Although cavalry was still the elite of the army in the 19th century, there were often great difficulties in sending it for service in the British Empire. When the 1st (King’s) Dragoon Guards were sent to southern Africa in 1879 the horses were in poor condition after the long voyage and did not find the local vegetation to their liking, while cavalry posted to India brought no horses at all but simply used those of the troops they were replacing or obtained local animals. However the cavalry’s chief problem - little appreciated at the time - was the steady improvement in infantry and artillery firepower, and while this did not matter against native warriors armed mainly with spears and clubs, it would become apparent when facing the Boers.
These men all wear home service uniform with the foreign service helmet (without puggaree) that was introduced in the early 1870s and largely persisted until the last years of the century. All the clothing - tunic, trousers and boots - is correct for this period, and so too is the personal equipment. Each man has a haversack slung over the right shoulder and a cartridge pouch on a strap over the left. They also have the 'Oliver' water bottle (another 1870s innovation) although this is slung over the less common left shoulder rather than the right. Another pouch on the right side of the waist belt, the expense ammunition pouch, dates from 1878 and is also present here, so that gives us the starting date for these men.
We were not taken with the two horse poses, both of which are commonly seen in the hobby but neither are particularly natural. We also felt the basic form of the horse was not great, and in particular the heads with the enormous eyes could have been much better. The saddles and bridles all look OK, and both animals have the carbine in a deep holster on the right hand side as had been done since 1868. The cylindrical valise at the rear is good, but the folded cloak at the front is very small and seems to be flat at the point where it crosses the animal’s neck, while the usual spare boots are not present at all. The men sit on the horses very well however, and there is only a very small amount of flash in a few places.
As can be seen there are five basic bodies, three of which take one of a number of separate arms, so by attaching these at various angles the set offers a pretty good range of possible poses. Any of the arms fit any of the armless bodies, although one of the bodies has a revolver holster, making it best suited as an officer or trumpeter. With 12 horses there are three spare mounted figures, so the customer has the choice of not using some of these officer/trumpeter bodies without impacting the overall figure total, which is excellent. The two trooper arms hold a sword and a carbine. The carbine looks to be the Martini-Henry cavalry carbine, issued from 1878 and so perfect for these figures. The carbines in their holsters could of course be anything, including the earlier Snider if necessary. The swords are a good length and have a good guard, although there are rather a lot of them. Every armless man has a sword in the scabbard, so if you choose the separate sword arm then you will need to trim the hilt showing in his scabbard. Strangely the two complete swordsmen also have another sword in the scabbard, so again this will need removing. In another sense there are not enough swords, by which we mean it would have been nice to have seen a second, identical sword arm on each sprue so that if desired every figure could have a sword - as it stands there is a maximum of nine swordsmen in each set.
The carving of the figures is OK with reasonable detail although this is not always as distinct as it might have been. The pointed cuffs are clear enough but there is no Austrian knot engraved on the sleeve, which is fine as this is largely flat in reality anyway, although some customers prefer a raised surface to make painting easier. Faces and hands are OK, and the proportions are good too. The separate arms all fit on the peg on the shoulder very well, and don't even need gluing (although we would still recommend this). There is a slight exaggeration of the shoulder when the arm is attached, but hardly noticeable and better than some examples in other sets.
By offering separate arms and a whole spare body per sprue, HaT have made the most of the space on the sprue, and deserve much credit for that. Everything is accurate and the figures are quite well sculpted, but the horses are not so good. These nice figures will certainly be welcomed by fans of colonial wargaming, and they fill one of the few remaining gaps in the Zulu War campaign very well.