Whether you are a monarchist or an anti-monarchist, two facts are irrefutable: The Queen is an ardent horse lover, knowledgeable about breeding and bloodlines, a racehorse owner and a fine rider in her own right. The other fact is that she never wears a hard hat but favours a silk scarf when hacking her ponies.
This year to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee activities, her four legged friends were up front and centre at most of the land based celebrations she attended whether she was watching the Epsom Derby, the Royal Ascot or Royal Windsor Horse Shows; waving from a carriage during a Royal procession; cheering at a polo match at Windsor Park or watching the famous Trooping the Colour, a ceremony performed by British cavalry regiments.
Her love affair with horses began at the age of four when her father King George VI (portrayed by Colin Firth in the movie The King’s Speech) gave her and her sister Margaret a Shetland pony named Peggy. While having horses for ceremonial purposes has always gone hand in hand with royalty, the Queen has allowed her love of horses to become a large part of her life. “She’s an out-and-out horse addict.” says Lucy Higginson, editor of Horse and Hound magazine, the oldest equestrian publication in the United Kingdom.
The Canadian Connection
Since the diminutive Peggy, the Queen has enjoyed a succession of riding horses Burmese, a black RCMP Police Service Horse (PSH) mare (1962–1990) reported to have been one of, if not, the Queen’s favourite horse. Burmese was given to the Queen in 1969 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and was ridden for eighteen consecutive years for the Trooping the Colour from 1969 to 1986.
Burmese, who was trained in Saskatchewan, proved just what she was made of and how well she was trained when six blank shots were fired during the 1981 birthday parade in London and she was startled but settled quickly for the Queen who was riding her. Burmese made her last public appearance during the Trooping the Colour in 1986 and was then retired. The Queen decided to drive to the ceremony in a carriage and then review the troops from a dais rather than train a new horse.
Over the years the Queen has been given others horses from the RCMP including PSH Centenial in 1973; PSH Saint James in 1998 and PSH George in 2009 who has the same bloodlines as Burmese. George stands 17 h.h. high and is said to be a real “people horse” becoming the lead horse in the famous RCMP Musical Ride, a task that requires innate boldness.
Later, to prepare him for his royal jobs, whatever they held in store, his trainer Sgt Major Stewart introduced him to a “whole gamut of sights and sounds”, including revolvers going off, pipes and drums sounding, buffalo robes thrown on the ground in front of him, smoke billowing around him, which “put the cap on it” for his trainer. It was then that the Sgt Major knew that they had made the right choice of horse for the Queen`s gift. “We were seeing how he reacted to them. He’s not a dullard. His heart beats faster, but he sorts it out and comes back to you. That’s what I like about him,” said the Sgt Major.
Well Bred Horses and Sturdy Ponies
The Queen rides ponies these days and currently hacks out on a Highland pony called Melody or a Fell pony called Carltonlima Emma. However, while her favourite horses and ponies reside at the Royal Mews alongside her ceremonial Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays, the Queen also owns 25 – 30 racehorses and her knowledge of bloodlines is world class. She meticulously pairs up thoroughbreds from the Royal Stud in Sandringham, Shetland ponies at Balmoral in Scotland, and Fell ponies from Hampton Court. Her greatest pleasure is being able to get things right and to produce a beautiful animal.
Her racing thoroughbreds have been trained by well known Monty Roberts since 1989 and he travels to England about five times a year to ensure that things are going just as they should. The training of her National Hunt racers is in the hands of Henrietta Knight who says that, the Queen and she stay in touch often. “We would talk about the horses a lot. I`d write her a lot of letters and she would reply with such lovely letters. ”
Horse-racing is Her Majesty’s lifelong passion – and she does spend serious amounts of her money on it but always weighing the expenses of her horses, stud fees, training and stud farms against the profits from race winnings and the sales of her horses. She is one of the most knowledgeable bloodstock owners in the country, and over the years her horses have won most of the major British races; the one that still eludes her is the Derby.
When the Queen was a child, she told her riding teacher that if she had not been who she was, she would “like to be a lady who lived in the country with lots of horses and dogs”. When she is at her Scottish estate Balmoral for two months in the summer, she is still required to read the red boxes that come from parliament every day on the Aberdeen train, but she relaxes by driving about in an old land Rover, walking, riding and even does the washing up giving her staff time off after her husband Prince Philip cooks a BBQ for her family. This is about the closest she ever gets to a holiday!
If you are ever invited to Buckingham Palace to have a fireside chat with the Queen and conversation escapes you, here is a tip. Ask her if her current racehorse has a good chance in the Oaks or the Derby. Apparently her eyes will light up, her attention is all yours and she will be off to the races!