. My favourite without a doubt!

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, as you can imagine.

Puppy agility

With so much to see and do, we had to be careful not to miss anything. Puppy agility was a 'definite' must see. One year old Labradors running about the place all excited = cracking pictures! Enough said.

Protection Dog Agility

As well as this, canine section were running agility for protection dogs, as well as some 'bite training' for the Belgian Malinois. Another bunch of amazing, clever dogs.

Puppy spots her bite

Praise given during training

We were fortunate enough to see a pre-arranged demonstration, it was to show the British Transport Police the capabilities of various dogs. Prime opportunity for me to move about and capture the demo without disruption.

Malinois puppy gets a bite during training

Training done. Happy handler and dog

The demo then continued onto other forms of protection dog and what they could do. Sadly I can't talk much about what our dogs do, or how they do it, but I'm sure you get the idea. These dogs are trained to such a high standard, you can practically switch them on and off from 'work mode.' 

On several occasions the Belgian Malinois would come and lick my face once they'd finished training if I got close for a picture. Intelligent animals to say the least.


As with most animal training, it's all reward based. You can see the enthusiasm in this dogs face as he chases after his Kong as a reward for his training. 

'Don't make me angry!!'

Once the demo was over, we had the opportunity for a quick group photo of a litter of Malinois that were celebrating their first birthday, before setting up some other shots. The dog above is one of those 'puppies!'

I arranged a few shots with the guys, wanting to capture the aggression the dog can show when in 'work mode.' As I lay on the floor on a very wide angle lens, one of the lads stood over me, baiting the dog with the bite sleeve on. 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.

If dogs could smile, this one would have been grinning like a cat that had got the cream. 

foot scrub

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 there look after everything equestrian. From the smallest foal to the largest shire, along with all their saddles and kit.

Whilst there we met 'Digger' who is a drum horse from London, currently having some time off in a grass field at the DAC. He is the largest horse in the UK. Amazing size, I can tell you! 


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 rest, relaxation and to just quietly plod about the many fields they have there eating grass.

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!

A few of the types of horse shoes made

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!

These guys are skilled professionals. With more to it than you think, these soldiers, once selected, do a three or four year apprenticeship before gaining there final award by the Worshipful Company of Farriers. Along with many other certificates this equates, I believe, to a degree.

More than just a blacksmith, that's for sure. These guys know the intricate details of the horses anatomy, below the knee and are often the first person to be asked for advice, sometimes even prior to a vet. They deal in all below-knee ailments, including 'pus' foot and other fungal infections. These are the people that clear that out, safely, prior to any treatment by the vet.

Oh, they also shoe horses!

Brushing the metal

The roaring fire

The Army Farrier works in soaring temperatures and handles pieces of metal hotter than you can imagine. 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.

Shaping the shoe

Watching these blokes work was fascinating, a bit like how a fruit machine is to a gambler, the bright sparks had me in a trance. As expected, these pictures needed to be timed right, so an idea about what they were doing before they started was key. 

Once I had exhausted all my ideas of these blokes working, I thought I'd grab a few environmental portraits. With their surroundings being a perfect backdrop, I got my lights out and got everything ready.

The Army Farrier

All in all, a massively successful trip! Thanks to everyone at the DAC for your hospitality!

Well, that's it from me. Sadly I don't have anymore room for pictures, as I have hundreds from this trip. I hope you have enjoyed the small snippet I have shown you.

Until next time.............