What is the Link between Horse Riding & RAF Pilots?

Did you know that the Royal Air Force (RAF) has a long tradition of equestrianism (aka horse riding)?

Horse riding has its roots in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), the air arm of the British Army from 1912 to the First World War, when it merged with the Royal Naval Air Service on 01 April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force (RAF). There were two reasons (Day, 2016):

  1. Co-ordination:
    1. It was stated that horse riders (in this case cavalry soldiers) required a degree of co-ordination, using all their limbs at once, to control their horses, and also use a weapon.
    2. Pilots required “a great deal of co-ordination” to perform a variety of tasks in order to control their aircraft.
  2. Reconnaissance:
    1. Cavalry units had traditionally been used in the reconnaissance role as they were faster and more mobile than the Infantry.
    2. During World War I, aircraft were quickly utilised for reconnaissance duties due to their unique view of the battlefield.
    3. Trenches became distinct hazards for cavalry, but had no such impact on aircraft.
    4. Cavalry in the reconnaissance role had to take notes and draw maps, which was replicated in aerial reconnaissance.
    5. At one point the RFC was nicknamed “The Cavalry of the Clouds” due to similarity of roles between the RFC and cavalry.

A number of Aces were originally cavalry soldiers, and several cavalry traditions made there way in to the future RAF. For example:

  • Squadron is a traditional term for a unit of cavalry.
  • Mounting aircraft from the left is a cavalry (mounting the horse from the left so the sword would not injury or become obstructed).
  • Both the Hawker Typhoon and Hawker Tempest aircraft used a stirrup for pilots to put their foot into when stepping up to the cockpit.

Horse riding still plays an important in the RAF in the form of the Royal Air Force Equitation Association (RAFEA), and is available to serving personnel, civil servants, contractors and dependants.


Day, B. (2016) Equestrianism in the Royal Air Force. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/blog/equestrianism-in-the-royal-air-force/. [Accessed: 08 August, 2018].

RAFEA: https://www.rafsportsfederation.uk/sports/raf-equitation-association/.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.