Ride of my life: David Pope

  • David recalls his ride during the Royal Procession at Royal Ascot in 2001

    You don’t have to be Frankie Dettori to get a ride in The Queen’s colours at Royal Ascot. In The Queen’s carriage procession the postilions wear the Ascot livery based on her racing colours.

    Far heavier than jockeys’ silks, the scarlet, purple and gold jackets are worn with wig and cap, plus the all-important leg iron for your right leg, the leg between the horse you ride and the one you lead.

    Traditionally, the first two teams in the procession are greys, preceded by two outriders mounted on greys. Four bays are in each remaining Ascot Landau, with a single outrider on a bay horse riding ahead.

    On the Wednesday, I was leading Windhoek, a Hungarian-bred, and riding Monarch at the head of The Queen Mother’s carriage, second in the procession.

    Monarch is a 16.2hh Dutch-bred horse, then aged 17. He is the only strawberry roan owned by TheQueen, who calls him ‘my pink horse’. ‘Pinkie’, as I call him, is tremendously strong and wears a drop noseband because he pulls so hard.

    On the course, jangling harness, squeaking carriage springs and hoofbeats are all you hear until the noise of the crowd crescendos. As we got to the grandstands a hat floated across the course and I felt both horses tense up. I reeled Windhoek in – he was getting too strong, and I couldn’t take the chance that he would try to get away from UFOs.

    Seconds later, Pinkie’s ears went back. Something was up. Out of the corner of my eye I saw an outrider appear – carted at his first Ascot, and Pinkie wanted to go too. I had a 100-year-old lady in my carriage and I wanted her to see 101. And, you simply cannot have a team galloping past The Queen’s carriage.

    I closed-up to that first carriage because I thought if we are going to go, we won’t go very far. Come hell or high water, you have to hold that team – you have to. And we did. Adrenalin and teamwork won the day.

    Dripping with sweat, men and horses wound down with an eight-mile trot back to the Castle. I feel humbled by the horses in these situations. They don’t think like humans, yet they do as we tell them.

    As always, The Queen Mother thanked us. ‘I do so enjoy my carriage drives,’ she said, and that’s the beauty of driving her, she enjoys it immensely.

  • Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (21 March) where Lord Oaksey talks about his ‘ride of a lifetime’ in the 1958 Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown on Taxidermist.

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