All the Queen’s horses

All the Queen’s horses

To commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, we delve into her lifelong passion for horses and discover her most famous and beloved equines. We also look at other Royals who have enjoyed success in the saddle.

It’s no secret that HM Queen Elizabeth II and other generations of her family share a profound passion for horses. From the famous Cavalry Blacks that parade on ceremony to her string of winning racehorses, the Queen’s equestrian interests span across many breeds and disciplines.

Horses have been an integral part of Her Majesty’s life from a very tender age. In fact, she was just three years old when she had her first riding lesson. On her fourth birthday, she was given her first pony, a Shetland mare called Peggy, by her grandfather King George V.

Her love of horses continued to flourish and despite her busy schedule, the Queen, now 96 years old, still makes time to enjoy her horses.

As well as breeding and racing thoroughbreds, Queen Elizabeth II also breeds British native Shetlands, Highlands and Fell ponies, which have enjoyed considerable success in the show ring, along with some of her retired racehorses produced by showing expert Katie Jerram.

The Queen is patron of the British Horse Society, the Fell Pony Society, the Highland Pony Society, the Shire Horse Society, the Welsh Pony and Cob Society and the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association.

The sport of kings (and queens)

Queen Elizabeth II has been a prominent fixture at racecourses since ascending the throne in 1952, and has enjoyed success as both an owner and breeder, winning more than 1,600 races and accumulating in excess of £7 million in winnings.

The Queen is well known for attending many race meetings across the country, including one of her favourites – Royal Ascot – where she arrives in a horse-drawn carriage. It is said that the Queen is able to gauge the going (condition of the ground) simply by listening to the sound made by the horses’ hooves as they hit the ground. In 1953, she enjoyed her first win when Choir Boy won the Royal Hunt Cup.

John Warren, her racing adviser and bloodstock manager, helps the racehorses defend the Queen’s colours (purple body with gold braid, scarlet sleeves and black velvet cap with gold fringe).

Breeding the future

Her Majesty takes a keen interest in breeding horses. She makes regular visits to the Royal Stud in the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, where the foals are born, and then to Polhampton Stud in Hampshire where they are sent as yearlings to be raised. They are then passed on to the training facilities of any one of several trainers. Once they finish racing, her horses either remain in the Queen’s care into retirement with some going on to enjoy a career in the show ring, while others are sold.

As well as thoroughbreds, the Queen also breeds Shetland ponies at Balmoral in Scotland and Fell ponies at Hampton Court. In 2007, she opened a full-time Highland pony stud at Balmoral to enhance and preserve the breed.

Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment

The Queen’s famous ‘Cavalry Black’ horses form the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, maintaining a world-famous tradition dating back to 1660. The Household Cavalry is an operational part of the British Army, with 350 soldiers and 280 horses who provide ceremonial troops for state occasions. The Mounted Regiment also fulfils the duties of the Queen’s Life Guard.

Cavalry Blacks are hunter types of around 16.3hh to 18hh. They must be capable of carrying an 18-stone man for long periods. The process of training a Cavalry Black from purchase to first parade normally takes eight months, although some horses require longer. The Queen takes great interest in her blacks – she will notice the smallest details, such as a blemish from an injury. Every year she presents the Richmond Cup to the best-turned-out trooper and horse.

The Queen’s favourite horses

Based on our research, we’ve identified the following horses as some of the Queen’s most treasured equines. Do any of their names ring a bell?

  • Balmoral Jingle and Balmoral Curlew: two Highland ponies, both successful in the show ring who went on to become broodmares.
  • 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. The Queen last rode her in Trooping the Colour in 1986, after which she attended her birthday parade in a carriage. 
  • Columbus: a horse that Princess Anne competed with. He was a favourite of Captain Mark Phillips, Anne’s first husband. 
  • Doublet: the horse on which Princess Anne won the European Eventing Championships at Burghley in 1971.
  • Emma: a Fell pony that became one of the Queen’s favourite riding ponies. 
  • Sanction: a favourite of the Queen’s for many years.

The Queen’s most prolific racehorses 

The Queen has had plenty of success with her racehorses over the years. Here’s a small selection of some of Her Majesty's most prolific runners. Have you heard of any of them?

  • Aureole: bred by King George VI and was the Queen’s first top-class racehorse.
  • Doutelle: the first successful racehorse bred by the Queen herself.
  • Highclere: won both the 1000 Guineas and the Prix de Diane in Paris.
  • Phantom Gold: a mare at the core of the Royal Studs’ breeding set-up.
  • Estimate: won the Ascot Gold Cup.

Horses in the blood

Not only have horses been an integral part of the Queen’s life, they have also featured highly in the lives of other Royals. The Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, was the first member of the Royal Family to compete in the Olympic Games. At the 1976 Olympics, she rode one of the Queen’s horses, Goodwill. Anne’s daughter, Zara Tindall, followed in her mother’s footsteps and became the very first Royal to win a medal at the Olympics, with a silver at London 2012.

Even Princes Harry and William are avid riders, competing in polo matches. The late Duke of Edinburgh was also a keen polo player and carriage driver, representing Britain at several European and World championships. He was Patron of the British Driving Society for more than 40 years.

We’d love to know which of the Queen’s horses are your favourites. Let us know!