Queen Elizabeth IIPortrait
Queen Elizabeth was only three years old when she took to the saddle, at a time when no one had any inkling that she would one day become the sovereign. Her grandfather, King George V, gave her a Shetland pony, named Peggy, who was the first in a long series that delighted her childhood and that of her sister, Princess Margaret. The two siblings, especially during the war, spent much time in the royal country residences, especially Balmoral. They rode and drove their ponies and as many grooms were called to arms, the princesses were required to take care of the animals themselves. Even as a child Elizabeth was a perfectionist and always wanted to go into detail, which is why she learned so much about horses, their grooming and the general well-being of animals. The princesses were taught to ride by Horace Smith, owner of a well-known riding school, and his daughter Sybil. Elizabeth quickly proved to be a refined and skilled horsewoman. She was only about ten at the time but her passion for horses and the world of equestrianism has accompanied her ever since.
Most of the horses housed in the royal stables at Windsor were given to the Queen by other heads of state. One, named Sultan, came from Pakistan and was given by the country’s president on the occasion of an official visit in 1959, becoming a firm favourite with Queen Elizabeth, who frequently rode this thoroughbred bay descendant of two Derby winners. In the late 1950s, Elizabeth II was also given a horse by Nikita Khrushchev: an Akhal-Teke stallion, stunning but difficult to manage and became famous for the trouble he caused in finding one of the royal squires happy to mount him.
The Queen also learned to ride side-saddle in order to take the customary salute of her troops in the traditional and lavish Trooping of the Colour, continuing until 1986 before deciding to use a phaeton instead. The pageant, held annually for the monarch’s birthday, in 2016 is scheduled for 11 June. Among the many horses saddled for the Queen, quite a few have left their mark, but her favourite was probably a gift from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the black mare named Burmese. For seventeen years, from 1969 to 1986, Burmese was the sovereign’s mount at every Trooping of the Colour and when the mare was put out to pasture at Windsor Castle, a statue of her mounted by Queen Elizabeth II was erected near the stables. Burmese is also immortalized in the famous photos of Queen Elizabeth II riding in the grounds of Windsor Castle in the company of Ronald Reagan, the first President of the United States to make a state visit to the UK. He was a guest of the royals at Windsor and specifically asked to be able to ride with the Queen in the castle park, where Prince Philip escorted First Lady Nancy on a tour in a four-in-hand.