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Postilions at the funeral of President Reagan, 2004
Postilions control the horses drawing the Queen's Coach at the State Opening of Parliament, London 2015
ANZAC horses and postilions struggle to move a gun, Passchendaele, 1917, by Harold Septimus Power

A postilion or postillion is a person who guides a horse-drawn coach or post chaise while mounted on the horse or one of a pair of horses.[1] By contrast, a coachman controls the horses from the vehicle itself.

Originally the English name for a guide or forerunner for the post (mail) or a messenger, it became transferred to the actual mail carrier or messenger and also to a person who rides a (hired) post horse. The same persons made themselves available as a less expensive alternative to hiring a coachman, particularly for light, fast vehicles.

Postilions draw ceremonial vehicles on occasions of national importance such as state funerals.

On the battlefield or on ceremonial occasions postilions have control that a coachman cannot exert.


Postilions ride the left or nearside[note 1] mount because horses are mounted from the left.[2][3]: 279  With a double team there could be two postilions, one for each pair,[3]: 282–283, 107  or, especially in France, one postilion would ride on the left wheel (rear) horse in order to control all four horses.[4]: 314 


Royal Mews postilion livery

The postilion wears a full-dress livery with a short jacket reaching to the waist only and decorated with gold lace and gilt buttons. A white shirt and stock tie, white leather breeches, white gloves, decorated cap, boots with brown tops, and an iron leg-guard on the [right] leg to protect it from the battering of the carriage pole.

— Thomas Ryder in Fashion on Wheels[5]


  • Privacy for passengers in their conversations.[citation needed]
  • Better control of the horses, for example, when moving guns at high speed on a battlefield.[citation needed]
  • Extravagant display by their noble owner, as when attending a state occasion. The display might extend to liveried men walking on foot beside each horse.[citation needed]

Travel by post[edit]

This style of travel was known as "posting".[3]: 278  The postilions and their horses (known as "post-horses")[3]: 282  would be hired from a "postmaster" at a "post house".[3]: 282  The carriage would travel from one post house to the next (a journey known as a "stage"), where the postilions and/or spent (exhausted) horses could be replaced if necessary.[3]: 282  In practice unless a return hire was anticipated a postilion of a spent team frequently was also responsible for returning them to the originating post house.

Posting was once common both in England and in continental Europe.[3]: 279–280  In addition to a carriage's obvious advantages (a degree of safety and shelter for the inside passengers and accessibility to non-riders) on long trips it tended to be the most rapid form of passenger travel. Individually mounted riders are subject to their personal endurance limits, while posting could continue indefinitely with brief stops for fresh horses and crew. In England, posting declined once railways became an alternative method of transport,[3]: 282  but it remained popular in France and other countries.


King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery
Six-horse Royal Horse Artillery team with 13-pounder cannon at speed during the First World War

The gun detachments of the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery are each driven by a team of three post riders. The King's Troop is a ceremonial unit equipped with World War I veteran 13-pounder field guns drawn by six horses in much the same configuration as the guns of the 19th and early 20th century would have been. Officers and senior non-commissioned officers ride separately.

The United States Army's Old Guard Caisson Platoon also rides postilion. The section sergeant, on a separate horse, is in charge of the team and there are six other horses teamed together. This configuration is used at Arlington National Cemetery.[6]

Derivative terminology and use[edit]

To adapt to the rigours of horses traveling long distances at a trot, postillion riders adapted a method of rising and falling with the rhythm of the horse's gait and given the name "posting" or "posting to the trot."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Because horses are mounted from the horse's left side (the horse prefers no surprises) that side is nearest to the rider. The postilion rides the left horse of the pair because there is no access to the right-hand horse from its left-hand side.


  1. ^ Definition of postillion by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ Which side of the road do they drive on? Brian Lucas.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Rogers, Fairman (1899). Manual of Coaching. J. B. Lippincott Company. OL 20478464M.
  4. ^ Beaufort, Henry Charles FitzRoy Somerset (Duke of Beaufort) (1901). Driving. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. OL 22878921M.
  5. ^ Ryder, Thomas (1984). "Fashion on Wheels". Man and the Horse: An Illustrated History of Equestrian Apparel. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.), Simon & Schuster, New York. p. 94. ISBN 0870994115. OL 2859979M. ISBN 0671555200
  6. ^ "The Old Guard - Caisson Platoon". Archived from the original on 28 February 2010. Retrieved 28 April 2010.