The smile that beamed across Her Majesty’s face – and TV screens worldwide – when her horse Estimate won the 2013 Ascot Gold Cup said it all. For a few sweet moments the polite mask of duty was cast aside for the world to witness The Queen’s unadulterated happiness at cheering on a cherished horse to give its all. It is in the world of horses that The Queen is able to taste some part of the life she might have had were it not for an accident of birth – and an abdicating uncle. A familiar sight in her headscarf, cantering her black Fell ponies through Windsor Great Park, The Queen’s longevity in the saddle is awe-inspiring. As a rider, breeder and owner of horses across the spectrum of both breeds and sporting disciplines, she is as comfortable with a Highland pony foal as with a Royal Ascot-winning racehorse. Not only is she a beacon for the horse world, she’s also the matriarch of a family that shares her passion and is perpetuating it for the benefit of those less fortunate.
The Duke of Edinburgh played an integral part in formalising the sports of driving, polo and mounted games in this country; the Prince of Wales for polo and the Princess Royal for eventing as well as her roles presiding over the Riding for the Disabled Association and World Horse Welfare. The next generation shows no sign of slowing – eventer Zara Tindall (née Phillips) has a medal haul most riders would dream of, the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex double the crowds at a polo match; even Prince George has been spied wielding a (miniature) polo stick on the sidelines. A life with horses, whether you’re a Queen or a pauper, is rarely smooth. The TV cameras may capture the glamour of Royal Ascot but behind the scenes, The Queen’s passion for horses has been characterised by patience and her grace in dealing with the lows as well as the highs. Writing in H&H in the Silver Jubilee year, the late voice of showjumping, Dorian Williams, summed up a sentiment that is as relevant nearly half a century later: “It is the particular good fortune of us in the horse world that it is those sports associated with horses that gives Her Majesty most pleasure. We are the lucky ones.”
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