Balding 'Horses were Queen's first love, the cheekier the better':

‘Horses were her first love, the cheekier the better’: BBC presenter Clare Balding reveals how the Queen enjoyed the scientific challenge of breeding racehorses

  • The set-up at the royal stud at Sandringham was state of the art 
  • The Queen bred rare ponies and was interested in their ability and breed 
  • BBC presenter Clare Balding says the Queen had the empathy of a horse woman 

In the world of horses, the Queen was the observer rather than the observed — and never more at home.

It was not just the race, it was the whole journey through good times and bad, says BBC presenter Clare Balding, who joined the racing world in paying tribute.

‘She enjoyed the scientific challenge,’ says Balding. ‘Everyone in racing knows it’s incredibly difficult to breed a horse to win any race. You think you could work it out but it’s the endless puzzle that you could send the best broodmare to the best stallion and you won’t necessarily get a better racehorse.

BBC presenter Clare Balding joined the racing world in paying tribute to the Queen

‘The Queen was not looking for quick fixes, this was all about long-term improvement. Meticulous records were kept.’

The set-up at the royal stud at Sandringham was state of the art and there were cameras in all of the foaling boxes. Balding says: ‘She would watch the foal being born on her iPad and if she was there, she’d get out to see the foals as soon as she could.’

The Queen bred rare ponies and was interested in their ability and breed. Balding believes she also admired their cheeky side. ‘Like the corgis, these ponies are often naughty but she liked a naughty streak in people,’ says Balding.

‘Maybe that’s because she had one, too. She liked racing because she liked to hear the talk and to tease people. She loved leaning on the rails watching the gambling in the paddocks.’

When things went wrong, a horse being beaten or injured, her first concern was for the owners. ‘She had that empathy of a horse woman,’ says Balding.

Balding says the Queen had the empathy of a horse woman and enjoyed all aspects of racing

Simon Brooks-Ward has organised the Royal Windsor Horse show in the grounds of Windsor Castle for 30 years — an event the Queen attended every year for nearly 80 years as both competitor and spectator.

‘I saw the delight and frustrations of a breeder and owner in that when she was marked down in the show ring there was sometimes some disgruntlement and a muttering of “I don’t necessarily agree with that”,’ Brooks-Ward says. ‘She had seen the culmination of the horse or pony from beginning to end, so if she saw her horse winning or going across the finishing line, it was a joy.

‘Woe betide anyone who started chatting to her when her horse or pony went past.’

The Queen was fascinated by great horses. She requested the multi-medalled dressage horse Valegro be brought to Windsor. ‘It was extraordinary seeing her at 5ft 2in and in her 90s so close to this towering, powerful horse.

‘Her connection with a horse she hadn’t met was incredible,’ he adds.

Katie Jerram-Hunnable has been riding the Queen’s horses for 20 years. ‘Her Majesty was always happy around them and her knowledge was amazing,’ she says. ‘We chatted about the improvement and what we did with them, but she never questioned it. She respected the way we trained them.

‘When her horses are retired, some go back to Hampton Court, some have been sold to lovely families. Her Majesty always did best by the horses and they would all be homed in the right places. She had a true love for all her horses.’

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