Beds, Herts & Bucks

Hertfordshire statue of IRA bomb horse Sefton set to be unveiled

Waxed sculpture of Sefton
Image caption Camilla le May's statue of Sefton "captures his spirit"

A "symbol of animal triumph and recovery" is to be unveiled next spring at one of the world's oldest established veterinary colleges in Hertfordshire.

In 2010, the Royal Veterinary College in North Mymms commissioned a life-size bronze statue of Sefton, the horse who survived the 1982 Hyde Park bomb blast.

The work of art, by artist Camilla Le May, and funded by Lord Ballyedmond, will stand at the Hawkshead campus on the footprint of the old equine operating theatre named after Sefton, which was torn down 10 years ago and rebuilt 100 yards away.

In 2009, a new operating theatre replaced the Sefton building, but the college's development director, Jonathan Forrest, said he "felt strongly" that the college should not lose its association with the Sefton name.

He said it was not to "memorialise the act" [of the attack], but celebrate what his story stood for.

"[Sefton] had horrific injuries and pulled through with care from first aiders on the day, vets and then his owners, the military," he said.

"He is a symbol of animal triumph and recovery and for the nation, a symbol of triumph over an awful act, and we wanted to capture that."

Sefton served with the British Army between 1967 and 1984.

The IRA attack left seven of the horse's Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment stablemates and four soldiers dead.

It is believed Sefton's life was saved by a guardsman who ripped off his shirt and used it to stem the flow of blood to his neck wound.

Image caption The statue is moved ready for waxing

Vets gave the horse a 50/50 chance of surviving the shock and extreme blood loss, but the animal recovered after eight hours of surgery that saw nearly 30 pieces of shrapnel extracted from his body.

He was able to return to service less than three months later and went on to win the Horse of the Year.

Sefton's story attracted much attention. There was an outpouring of public sympathy and the college built the Sefton Equine Hospital in 1986, part funded by public donations.

Mr Forrest said the finished work would also celebrate the college's graduates who had gone into the military and symbolise how veterinary care has developed over two centuries.

The college's artist in residence, Camilla Le May, 39, from Wadhurst, East Sussex, spent six months creating the three quarters of a tonne sculpture of the black gelding.

She looked at books and a few photographs and spoke to people who rode him in order to capture his character in the work.

Ms Le May also had a number of conversations with Andrew Parker Bowles who was the commander on the day of the attack and is patron of the scheme.

She said she had never done a life-size horse before and called the opportunity "awesome".

"It was quite a challenge and actually quite nerve-racking," she said.

"It's not the same as sculpting a famous racehorse because there is so much sadness behind it.

"All the time I spent on it I got quite attached and I feel closer to the story now."

Mr Forrest said she had to not only reproduce the horse physically, but also capture his spirit.

"Capturing the character of the horse is enormously difficult, but she has got it right," he said.

On retirement, Sefton was moved to a sanctuary in Buckinghamshire, but was put down in July 1993, due to lameness, a complication of the injuries he suffered during the bombing.

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