A COUNTY Durham soldier and his horse are taking a break from royal duty in London to enjoy some sea and sand.

Gareth Kennedy's working day usually involves taking part in the Queen's Guard, performed by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment in Whitehall.

The soldiers' hectic schedule means early starts six days a week and frequent ceremonial duties such as the State Opening of Parliament and Queen's Birthday Parade.

Mr Kennedy, 20, from Durham, and his fellow soldiers spend hours polishing kit and looking after their specially bred horses, known as Cavalry Blacks, which are imported from Ireland.

So every year, the regiment decamps from London and moves to the Army's Thetford training area in Norfolk for a more relaxed regime.

One of the different activities is the chance to ride on the beach, where horses which are more used to the busy traffic of central London are given the opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere of the seafront.

The soldiers take off the horses' saddles, get changed into their swimming trunks and head for the water.

Their exercise has a more serious side because it helps horses and riders build up confidence and trust, which is vital on ceremonial duties performed in front of thousands of people.