Scarlet tunics, plumed helmets, magnificent horses: All are part of the storied tradition of Britain's Household Cavalry, for four centuries the monarch's personal guard.

And so are white faces.Spurred by an official verdict of racism in 1996, officers scoured inner-city unemployment centers, advertised in Asian-language news-papers and sent troops to play sports against black teams - all in a desperate effort to recruit minorities.

Now, in the face of only minuscule gains, they are even considering hiring a black U.S. Army officer to help.

"We are 100 percent committed to making this thing work, but it is proving very difficult," says Col. Simon Falkner, commander of the nearly 900-strong Household Cavalry.

"If you were a black person and wanted to join the army, the one place you would not go is the Household Cavalry because they have been told we are all white racists," he said.

Two years ago, Britain's state-funded Commission for Racial Equal-ity found that this elite army unit, the epitome of pageantry on state occasions, was guilty of "institutionalized racism."

The commission lifted the designation this week, acknowledging the cavalry's pledge to make "real, lasting progress" in enlisting minorities.

But making any progress is proving to be difficult.

Until 1990, the Household Cavalry had never had a black recruit - and the first one didn't last long.

Richard Stokes quit within a year after suffering racial abuse, including having a banana thrown at him by a fellow soldier during a rehearsal for Trooping the Color, an annual military ceremony presided over by Queen Elizabeth II.

Four years later, the Household Cavalry recruited its second black.

Riding alongside the queen at celebrations in 1995 marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, Malcolm Campbell looked like the answer to complaints - including one from Prince Charles - about the lack of black soldiers in the sovereign's escort.

But back at the barracks, Campbell, too, suffered bullying and racist taunts. He quit after 17 months, ostensibly on medical grounds because the metal chinstrap of his uniform left him with a skin complaint.

Ethnic minorities, mainly descendants of immigrants from India, Pakistan and other former colonies in the Caribbean, now make up almost 7 percent of Britain's population of 56 million.

But minorities make up only 1 percent of the British military. The 3,500-strong Household Division - which includes the Household Cavalry - was singled out as the worst offender with only 24 black or Asian soldiers serving or in training, or slightly over a half-percent.

Just this month, division commander Maj.-Gen. Evelyn Webb-Carter ordered his officers, largely from upper-class backgrounds, to recruit 200 black or Asian soldiers within 21/2 years.

In his office at Horse Guards, a military headquarters behind Buck-ing-ham Palace, the Household Cavalry's Falkner is on the recruiting front line - and that goal of 7 percent minorities in the 880-strong unit seems a world away.

It wasn't until this month that the cavalry recruited the first black into its officer ranks. Three blacks also are serving in non-officer ranks - the same status Stokes and Campbell held - and three are in training.

Falkner checks through the numbers: Another black officer recruit is still at a university and then goes to Sandhurst, Britain's premier military academy. It will be 2001 before he is in the Household Cavalry.

"We have invested massive resources . . . (but) they are not coming through as quickly as we would like," he says.

Still, Capt. Justin Butah, the barrier-breaking black officer who switched from an artillery regiment, wouldn't discourage other minorities from joining.

"I really honestly can't say I have come across racism in any blatant sense," said Butah, 26, the son of a Ghanaian retired naval officer and a Welsh mother. "There's the odd bit of barrack room humor, but it's the same for fat people, the same for people with funny hair.

"I suppose you have to be tough," he added of army life. "But you have to be tough, whoever you are."