La reine Elisabeth n’est pas seulement le symbole de la monarchie en Grande-Bretagne. Cavalière depuis son plus jeune âge, elle est aussi l’un des principaux chefs de file en matière de course hippique, avec un palmarès à rendre jaloux les propriétaires bien plus connus dans ce milieu…
While racing is often called the “Sport of Kings,” in Britain “Sport of Queens” is just as appropriate.
The Queen had her first horse when she was 5 and she started to ride at the age of 3. She was almost born on a horse. Horse riding is one of the Queen’s favorite leisure activities. When she became monarch in 1952, she inherited the royal colours and her first victory came just a few months after. She developed a passion for racing and for breeding. She takes a particular interest in all kinds of races and she is often in hippodromes to watch them. The Royal Ascot race is said to be the first event that the Queen puts down on her calendar every year, she has had 22 winners at Ascot, most recently with her horse Estimate (in 2012). This run has increased its value to a record $7.5 million, in an effort to attract the top race horses from around the world. This run represents a high stake for all horse owners. The Queen currently has won over 1,600 races, which makes her one of the most successful racehorse owners in history.
But she is not only an owner, she takes a particular interest in the breeding of her horses, she names the new foals herself. She has the eye of a professional, she knows exactly how to recognise a good horse. She can easily compete with other owners.
And it is a family tradition!
The Queen didn’t only inherit the royal colours, her addiction for horses has long existed in her family and it’s a legacy that comes with the throne. Indeed Queen Victoria was really enthusiastic about races and and King Edward VII was also renowned for his love of racing. It is Queen Anne who designated an area of land near Windsor to equestrian pursuits in 1711, which later became Royal Ascot. The Queen’s mother had a successful affiliation with steeplechase. Most of the royal members took part in the racing world and in the equestrian world, and the tradition continues to evolve: Zara Phillips (the Queen’s granddaughter) has been world champion in eventing since 2006. Her mother, Princess Anne, participated in the Olympic Games in 1976 and her grandsons William and Harry are masters on the polo pitch .
An anachronistic passion?
But this love – passion – for horses has a price. Indeed, the Queen owns 25 horses and thoroughbred racehorses which are very expensive: each of them costs thousands of pounds, which does not include the cost of training, feeding, healthcare … This brings back the questions of the Monarch’s anachronistically luxurious lifestyle as this seems very expensive for mere leisure. Also, horse racing cannot be said to be a popular sport but is a very noble (and aristocratic) one.
On the other hand, the Queen herself is anything but anachronistic and is beloved by her people (see previous article Elizabeth, the Unshakable Queen). Like the crown jewels, the Queen’s horses are part of the strong symbols of the Monarchy and of the monarchy’s prestige. Horses have been a mainstay of the British aristocracy for decades, it is part of their very identity. Horse loving rhymes with having blue blood. The Queen has the bluest blood and horses are part of the monarchy’s DNA. Ironically, Kate Middleton is known to be allergic to them…
That can be also seen with the Royal Horse Guard, which is always in front of Buckingham Palace to insure the family’s safety and contributes to the royal image.
Also, this passion is not just a passion for winning. Taking care of her pets, breeding them, racing and riding make her forget once in a while that she is different from other people: “I suppose that had she not been Queen she’d liked to have been a nice horsey lady with lots of dogs and horses”, says Lucy Higginson, editor of one of the oldest equestrian magazines in the UK.
Gabriele DELTOUR & Céline GAY