We’ve rewound the clock to remember those early days of this treasured British institution...
Royal Windsor Horse Show history: in the beginning…
1. A horse and dog show was held at Windsor in 1943 during “Wings for Victory week” to help the war effort. It was the idea of Geoffrey Cross, who had been invalided out of the army, and Count Robert Orssich, a showing producer living near Windsor.
2. It took place on Wednesday, 26 May and helped raise £391,197 — enough money to buy 78 Typhoon fighter aircraft.
3. There were a few early blunders. “We even had the grandstand, such as it was, with its back to the castle,” said Geoffrey. “And the dog show, it was such a shambles that I determined never to have another dog on the showground.”
4. But by November 1943, after that first show, the Royal Windsor Horse Show Club had been founded, with King George VI as patron — and the date was set for the first Royal Windsor Horse Show on 27 May 1944.
5. In the line-up were gymkhana classes, showing, jumping and driving — with a top prize of £15 for the jumping. This year, the winner of the Rolex grand prix will take home €75,000 (around £65,640).
6. When The King and Queen made an appearance in Home Park in 1944, it was the first time the public had seen His Majesty not in his uniform since the outbreak of war.
7. There was early success for a young Princess Elizabeth who, with her sister, was making her debut competing in public at the show in 1944 (pictured, above). She drove the Norwegian pony Hans to take the single private driving class title, with Princess Margaret as a passenger.
8. Despite the wartime travel difficulties, more than 8,000 spectators turned out to watch in 1944. Today, the show expects crowds of 55,000 over the five days.
9. That year was particularly memorable for two Red Cross nurses, according to Alan Smith in his 1977 book The Royal Windsor Horse Show. Having managed to hitch a lift with the Duke of Beaufort, they were struggling to find a bed in town for the night. On the Duke mentioning their enthusiasm for the show — and accommodation dilemma — to The King and Queen, beds were swiftly found for them in the castle.
Don’t miss our full report and analysis from this year’s Royal Windsor Horse Show in the 16 May 2019 issue of Horse & Hound magazine
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