GALLERY: Light Horse return

Neil Highes with his horse Harry after the 1st/15th Royal NSW Lancers Parade on August 30, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Michele Mossop/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

Neil Highes with his horse Harry after the 1st/15th Royal NSW Lancers Parade on August 30, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Michele Mossop/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

Hooves slap on rain-shined bitumen as Chris Walsh walks his horse at a leisurely clip down the middle of the city street past parking signs and massage parlours and sports nutrition centres. Crowds clap and take photos on phones as he passes by.

"It's like two worlds colliding," he says.

Walsh, 53, is a solidly built Narromine beef farmer, dressed this day in the leggings and lace-up boots, spurs and slouch hat of a member of the World War I Australian Light Horse. He changed into his replica uniform in the back of a horse float before the parade, leaving his mobile phone in the car.

Nine riders from the Australian Light Horse Association led the procession through Parramatta's central business district on a wet and windy day.

Here, too, celebrating more than 125 years of the Royal NSW Lancers and the centenary of the start of World War I are army regiments and armoured vehicles.

Gordon Muddle, 69, a retired bulldozer driver, sits behind the wheel of a World War II tank. He rolls his eyes when I ask him how well it handles. "It needs power steering," he says.

Past and present sit together strangely here. Walsh rides an old polocrosse horse past posters for the local RSL's "Eurasian cuisine". "When you get out of the day-to-day stuff and do this it puffs you up a bit, because you're honouring those who have gone before you," he says.

Horses were banned from marching in an Anzac centenary in Albany, Western Australia, in part because of concerns people might slip in horse poo. Here, the handsome steeds are a welcome reminder of a time before OH&S. Before the weight-loss centres and cash converters and big men's clothing shops that line the main street.

Retired policeman Phil Chalkers, 57, dressed in a replica Boer War uniform, complete with pith helmet, rides his horse Copper past three boys on scooters. His wife Debbie walks alongside him, telling me that her great-uncle Les Scott was in the charge of the 4th Light Horse at Beersheba. "He came home but he was different. He was changed, they were all different," she says. 

Of the 136,000 horses sent abroad, only one came home – Sandy, who returned in 1918 and was put out to pasture in Maribyrnong, Melbourne. 

The parade in Parramatta ends with speeches at the Lancer Barracks but the horses head straight for their floats, where they pose for photographs with security guards.

Neil Hughes, 71, stays close to his 12-year-old bay Harry. Hughes' uncle Bert served as a light horseman in the Middle East during World War I. His saddlebags were probably stuffed with spare clothes and a Bible, Hughes says.

His own saddlebags today are filled out with cotton wool. "I feel like I'm portraying a picture for the people," he says. "To not let the image of the light horsemen die."

He leans in to give Harry a kiss on the nose. "You did good, mate," he says. "You did good."

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