To celebrate The Queen's official birthday this weekend (11 June 2016), we take a look at some of her favourite horses from history
It is probably a tad tactless trying to identify The Queen’s “favourite” horses: her equestrian interests are famously broad.
Aside from racing she has owned — and bred — horses that have triumphed in eventing, showing, carriage driving and polo. Yet most of the public probably only picture her among horses in the paddock at Royal Ascot or on Horse Guard’s parade.
But among the many there are some that have brought particular pleasure — be it through their extraordinary success, loyal service, or simply by providing rare moments of private relaxation for their owner in regular morning rides away from the public eye. Here we try to highlight some of them.
A shaggy-maned Shetland played a part in The Queen’s equestrian education as one has for so many of us. Peggy was a gift to Elizabeth and her sister Margaret from the King on her fourth birthday. She cannot have been as roguish as some Shetlands, since her owner, as we all know, became utterly hooked…
2. Rising Light
As a teenager Princess Elizabeth took a great interest in her father’s horses — and reportedly kept a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings about Rising Light, a fine horse that ran in the Derby when she was 19. “She has had a terrific involvement in racing all her life, and really knows and understands horses,” says her former Royal Stud manager Sir Michael Oswald. “And she has a remarkable memory for pedigrees.”
A young Princess Elizabeth co-owed this horse with her mother. “With him she enjoyed some ‘beginners luck’ if you like,” says Sir Michael Oswald. “He proved a very good three-mile chaser and won (appropriately) the Queen Elizabeth Steeplechase at the now defunct racecourse Hurst Park. Sadly he was killed in a race later on.”
The whole nation was behind this horse’s bid to win the Derby for the newly-crowned Queen in 1953. Inherited from her father, Aureole finished second to Pinza — but went on to become a leading stallion. “The 1950s were really good ones for The Queen’s racehorses,” says Sir Michael. She was leading owner in 1954 and 57. Other extremely good racehorses in the 1950s included 1957 Oaks winner Carrozza, who was leased from the National Stud, Yorkshire Oaks heroine Almeria, Doutelle, Pall Mall, who won the 2000 Guineas in 1958, and Above Suspicion.
Her Majesty has always bred racehorses on quite a modest scale, and has some 25 to 30 horses in training at any one time. Once a major player in Flat racing, she has become a smaller fish in a much bigger pond as the Arab “super powers” have swept in. One mare who has been hugely important to the Royal Studs is Feola, bought and raced by George V, who became the mainstay of The Queen’s breeding operation. She was grandam of Aureole and great grandam of Highclere.
The Queen enjoyed tremendous Classic success in the 1970s thanks to two outstanding mares — Highclere and Dunfermline. Highclere won the 1000 guineas and French Oaks — and though The Queen’s duties prevent her from going racing very often, for once she was able to witness the latter in person. Sir Michael still recalls the “absolute chaos” that ensued at Chantilly after Highclere won the French Oaks there in 1974. She went on to become a prolific broodmare, with Height Of Fashion (a top-class racehorse who was famously sold to Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum and produced Nashwan, Nayef and Unfuwain), Burghclere and Milford among her progeny.
Dunfermline was “probably the best horse The Queen has ever owned,” believes Sir Michael Oswald. “She wasn’t much as a two year old but she was brilliant at three,” continues Sir Michael, “and was the only horse to beat the great Alleged [whom Vincent O’Brien trained to win two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes but whose only defeat was to Dunfermline in the St Leger].” Trained by Major Dick Hern, she won the Oaks and the St Leger in 1977, the year of The Queen’s silver jubilee.
8. Carlton House
The media went into overdrive when The Queen’s Carlton House, given to her by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, started the Derby as favourite. Could the Sir Michael Stoute-trained bay give her a much longed-for first Derby victory — her first real Epsom hope since Flight Of Fancy finished second in the 2001 Oaks? Not quite — Carlton House was only third to Pour Moi.
A black mare of around 15.3hh, Betsy was bought from a farmer in the 1950s, and became a favourite riding horse of The Queen’s. “The Queen had her for years and they taught each other so much,” says stud groom Terry Pendry. “She had a bit of character — but the Queen loves a horse with a bit of personality.”
A favourite riding horse of The Queen’s until he was sadly put down at a ripe old age in October 2002, Sanction, a 16.1hh bay, was bred by The Queen and was the last horse she used for riding out before switching to ponies. Stud groom Terry Pendry says: “The Queen used to think the horse was near-telepathic, and she doted on him. She only had to think of going somewhere and he’d go.”
Many still remember the chestnut gelding on whom the Princess Royal famously won the eventing European Championships at Burghley in 1971. Bred by The Queen, he was out of a polo pony mare belonging to Prince Philip. Sadly he broke a leg and was put down cantering at Windsor in 1974. The Queen has owned other wonderful event horses besides Doublet, including Countryman, who helped Britain to European eventing team gold in 1955 under Bertie Hill, and Columbus, the 17.1hh grey who won Badminton in 1974 with Mark Phillips and may have been world champion had injury not prevented him completing the final phase at Burghley in 1974.
Burmese (pictured top) was the first of four horses given to The Queen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). She was given to The Queen in 1969 and she rode her for 18 consecutive years in her birthday parade, Trooping the Colour, until she was retired in 1986. For the rest of the year, Burmese served her adoptive country in the Metropolitan Mounted police. Her fame became more pronounced when in the 1981 Trooping a young man fired blanks at the pair. Burmese skittered briefly, and was instantly calmed by her rider.
13. St James
St James is another of the horses given by the RCMP. Like two of the others — Centenial and George — he became a charger for The Prince of Wales at Trooping the Colour. “St James was rock steady during the ride to and from St Paul’s Cathedral for His Royal Highness on Her Majesty’s golden jubilee celebrations,” says Terry Pendry.
Petition, a 15.3hh bay gelding by Petosky out of Reverie, has probably been one of the most successful of The Queen’s show horses. He was reserve riding horse at 2010’s Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), and in 2011 was fifth at HOYS and eighth at the Royal International, second and reserve at the Hickstead Derby meeting, and fourth at Great Yorkshire Show. Katie Jerram says: “The Queen was absolutely over the moon when I was reserve champion with Petition at HOYS. I actually rang her after the class and had a private conversation like any other owner — she is just a very normal, down to earth person. She loves the horses and loves to see them win.”
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15. Balmoral Jingle and Curlew
Highland mares Jingle and Curlew used to be ridden by The Queen at Windsor and were both shown with considerable success in the hands of Lizzie Briant. But in 1997 they moved up to Scotland to become broodmares. “It was always The Queen’s dream to have the Highlands up in Scotland,” says Terry Pendry.
A delighted Queen welcomed the Sir Michael Stoute-trained filly Estimate into the winner’s enclosure at Royal Ascot after taking the 2013 Gold Cup — the first time in the then 207-year history of the race that it had been won by a reigning monarch.