“The Master Saddler was responsible for me and my training, and if my work wasn’t up to standard, it put his name down,” said Castelow.
The Royal Road
It wasn’t until he passed his basic level three test that he was permitted to work on saddlery in the shop. But just because he was a saddlery apprentice, Castelow was not exempt from other army duties.
“I still did general exercise in the mornings four or five days a week which required waking at 6 a.m., being ready for parade at 6:45 with two horses, then going out in the streets and riding for an hour,” said Castelow.
“When we got back in, we’d have to rub down, feed and water our horses, rush upstairs to the barracks to change into general attire, have breakfast and be back in the shop by 8:30 to make the Master Saddler a cup of tea.”
And although making a cup of tea for your superior may not sound like the most glorious job, Castelow was granted plenty of other opportunities that allowed him to rub elbows with royalty. He helped prepare the tack for Princess Anne’s Royal Wedding in 1973 as well as for Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981, in which he rode as part of the Royal Escort on both occasions.
But like any apprenticeship position, Castelow was still in training, working toward his ultimate goal of “Master Saddler.”
“All the while, I was still taking basic saddlery courses working toward my basic level two test,” said Castelow. “I had to take this test with a different horse, and unlike Regent, this one was flat backed with no withers. I had to fit a wool saddle to his back and make a double ceremonial bridle. He had a petite head, making it hard to tailor a bridle with lots of brass to such a small-headed horse.”
Once again, failure was not a possibility Castelow would entertain. After passing his level two test, he started training his own apprentices. Upon the completion of his level one exam, Castelow was sent to trade school to complete a year-long course on civilian tack, where he received his City and Guilds in Lorinery (bits, bridles, spurs, stirrups, saddle trees and the minor metal items of a horse’s harness), and furthered his understanding of how to custom fit all forms of tack.
Due to the Queen’s enjoyment of riding side-saddle and Princess Michael of Kent’s keen interest in the same, Castelow was sent to Wooley’s of Utoxeter, where, over a period of three months, he was taught how to manufacture and repair side-saddles.
Earning his licentiateship from City and Guilds was the highest qualification he could achieve in saddlery. Finally, during his 18th year in the army, Castelow was selected to become the Master Saddler, a title he had set his sights on more than a decade earlier.
“I was so proud to have finally accomplished what I was aiming for,” said a jubilant Castelow. “It was really flabbergasting to wear that appointment for the House of Cavalry.”
But things did not become easier for him when he reached the top. “I was inspected even more so than when I was an apprentice. If the apprentices under me did a poor job, it came down on my head. If anything was wrong with any of the tack—and mind you there were 250 horses, each with custom saddles and double bridles that had to be inspected every time they went out—I was the one held responsible. They could have taken the appointment away from me at any time,” revealed Castelow. “At this level, it was no surprise Phil Richards had cut my first bridle in half!”
The road to becoming Master Saddler is so long that by the time the goal is finally achieved, the saddler has very little time to actually fill the position before his retirement from the army.
Just four years into his appointment, Castelow was contacted by Somerleyton and asked if he was interested in working as the Queen’s personal Master Saddler. In the past, the work had always been contracted out, which was expensive and inefficient. Members of the Royal Palace worked personally with the Army to assure Castelow of an early retirement from duty.
After agreeing, Castelow, despite having served 22 years in the Royal Army, endured a lengthy process of security vetting through the Royal Protection unit within Scotland Yard in addition to stringent health scans before he could begin work in the Royal Mews.
In his last year of service with the army he took part in an annual event, in which he’d participated on many occasions. Along with 300 soldiers and 200 horses from the regiment, he traveled out of London to Norfolk, to allow the horses to rest out of the hustle and bustle of the city. Once in Norfolk, they took part in complex maneuvers on horseback accompanied by music from the household cavalry’s band. Little did he know when he set off on this last journey from London that he would meet his future wife.
“My friend already knew Richard because the Household Cavalry visited Norfolk every year, and I was going out with her that particular evening because I knew I was leaving for London shortly,” said Lynn, who acknowledged that the timing of meeting her husband-to-be couldn’t have been more perfect.