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The Queen's Horses - The Diamond Jubilee Pageant

The Queen’s Horses - Celebrating The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant 2012

The Queen’s love of horses is well known. It is a thread that has run though her life from her childhood to this day.

She was taught to ride both astride and side-saddle by Horace Smith, the best known instructor of his day, both in London and at Smith’s Stables in Holyport, near Windsor. She is reported to have confided in him that had she not been who she was she would have liked to live in the country with lots of horses and dogs. She also learnt to drive ponies and competed successfully at Royal Windsor Horse Show, winning the Pony and Dogcart Class at the first Show in 1943.

The Queen’s home-bred horses and ponies have competed in many classes since then and of course the Duke of Edinburgh took part very successfully in the carriage-driving trials for 25 years. Naturally horses are playing a huge part in the Diamond Jubilee Pageant at Windsor. There are 550 horses coming from all over the world but The Queen’s own horses are also pivotal.

The Queen’s horses can be divided into different categories
The first is the horses of the mounted regiments, which include the blacks of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, the magnificent skewbald drum horses, and the horses of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. Of course these are not The Queen’s own private horses but she probably knows as much about them as if they were.

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The Household Cavalry has its origins in the seventeenth century but it plays its part not only in ceremonial duties but modern warfare. It is made up from the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. Both soldiers and officers are tough and resourceful, proud of their history but able to rise to the challenges of today, for example in Afghanistan. They also take great pride in their state and ceremonial duties and their connection with the sovereign. And of course they do the guard The Queen. They can be seen daily by visitors to London, as they take part in the Changing Guard ceremony at Horse Guards. Two patient cavalry mounts stand outside Horse Guards on Whitehall, being photographed by passing tourists. They form an integral part of The Queen’s Birthday Parade and the State Opening of Parliament every year, as well as taking part, dismounted, in the Garter Ceremony and investitures. They are an important part of state visits, adding incomparably to the sense of occasion, with four mounted divisions, more than 100 men and horses providing the Sovereign’s Escort.

The Queen takes a particularly keen interest in the drum horses and has bred them in the past. Today’s animals are a Clydesdale cross and chosen for their temperament as well as strength, as the combined weight of rider, ceremonial uniform and silver kettle drum is considerable. There are usually two working and one in training. The training takes 18 months.

The King’s Troop will also be represented in the Diamond Jubilee Pageant. The Troop forms The Queen’s ceremonial saluting battery. It is a mounted unit and all the soldiers are fine equestrians, trained to ride but also to drive teams of six horses, who pull the thirteen-pounder state saluting guns, which date back to World War One. They describe themselves as an integral part of the household troops.

Our duties include the firing of royal salutes in Hyde Park on both royal anniversaries and state occasions, and providing a gun carriage and team of black horses for state and military funerals. The Troop perform the duties of the Queen's Life Guard at Horse Guards for one month each year.’ 

The next category is the carriage horses from the Royal Mews.
The famous Windsor Greys, with their liveried postilions, are a familiar sight from the carriage procession down the course on every day of Royal Ascot. Ten of the horses at the Royal Mews are Windsor Greys, so called as they were kept at Windsor in Victorian times and drew private carriages for the Royal Family. When The Queen herself is in a carriage it will always be drawn by greys.

There are also approximately twenty bays at the Mews. The majority of these are Cleveland Bays and the rest are cross-breeds with other draft horses. The Queen was instrumental in saving the Cleveland Bay as a breed when she organized that the stallion Mulgrave Supreme should stand at stud in England from 1961 instead of being exported. His progeny went on to excel in all sorts of disciplines, as well as driving. All of the Mews horses begin work at the age of four and work for approximately 15 years. They are broken in to saddle before being harnessed and trained as carriage horses.

At the pageant will be several of the Ascot Landaus and passengers will include members of the British Olympic equestrian team, Colonel Ray Giles and Major Richard Moore, Military Knights who took part in the Coronation and some of the royal jockeys and trainers.

Also present will be two men who have served in the Mews for over 40 years, John Taylor and Frank Holland, and one, John Nelson, who has clocked up 47 years. A highlight will be the appearance of two of the most recognizable state coaches: the Irish State Coach and the Glass Coach. The former is an enclosed four-horse carriage and is used to take The Queen from Buckingham Palace to the State Opening of Parliament. The original Irish State Coach was built in 1851in Dublin but it was badly damaged in the early twentieth century. In 1989 it was brilliantly restored in the Royal Mews. The exterior is blue and black with gilt decoration and the interior is covered in blue damask. It is normally driven from the box seat using four horses. At the Pageant these will be the bays Yoro, Pearl, Firework and Sydney.

The Glass State Coach is famous for being used by royal brides including The Queen herself. It can take either two or four horses and will be drawn by bays Mary Tudor and Concord. It was built by Peters and Son in London in 1910 as a sheriff’s coach but was bought for the Coronation of King George V in 1911 and has been in the Royal Mews ever since. Such carriages are looked after with extraordinary skill and dedication by the Royal Mews, who rightly take great pride in these precious vehicles, for which the overused word iconic can justly be used.

Then of course there are The Queen’s racehorses.
The Queen inherited several horses from King George VI, of which the best, Aureole, chased home Pinza in the 1953 Derby, before winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot the following year. Aureole went on to become a successful stallion. He was twice champion sire, and at his death The Queen planted a copper beech tree to mark his grave. The Queen had broodmares and a number of runners bred by the Royal Studs during the 1960s but the racing and breeding began to flourish when Lord Porchester, later Earl of Carnarvon, took over as racing manager in 1969. It was then that The Queen bred her most successful fillies: Highclere, who won the 1000 Guineas and Prix de Diane in 1974; and Dunfermline, winner of the Oaks and St Leger in 1977. Dunfermline was the only horse to beat Alleged, a dual winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

From 1970-1998 Sir Michael Oswald was firstly manager and subsequently director of the Royal Studs, originally at Hampton Court but now based primarily at Sandringham and its nearby annexe, Wolferton, with another pasture at Polhampton in Berkshire. Oswald was also racing manager to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother from 1970-2002. She raced National Hunt horses and although The Queen is more interested in flat racing Oswald is still her National Hunt adviser. In fact The Queen had a runner, Barbers Shop, in the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The Queen prefers flat racing because she is so interested in bloodlines. ‘The Queen knows an awful lot about both racing and breeding,’ says Oswald. ‘You need to do your homework or she will catch you out, especially on pedigrees.’ Both Derby day and Royal Ascot are fixed in the royal diary, even in jubilee years. Oswald says that he knows The Queen, like all owners, would still love to win the Derby, the blue riband of the turf, but the race is now infinitely more competitive than it was in coronation year.

Since Aureole The Queen has had nine runners in the Derby. Only last year there were high hopes for a dream win with the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Carlton House, who had won the premier Derby trial, the Dante Stakes at York. He was perhaps a bit unlucky in running and he also spread a plate (racing jargon for lost a shoe) during the race. Still, he finished third and The Queen, an experienced owner, was said to be ‘philosophical’.

Royal winners at Ascot are always incredibly popular and there have been 20 at the Royal Meeting to date. It is a safe bet that all her trainers and John Warren, bloodstock and racing adviser to The Queen and son in law of the late Lord Carnarvon, will be doing their best to provide her with a winner in 2012. Some of The Queen’s racehorses, trainers and several jockeys to have donned the royal silks will be taking part in the Pageant to underline the Queen’s love of the sport.

The award-winning journalist, writer and broadcaster, Brough Scott MBE, one of the founders of Racing Post, will be commentating live there on 13 May. He says that it will be a unique honour to commentate in front of The Queen: ‘It was following the royal colours that first captivated me as a horse-craving London boy in the 1940s. Racing Post’s publication of Her Majesty’s Pleasure: How HorseracingEnthralls The Queen to coincide with the Diamond Jubilee Pageant will be a very special celebration of her extraordinary racing life.’

The Queen's Riding Horses
The Queen has also owned and bred both riding horses, some of which are shown, and eventers,
such as Goodwill and Columbus, ridden by the Princess Royal.

This discipline will be represented at the pageant by two home-bred horses, Tiger Lily, evented by Zara Phillips, and her half-brother Peter Pan, usually ridden by the Earl of Wessex. Their mother was a coloured mare called Tinkerbell. The Queen takes a great deal of trouble over names whether of racehorses or ponies. Three show horses Stardust, Starburst and Favour are also taking part, as is Mister Glum a racehorse re-schooled to become a top dressage performer.

Last but not least come the ponies
The Queen breeds Fell ponies, which the Duke of Edinburgh drove competitively and still drives whenever he is able. The Queen, now rides her Fell ponies. They are one of the bigger breeds of native pony and tend to have very good temperaments. In Scotland there are also Highland Ponies, such as Melody, ridden in Scotland by The Queen, and Big Ben. They are used on the hill at Balmoral, but will be on parade at Windsor, together with Highland stallion Balmoral Moss. The Queen also has Halflingers, by origin an Austrian breed, chestnut with flaxen manes and tails, and useful for both riding and driving. Kilt and Katie will be at the Pageant, with other ponies both ridden and in hand, including Fell ponies Balmoral Emma, The Queen’s current ride, and her daughter Balmoral Vision.

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One of the Queen's Highland Ponies at Royal Windsor Horse Show

The Queen knows and values all these very different horses and understands true horsemanship, as exemplified by the American Monty Roberts whose training method she has supported since first having it demonstrated to her. It is hoped he will be taking part along with George Bowman, the great carriage-driving exponent, and other notables of the equestrian scene. The fraternity of the horse is a great link that knows no national boundaries, as the Pageant demonstrates.

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For more information about the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant, please visit www.diamond-jubilee-pageant.com

For further information and tickets to the Royal Windsor Horse Show visit www.rwhs.co.uk or call the box office on 0844 581 4960