Queen Elizabeth II is known as the longest-reigning monarch in British history. While she ruled the Commonwealth for 70 years, her passion for horses goes back much further. As a keen rider and racehorse breeder, Elizabeth II was a true horse woman. From a very young age, she was captivated by horses, receiving her first riding lesson at the age of 3 at the Buckingham Palace Royal Mews. At the age of 4, she was gifted her very first horse: a Shetland pony named Peggy, a present from her late grandfather, King George V.
Over the years, the Queen became an accomplished rider. One of her favorite horses was her mare Burmese, a black Thoroughbred-Hanoverian cross which was presented to her by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Queen rode Burmese regularly for leisure and during ceremonies, including at every ‘Trooping the Colour’ ceremony from 1969 to 1986, an event where hundreds of horses, soldiers and musicians come together in a formal military parade to mark the birthday of the British Sovereign.
Queen Elizabeth II rode horses well into her 90’s, despite doctors’ recommendation against it due to health concerns. At the age of 96, just a few months before her death, she was seen riding Balmoral Fern, her 16-year-old Fell pony, in Windsor Home Park.
Queen Elizabeth II and Breeding Racehorses:
Queen Elizabeth II also developed a passion for breeding thoroughbreds for racing. After she inherited her father King George VI’s breeding and racing stock, Elizabeth II continued her own breeding program. As per tradition, her racehorses were foaled at the Royal Stud at Sandringham Estate in Norfolk and trained in several royal training facilities throughout the UK.
Over the years, the Queen became known as one of the top breeders in the UK, winning over 1800 races throughout her lifetime. From 1954 to 2022, she was the patron of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association. Many of her horses have competed in famous races, including the Royal Ascot, Prix de Diane, and Epsom Derby. One of her most notable wins took place in 2013, when her thoroughbred Estimate won the Royal Ascot Gold Cup. In her youth, the Queen was known for opening the Royal Ascot race track herself, galloping with her own horse before the start of the race. Wearing no helmet, and with her headscarf flying in the wind – an iconic sight in the eyes of the public.
The Queen also bred several breeds native to the UK, including Shetlands, Highland and Fell ponies, ensuring the continuity and preservation of their lineages. In November 2014, Elizabeth II received an inaugural FEI Lifetime Achievement award for her continued support of the equestrian sport throughout her life.
Following her death in September 2022, her horses were inherited by her son, King Charles III. While some horses are set to compete in upcoming races, Charles III has stirred controversy after it was revealed that 14 of his late mother’s racehorses were sold to auction.
While the Queen always kept a strong sense of duty and commitment in all the years serving the public, her passion for horses was one of the few personal interests she allowed herself to pursue. As Her Majesty’s legacy lives on, her lifelong passion and contribution will continue to have a long-lasting impact in the breeding and racing industry.