Marking The Queen’s favourite horses in this exclusive article, first published in Horse & Hound on 11 June 2020, Terry Pendry LVO, BEM, stud groom and manager to The Queen at Windsor Castle highlights eight special horses Her Majesty and her family have loved riding and watching, while John Warren, our monarch’s bloodstock and racing adviser, shares five of The Queen’s most memorable racehorses.
It’s almost impossible to name all the horses and ponies that Her Majesty has enjoyed over the decades. You have to bear in mind she breeds racehorses, carriage horses, hunters, sports and riding horses, and also polo ponies when, back in the day, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh was playing at a very high level.
There are, of course, the rare breeds such as Cleveland Bays for the carriages at Buckingham Palace and her beloved Highland and Fell ponies.
Here, we cover just a few of Her Majesty’s special horses and ponies. It only scratches the surface of all those The Queen has bred. There are so many more that could be spoken of. Her knowledge and expertise is well known. She names all of her horses and ponies herself and can remember the parentage of every single one.
She still enjoys riding to this very day, and it is an important part of her life. Her Majesty has a fountain of knowledge in all things equine, you might say a living encyclopedia.
The Queen’s favourite riding horses, by Terry Pendry LVO, BEM, stud groom and manager to Her Majesty The Queen, Windsor Castle
The Queen’s favourite horses: Betsy
We would have to start with Betsy, a 15.2hh black-brown mare that Her Majesty used to ride in the 1960s. Betsy was full of character and spirit and much enjoyed by The Queen.
The Queen’s favourite horses: Burmese
Burmese was presented to Her Majesty in 1969 by The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and The Queen rode her in Trooping the Colour for 18 years before the mare retired in 1986 to Windsor. There she enjoyed four years before passing away at the age of 28. Burmese is buried in the grounds of the Home Park private.
The Queen’s favourite horses: Doublet
Princess Anne, as she was then, won the European Eventing Championships at Burghley on Doublet in 1971. Would you believe he was bred to be a polo pony? But he obviously grew and could jump, so became a fine ride for Princess Anne – meaning that The Queen bred both the horse and rider!
The Queen’s favourite horses: Columbus
A few weeks ago, Horse & Hound featured Captain Mark Phillips in its Legends series (21 May). One of the horses mentioned was Columbus, a 17.1hh grey sired by Colonist – who was Winston Churchill’s stallion that stood at Sandringham Stud for a period of time.
Princess Anne first evented Columbus at novice and intermediate level but found him too strong, saying that he was more of a man’s ride. His stable name was The Monster.
Although Columbus was plagued with leg injuries, he won Badminton in 1974 — which made Her Majesty very proud. He also hunted and team chased, and even jumped round the old Grand National course with relish and ease. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother always said he was the Grand National horse that never was. She would have loved him for herself.
The Queen’s favourite horses: Sanction
This brown riding horse was a firm favourite for many years. The photograph was our Golden Jubilee picture with a beautiful acer tree with its golden leaves in the background.
Sanction, this issue’s cover star, was almost telepathic and had a very strong bond with Her Majesty and would almost know what The Queen wanted and in which direction she would like to go before instructed to do so.
He sadly passed away in the autumn of that same year, 2002, at the age of 24. He is also buried in the grounds of the Home Park private. Sanction was the last home-bred horse that Her Majesty rode before making the decision to start riding native ponies. A little nearer to the ground, so to speak.
The Queen’s favourite horses: Balmoral Jingle and Balmoral Curlew
Two beautiful Highland ponies made for a most natural choice. Balmoral Jingle and Balmoral Curlew were shown by Lizzie Briant before joining The Royal Mews at Windsor. Both ponies were a huge success in the show ring and eventually went on to become broodmares at the Balmoral Stud.
The Queen’s favourite horses: Emma
From Highlands to Fells. This lovely picture is of Fell pony Emma. Again produced in the show ring by Lizzie Briant, Emma has been a wonderful servant to Her Majesty and is still going strong at the age of 24 as one of The Queen’s riding ponies.
The Fell Pony Society came to honour The Queen’s 90th birthday and said they would like to bring 90 ponies. They came with 120! They lined the red route of the castle for Her Majesty, who sat on His Royal Highness’ driving Fell pony team followed by Emma. It truly was a wonderful day.
Perhaps to know why Her Majesty is fascinated with breeding thoroughbreds, it is important to understand how complex it is to mate, rear, train and ride a racehorse.
Her Majesty has developed a deep, profound knowledge, which she has consistently worked on and thought about throughout most of her life. It takes the same sort precise expertise as a watchmaker to produce a somewhat fragile racehorse to perform on the big occasions and indeed any occasion at all – especially when they are expected to race at speeds of up to 40mph.
These incredible highly charged creatures, full of blood and muscle, are developed from birth with kid gloves, and the sophisticated jigsaw of trying to put all the pieces together is a constant challenge that continues to intrigue The Queen. To deal with the constant challenges and disappointments, as all horse people will know, the greatest asset you need to have with horses is patience – which luckily The Queen has in spades.
Her Majesty has chosen the following as her most memorable horses, by John Warren, Her Majesty’s bloodstock and racing adviser
The Queen’s favourite horses: Aureole – chestnut stallion by Hyperion out of Angelola (Donatello), 1950
The colt was bred by King George VI and was the first horse The Queen inherited from her late father. Aureole was a very high-class racehorse – winning seven races, including the Acomb Stakes, Derby Trial, Cumberland Lodge, Coronation Cup, Hardwick and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot; he also finished second in the Epsom Derby.
Aureole’s feisty, highly strung temperament made owning him all the more intriguing as The Queen understood early on what it took to encourage the best out of this brilliant home-bred.
Her Majesty has chosen Aureole as one of her most memorable horses as 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 until his retirement at the age of 24.
The Queen’s favourite horses: Doutelle – chestnut stallion by Prince Chevalier out of Above Board (Straight Deal), 1954
He was the first top-class horse bred by The Queen in her own right. He was winner of the Granville Stakes, the 2000 Guineas Trial, Derby Trial, Cumberland Lodge, Limekiln Stakes, the John Porter and Ormonde Stakes. He was also placed in the Gold Cup, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Dewhurst, New Ham and the Winston Churchill Stakes.
Her Majesty’s sharp eye noticed when she was shown the colt by a different stallion by her trainer (Captain Boyd-Rochfort at his stables at Freemason Lodge in Newmarket), and questioned whether it was in fact Doutelle. It seemed that two of Her Majesty’s colts had inadvertently been confused since the time she had seen them as foals. As neither horse had run, there was no serious problem, but there could have been if The Queen had not been so observant and remembered them so well as foals.
Doutelle also retired to The Queen’s Sandringham Stud where his career as a stallion was tragically cut all too short, dying at the age of only eight. Among his best offspring were Pretendre (winner of the Dewhurst), Canisbay (the Queen’s Eclipse Stakes winner) and importantly the Nell Gwyn and Oaks Trial winner Amicable, who became one of the Royal Stud’s foundation broodmares.
The Queen’s favourite horses: Highclere – bay mare by Queen’s Hussar out of Highlight (Borealis), 1971
A dual Classic winner when winning both the 1000 Guineas and Prix de Diane, Highclere was also second in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot.
Trained at West Ilsley by Major Dick Hern, Highclere showed smart form as a two-year-old, and The Queen’s Racing Manager, Lord Porchester (later The Earl of Carnarvon) proposed to Her Majesty that the talented filly wore blinkers to help her concentrate when running in the 1000 Guineas. The trick worked and having won the Guineas, with the collective knowledge of the owner, trainer and manager, they decided that with Highclere’s style of racing and taking her pedigree into account, the Prix de Diane (often referred to as the French Oaks) run over 10 furlongs was a more suitable distance rather than the 12 furlongs of the Epsom Oaks.
Their decision proved to be correct as Highclere won decisively – not only in front of her owner/breeder, trainer, racing and stud managers but also in front of an enormous delighted Parisian crowd, who famously chanted “Vive La Reine”. Highclere went on to become an outstanding broodmare.
The Queen’s favourite horses: Phantom Gold – bay mare by Machiavellian out of Trying For Gold (Northern Baby), 1992
This great granddaughter of The Queen’s superb broodmare Amicable was trained at West Ilsley by The Earl of Huntingdon. Her Majesty chose this daughter of the exciting American imported stallion Machiavellian because besides being a very good race mare, she has been a huge asset to the success of The Queen’s current broodmare band.
Winner of the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot, St. Simon and Geoffrey Freer Stakes, Phantom Gold went on to produce daughters such as Flight of Fancy (who ran second in the Epsom Oaks), Golden Stream (Stakes winner), Hypotenuse, Well Hidden and Daring Aim – all the dams of stakes winners.
This remarkable mare will inevitably continue to be at the core of the Royal Studs’ broodmare band for future generations to enjoy and nurture.
The Queen’s favourite horses: Estimate – bay mare by Monsun out of Ebaziya (Darshaan), 2009
His Highness The Aga Khan kindly loaned The Queen a number of his broodmares to celebrate Her Majesty’s 80th birthday.
Each summer, The Queen and I strategise the mating plans for the following stud season. As Her Majesty follows racing so closely, various stallions inevitably catch The Queen’s eye, and as Monsun was proving to be one of the best stallions at stud in Germany, we decided that if The Queen could breed a filly by him, it would be tremendous to introduce some outcross blood into the stud.
A beautiful bay filly was duly born, and in the hands of her patient trainer Sir Michael Stoute at Freemason Lodge in Newmarket, went on to make history. Having won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot as a three-year-old, Estimate went on to win the Sagaro Stakes, before brilliantly winning the Ascot Gold Cup at the Royal meeting as a four-year-old.
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.
Estimate went on as a five-year-old to win the Doncaster Cup and run second in the Lonsdale Cup. She now resides at the Royal Studs where her offspring are beginning to look very exciting for the future.