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The Royal History of Queen Elizabeth II’s Horses
In memory of Queen Elizabeth II – 1926 – 2022
This article was originally written in celebration of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – it is with great sadness to all of the team at Equestrian Surfaces Ltd. to hear that Her Majesty The Queen’s has passed away.
Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-serving head of state worldwide, serving our nation for the last 70 years with grace and dignity.
The Queen was a passionate lover of horses, riding all the way into her 90’s – and her love for our sport shall be missed greatly. We join the rest of the nation in mourning such a great loss, and remembering such an honourable woman.
Our thoughts go out to His Majesty The King and all of the Royal Family.
It’s no secret that Her Majesty has long held a passion for all things equestrian, with a keen interest in horse racing and a history of breeding thoroughbreds. In celebration of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, we’ve done a bit of research to compile a brief history of Queen Elizabeth II’s long-established relationship with horses.
The Queen’s passion for riding
Queen Elizabeth was given her first horse, a Shetland pony named Peggy, at the age of four, and was a keen rider by the time she had turned six. By 18, she was an accomplished rider, and she has retained a passion for riding throughout her life.
In her role as monarch, Queen Elizabeth has also ridden horses ceremoniously, attending the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony on horseback from her first appearance as princess in 1947 through to her final appearance on horseback 1986 as queen. Initially, she rode a bay police horse named Tommy, and when her father, King George VI, became unwell, she rode in his place on his chestnut horse, Winston, who she continued to ride after the king’s death.
After Winston, she moved onto a chestnut named Imperial, before spending eighteen consecutive years appearing at the ceremony on a black mare named Burmese. Since Burmese retired in 1986, the Queen has continued to attend Trooping the Colour in a carriage.
Queen Elizabeth II and horse racing
As an avid fan and follower of British horse racing, Queen Elizabeth II has attended and opened Royal Ascot every year since 1945, when she first attended as a young princess. Over the years, she has entered many of her own thoroughbreds into the race, over 70 of which have been winners.
Some notable dates in the Queen’s successful racing career include 1953, when Choir Boy, a horse with 100:6 odds, won the Royal Hunt Cup, and 2008, when the Queen’s two-year-old colt, Free Agent, stormed from last place into first to win the Chesham Stakes; the first major win the Queen had seen at the race in a decade. 1954 was also a big year for Her Majesty, when Landau won the Rous Memorial Stakes and Aureole, her late father’s horse, won the Hardwicke Stakes; as was 1957, when Her Majesty had four winners during Ascot week. More recently, in 2021, 33 of her horses were winners at the event, earning her £536,685 in prize money and 147 appearances on the course.
Excluding the Epsom Derby, the Queen has had a winner at all of the British Classic races on at least one occasion. She has also won a French Classic – the Prix de Diane in 1974 – and she was named British flat racing Champion Owner in 1954 and 1957 – the first reigning monarch ever to receive the title twice.
The Queen’s love of horse racing has resulted in her becoming inducted into the QIPCO British Champions Series Hall of Fame in the Special Contributor Category.
Horses bred by the Queen
As a patron of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, the Queen takes a keen interest and a great deal of pride in the breeding of her horses, paying them regular visits to observe and assess them first-hand. Her horses are foaled at the Royal Stud in the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. When young, they are raised at Polhampton Stud in Hampshire, before being passed on to one of her trainers. Once they finish racing, they remain in her care into retirement, or may be sold at bloodstock sales.
The Queen’s current bloodstock and racing advisor is John Warren, who took over the role from his father in law, Henry Hubert, 7th Earl of Carnarvon. The Earl sadly passed away in 2001, leaving behind a 32-year legacy as Her Majesty’s racing advisor.
The Queen’s favourite horses
In a special edition of Horse & Hound magazine, released in June 2020, Queen Elizabeth discussed the horses that had stolen her heart. They included:
Betsy: a black-brown mare that the Queen rode in the 1960s
Burmese: presented to the Queen in 1969 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and last ridden by Her Majesty in Trooping the Colour in 1986
Doublet: the horse ridden by Princess Ann in the European Eventing Championships at Burghley in 1971, which she won
Columbus: a favourite of Captain Mark Phillips, Princess Anne’s first husband
Sanction: a favourite of the Queen’s for many years. Terry Pendry, the Queen’s head groom, wrote: “Sanction was almost telepathic and had a very strong bond with Her Majesty.”
Balmoral Jingle and Balmoral Curlew: two Highland ponies who were very successful in the show ring and went on to become broodmares at the Balmoral Stud
Emma: a Fell pony who “has been a wonderful servant to Her Majesty,” Pendry wrote.
Aureole: a racehorse bred by King George VI and the first horse the Queen inherited from her late father. John Warren, Her Majesty’s racing advisor, wrote: “In addition to him becoming the Queen’s first top-class exciting racehorse, Aureole stood at Sandringham Stud throughout his whole career as a stallion, where he sired many top-class horses.”
Doutelle: the first top-class horse bred by the Queen in her own right. He retired to the Sandringham Stud after winning many races, but sadly died at just eight years old.
Highclere: a Dual Classic winner, Highclere won both the 1000 Guineas and Prix de Diane in Paris
Phantom Gold: “This remarkable mare will inevitably continue to be at the core of the Royal Stud’s broodmare band for future generations to enjoy and nurture,” wrote Warren.
Estimate: an Irish-bred thoroughbred who won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot at just three years old. At four, she won the Sagaro Stakes, before returning to Ascot and making history with the Gold Cup win in 2013. “No reigning monarch had won the Gold Cup, and it gave Her Majesty great pleasure in achieving an ambition to breed such a great horse of true stamina and grit,” Warren wrote.
Equestrian Surfaces and the Queen
At Equestrian Surfaces, one of the key dates in our own history came in 2002, when we were honoured to be commissioned to provide our surfaces at Windsor Park for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations – one of the many events arranged in the UK and commonwealth to commemorate the Jubilee. It was a project we are still incredibly proud to have been involved with, and we set up a third mixing facility in Windsor in order to see it achieved.