In memory of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (21 April 1926 – 08 September 2022)
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As the nation and the world comes to terms with deeply sad news of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, on Thursday 8 September 2022 at the age of 96, we reflect on the immense contribution and influence our magnificent monarch has had on the world of equestrian sport over her 70 years of reign.
From a small girl, the young Princess Elizabeth always had a great love for horses and ponies. This keen interest was born in her early life learning to ride, along with her sister Princess Margaret, on her Shetland pony Peggy. This great passion for every aspect of equestrianism was without doubt a constant source of joy and diversion for Queen Elizabeth II and interwoven throughout her life, from her marriage to Prince Philip, to her accession to the throne and the entirety of her 70-year reign.
Her encyclopedic knowledge of thoroughbred bloodlines and form, and her exceptional eye for a horse, was well-documented and earned her the greatest respect within the racing industry. As both a breeder and owner The Queen had many top class winners in her distinctive Royal colours, from her first classic winner Carrozza, who won the Oaks in 1957 just five years into her reign, to 2000 Guineas winner Pall Mall in 1958, 1000 Guineas winner Highclere in 1974, dual classic winner Dunfermline, who won the Oaks and St Leger in 1977, the year of her Silver Jubilee, and dual Royal Ascot winner, the Queen’s Vase and Gold Cup heroine Estimate. In total, Her Majesty had over 1,600 winners on the track, including 24 victories at her beloved Royal Ascot.
However, her horsemanship and knowledge extended effortlessly beyond racing and into every corner of the horse world. An inquiring mind, along with a great affinity with horses in general, drew her attention to many equestrian disciplines and pursuits – a passion shared by the members of her family who have immersed themselves in the sports of polo, eventing, and carriage driving.
Her late Majesty The Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, was the longest-serving FEI President (1964 – 1986) and was succeeded in this role by Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, for the following eight years. He also introduced driving as a new discipline in the FEI and became a hugely successful competitor himself, winning team gold at the 1980 World Driving Championships and bronze in 1978, 1982 and 1984. He was also instrumental in the creation of the FEI World Equestrian Games. Prince Philip also became one of Britain’s top ten polo players, a sport enjoyed by their son Charles and grandsons William and Harry.
Their daughter Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, claimed individual gold at the FEI European Eventing Championships in 1971 riding Doublet, who was owned and bred by The Queen. Four years on, she claimed European Championship individual and team silver medals aboard another of Her Majesty’s horses, Goodwill, before becoming the first British Royal to compete at an Olympic Games when she rode in Montreal 1976.
The Princess Royal’s daughter Zara Tindall (née Phillips) also inherited her grandmother’s love of horse sport. She took the Eventing world title in 2006 and was a member of the British team that won the silver medal at London 2012. Another of The Queen’s granddaughters, Lady Louise Windsor, has inherited the late Duke of Edinburgh’s decades-long passion for the sport of carriage driving. The lead given by the Royal Family has been a crucial factor in increasing the popularity of equestrian sport, but none more so than the passion and love of the horse that was displayed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen, a consummate horsewoman herself, rode at the Trooping the Colour ceremony every year until 1986, arriving by horse-drawn carriage from 1987 onwards. The world witnessed the Queen’s supreme horsemanship in 1981 when blank shots were fired near her beloved dark bay mare Burmese, who carried her for 18 consecutive years on ceremonial parades. The mare was startled, but she soon settled, and the parade continued barely interrupted, mainly because of that special relationship of mutual trust between horse and rider.
The Queen’s concern for horse welfare has been another element in her equestrian life. As patron of the British Horse Society, she took considerable interest in its welfare activities, and in 2014, she was presented with the inaugural FEI Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of her role in supporting equestrianism. As well as the British Horse Society, her patronages include British Showjumping, The Fell Pony Society, The Highland Pony Society, The Shire Horse Society, the Welsh Pony and Cob Society and the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association. She continued to ride into her 97th year, as recently as June this year on Fern, her 16-year-old Fell pony, within the grounds of Windsor Castle.
“The Queen has left such an enormous legacy in the horse world, both personally and by the achievements of her family,” commented British Dressage President Jennie Loriston-Clarke MBE. “She was always so interested, such a good horsewoman herself, and was a huge supporter of all the equestrian sports. She would often be spotted at Badminton and many of the big horse shows.”
Together with the Queen’s passion for breeding racehorses, she also ventured with great success into the realm of sport horse breeding, as Jennie explains, “She bred Columbus, who won Badminton with Mark Phillips in 1974 – he was out of a polo pony mare and by one of her stallions. She also bred Purple Star and very recently put a relation of Purple Star to Timolin (Jennie’s stallion by Totilas), hoping to produce a ride for Zara Tindall. She’s also used our stallion Tiger Attack. She was really interested in the breeding of competition horses as well as her much loved Fell and Highland ponies.”
In 1979, Jennie was presented with her MBE for services to equestrianism and in 2006 she became the first person to be awarded the Queen’s Award for Equestrianism (pictured above). “The Queen was the most gracious person, who would always put you at your ease,” commented Jennie. “She was engaging, easy to talk to, and really interested in people, making them feel that they’re the most interesting person in the world.
“She was the most amazing example of good manners and had great respect for everyone,” concluded Jennie. “She was the most remarkable person, so knowledgeable in so many ways, and always so well-informed.”
The Royal Windsor Horse Show was started by The Queen’s father in 1943 and was always a firm fixture in Her Majesty’s calendar. There was no more dedicated supporter of the show, and despite ill health she still attended this year to see her own Balmoral Leia take the Mountain and Moorland Supreme In-Hand Championship. It was a very special show this year, to mark the Platinum Jubilee, including a spectacular celebration of Her Majesty’s love of the horse, which clearly delighted and moved The Queen in equal measure.
The paths of Queen Elizabeth II and our Honorary Patron Carl Hester MBE have crossed on several occasions, initially when he was awarded an MBE in the 2013 New Year Honours List. In 2019, the Queen requested to meet Valegro at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, where she was introduced to him by Carl Hester, Charlotte Dujardin and Alan Davies, on Grenadier Avenue.
She was delighted to find out more about the double Olympic Champion, Valegro, as Carl explains, “A close friend of The Queen sent me a message saying that she would love to arrange a meeting. Her Majesty said if we could take Valegro to Windsor when the show is on, she would meet us there.
“We were meant to keep it under wraps, which was a bit difficult with a horse as recognisable as Valegro! The Queen drove herself down the avenue, met us there and it was wonderful. She had such a keen interest in him and everything that he had achieved for his country, that she wanted to reach out. She enjoyed meeting the whole team, and Charlotte rode a few moves for her, which was a very special moment.
“The Queen told us she had watched Valegro and that she had heard about his statue in Newent,” continued Carl. “It was lovely for her and a great privilege for us.”
Reflecting on the Queen’s lifelong fascination with horses, Carl continued: “It’s her love of horses that stood out, regardless of their shape or size. Although racing was her passion, she just loved horses. I was lucky enough to stand with her at Windsor Horse Show. It was evident that she had an extensive knowledge of every display that came into the arena, featuring breeds of horses from so many different countries. She certainly knew everything there was to know about the horse world.”
“It’s hard to put into words what the Queen has given us and the equestrian community,” reflects leading para dressage rider Natasha Baker OBE. “She was the most loved person in the world, and I feel so privileged to have been invited to the Palace to meet her on several occasions.
“The first time I met her was at a reception at Buckingham Palace after London 2012. I was standing next to Anthony Ogogo, the wrestler, and she really wanted to know the ins and outs of the Games. I was overwhelmed by her warmth and kindness. You felt like you had known her for years – she had this real aura about her.
“When she presented me with my MBE in 2013, she was genuinely interested in JP (Natasha’s Paralympic ride, Cabral) and our partnership,” remembered Natasha. “She wanted to know everything, and we could have spoken all day. My family were watching, and they said that she spoke to me the longest. She was just another horsewoman, and you can’t tear horsey people away!
“Whoever you were, Her Majesty met everyone with the same genuine warmth and interest, and she had this great sense of humour. Some of my standout memories of her are the James Bond cameo at the London 2021 opening ceremony, and earlier this year with Paddington Bear at the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. She was so normal, yet she had an ethereality: she was that beacon of light for the nation. We looked to her for strength, and to celebrate as well.”
Natasha’s team compatriot and honorary patron for British Dressage, Sir Lee Pearson CBE, also has unforgettable memories of meeting the country’s longest-serving monarch. “I was fortunate to meet The Queen at five Paralympic receptions, and on several other occasions,” recalled Lee, who was awarded his MBE in the 2001 New Year Honours for services to disabled sports, and later appointed OBE in 2005, CBE in 2009, and most recently, knighted in 2017. “I’ve also met her at a garden party, and at a dinner hosted by the Palace.
“I was always a little nervous meeting Her Majesty, of making sure to get the protocol right, but taking that out of the equation, she adored horses and was always so genuinely interested, immediately putting you at ease. She once said to me that Blue Circle Boy (Lee’s former Paralympic horse) looks like a bit of a character! I agreed with her and knew at that moment that she had been watching. It was such an insightful statement.”
A common theme that comes across from those who had the privilege of meeting The Queen, is her sharp wit and warm sense of fun, as Lee attests. “I asked her if she was still riding. When she answered ‘yes’, I said if you’re ever in Staffordshire, look me up and come and ride him! She giggled and said, “I might do that!”
“The Queen was iconic,” continued Lee. “You just felt that she was the backbone of Great Britain. She’s always been there, a constant through our lives, and it feels that, even at 96, her passing is too soon. There are so many emotions, but we must feel honoured to have lived during her reign. I feel honoured to have met her and feel so lucky that, because of her love of horses, she had so much affection for equestrian sport.”
Jason Brautigam, Chief Executive of British Dressage, summed up this sense of the ordinary and extraordinary in his recollections of Queen Elizabeth II, from his time working at Ascot Racecourse: “My favourite memories of The Queen were not at Royal Ascot, but at the December race meeting, just before Christmas. Every year, without any fuss or fanfare, she would come down from the Royal Box, accompanied by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, to hand out presents to every child who was in attendance. It could often take a while, but she always had time for everyone, and was so kind and gracious with all the young people who came to meet her. It was so quietly done and understated, which always made it a very special occasion.
“Everyone at British Dressage is deeply saddened by the passing of Her Majesty, who was such a wonderful supporter of equestrian sport. Her knowledge and love of the horse was second to none and her loss will be keenly felt across the equestrian community, as we all owe her a great debt of gratitude for her significant contribution. On behalf of the British Dressage Board of Directors, staff, and membership, we would like to express our heartfelt condolences to His Majesty King Charles III and all members of the Royal Family at this sad time.”
Photo © Peter Nixon (Windsor)